By Shane Wall
Hype can be a dangerous thing. It's no secret that I’m a big fan of JRPGs and I live on my 3DS. Seriously, I very rarely put the thing down. For that reason, I was ecstatic when I saw that Bravely Default was getting an Australian release. I had heard some very good things about it and it looked like my old pal Square Enix was doing something worth a look again. I have fallen victim to games in the past that looked perfect for me only to be let down, and that immediately came to mind as I started a new file on Bravely Default. Thankfully, this game not only lived up to my expectations but even threw in a few nice surprises. Surely you had figured that out from the score above, right?
The first thing I noticed in Bravely Default was its stunning visuals. I haven’t been so impressed since Fire Emblem: Awakening. To be fair, Pokémon X and Y look amazing, but after all the Nintendo Directs and seeing it at E3 I knew what to expect. All the environments other than the world map are mostly pre-rendered. They look hand-drawn and are stylized to appear almost like living oil paintings. Each new town and dungeon is a treat. The characters are presented in a kind of childish “cutesy” way so they all look like babies. Well sort of. If babies had huge heads, no feet and hula hoops for pelvises. So more like impossibly shaped babies in anime.
The game's battle mechanics setBravely Default apart from most JRPGs. Turn-based random encounter games are a dime a dozen and this is yet another one but with a nice little twist. Honestly, developers must be really struggling to try and reinvent this wheel and they have my sympathies. In battle, each character can do the standard thing you would expect from a JRPG. Attack, Magic, Items; all the good stuff. To mix it up each character can also choose to either be brave or default using the L or R buttons. Choosing brave will see a character effectively borrow a turn from their future self.
You can do this multiple times in the same turn, so hitting L four times will allow you to make four attacks or commands in one turn. Default enables the character to shield themself for a turn and save an extra turn for latter. This means when exploring a dungeon and some moderate enemies are encountered you can just spam Brave and kill them with one turn. This will give you some nice multipliers for experience. Sounds easy right? It can get tricky as the enemies you encounter can use the same technique. Bad guys can choose to be Default so all your Brave attacks do very little damage. Leaving you helpless as they attack until you finally gain another turn or die.
Another staple of the genre found in Bravely Default is its job system, used in many of the old Final Fantasy titles. This is mostly what you would expect and hasn’t had much of a face-lift like the battle system. Jobs can be obtained by defeating bosses who possess them. You will find a few in the main quest but most are in sidequests. All the quests are easy to follow, as they will show up on your map. The main quest is shown as an orange exclamation mark and the side quests will appear blue. I highly recommend doing as many side quests a possible as this is where some of the really powerful jobs are located.
A lot of RPGs suffer form the endless text required for character building and exploring the story. In recent years however voice-acting is becoming more commonplace even in hand held RPG’s. Bravely Default is definitely no slouch in the voice-acting department. Characters are brilliantly brought to life and a feeling of empathy is strong from the start. Some of the NPC’s are hilarious. My favorite is the randy old man that lives in the woods. It’s nice to see the English cast was well put together and not just an afterthought for localization.
The story is perhaps the game's weak link. It’s not boring and the characters help to make it quite entertaining, but it just doesn’t offer anything new or unexpected. After playing so many similar games it feels a little like recycled parts from other titles. The narrative doesn’t stray very far from what is expected from a Square Enix game. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not bad, it just falls short of living up to the rest of the game. An amazing soundtrack helps to bring everything together, but at the end of the day while I enjoyed the main quest it just felt a little like going through the motions.
Streetpass functionality is as good or possibly better than any title on the 3DS. Each person met in Streetpass will be added as a resident to your town. A rebuilding effort is in full swing after tragedy strikes early in the game. The more people in your town to pitch in and help out, the quicker you can make more upgrades. Each upgrade is done in real time so gaining more citizens is key to bringing down the build times. This will gain you access to all sorts of things like weapons, armor and items. You can even get some tough weapons before you would be able to purchase them in the regular store throughout the game if you plan ahead.
People you meet can also be summoned as allies in battle when you need them. You can even send your strongest attacks out over the Internet for people in your friends list. If you have friends who play and they are further through the game or stronger they can send moves for you to use in boss battles. Those without many friends or a bunch of Streetpass hits, fear not. Once a day you can import some AI friends and residents to help build the ranks in you’re town and aid you in battle.
Lovingly crafted is what Bravely Default screams. It's the sort of thing you would read on a fancy beer and think it’s pretentious. I have been so wrapped up in this game, I have forgotten I have shiny new next-gen games on my bookshelf, waiting to be played. On paper this was a prefect game for me, and for once, all its hype didn’t ruin it. With Bravely Second just announced, it looks like this will be Square Enix’s new ace in the hole and another triumph for the mighty 3DS. If you have a 3DS and are even slightly interested in JRPGs, I can’t recommend a better game.