|Huh. Yeah. That... that was long.|
Kingdom Hearts 3D doesn't count. Well, it does, but that's an action RPG. This one is different.
But what is so special about Bravely Default? What makes it different from RPGs of the past? Apparently, not much. It's turn-based, with a focus on jobs. Which is cool, if you're into that sort of thing.
Is it a brave new foray into a genre long-forgotten? Or does it default to bad design choices? Well, it's a bit of one half, and a bit of the other.
-Gorgeous environments and art, presentation values through the roof. Each part of the world feels vibrant and unique because of the lovely hand-drawn aesthetic.
-Extremely intuitive gameplay, bringing a new twist to the turn-based format.
-Highly interactive experience that includes engaging multiplayer functions, even for a largely single-player experience.
-It's only half a game.
-With a slew of jobs to choose from, you'd think they would all be varied and enjoyable, right? WRONG.
Even at its default settings, Bravely Default is a lengthy experience. Plenty of battles with unique enemies thwart you as you progress through the world of Luxendarc. The ability to alter the encounter rate and difficulty allows for a smooth experience, however, which respects the player's time and allows them to progress at their own rate. I messed around with increasing the encounter rate, allowing for an easier grinding environment, and managed to do a fair bit in the first half of the game because I decided to build jobs and exploit certain mechanics, which is always a liberating experience for a player.
The game does start by throwing you a handful of good jobs to toy around with, but they all feature relatively weak abilities in their early levels that may cause the player to avoid them. The amount of jobs steadily increases to the point where you barely touch some unless you need to build a team around a specific challenge- or if the game absolutely demands specific skills from the player. While this doesn't exactly rear its head until the second half of the title, the fact is some jobs rock and others are pretty pointless, which is a bit of a downer for those who like to experiment.
Bravely Default's enemies are puzzles, and that can be seen both in normal play and with the Nemeses system that functions with the Streetpass and Spotpass portions of the game. The battle system is thoughtful and enjoyably manipulated, with plenty of neat combat mechanics to toy around with and four characters to try them out on. It's truly a fun battle system that thrives on all the choices the player is given- but that's also one of its flaws.
I'm unsure of how to speak further about Bravely Default without giving away portions of the game's story, so I've decided to try to tell it like it is as ambiguously as possible. This is the important part of the review, in case you didn't know:
Ultimately, the majority of difficulty in JRPGs comes from the amount of time one is willing to invest in it. That means how much time you want to grind, what sidequests you're interested in doing, and how the story evolves and entices the player to continue forward. That being said, it's hard to deal with the pacing of content that Bravely Default offers players throughout its experience and, as someone who appreciates RPGs and loves the genre, I have a few qualms to address about Bravely Default.
As I mentioned earlier, Bravely Default is half a game. While the title took me seventy-seven hours to complete, I would say about thrity-five hours of that felt like content that was new and exciting. The first four chapters take the player on a sweeping adventure across Luxendarc to all different areas, and then- that's it. Keep in mind, there's still four chapters to go after that. By the halfway point of the game you have essentially seen the entire map and fought every unique enemy you will come across. The final four chapters throw combinations of these bosses at you in an attempt to add variety to a very bland, repetitive portion of the game.
Can you power through and ignore these side-encounters? Yes. You can. But that requires you to kill four sets of four bosses that you already fought in the first four chapters again, with little-to-no story interaction going on in the meantime. Also, you obtain all but one of the job asterisks within the first four chapters, so there's really very little content that is new to look forward to other than maxing out those jobs, which becomes such a non-issue by the end of the game because of the gross grinding items easy given to you after the fourth chapter.
So, while Bravely Default does have some very fresh ideas and fun gameplay, it sacrifices these things for an uneven plot that struggles to keep the player engaged beyond its climax. I can't help but think that a significant portion of its second half could have been cut down, and the "sidequest" content in the first half, aka finding job asterisks, could have been stretched out further. By the end of the game, my enthusiasm for random battles and mastering jobs had been dealt a fatal blow and I fast-traveled where ever I could- and keep in mind, I still ended up maxing out about half of the jobs before I finished the game.
Final Verdict: While Bravely Default is an exciting and refreshing return to turn-based battles and a sign of better things to come for Square Enix, it is ultimately a very experimental title that has trouble respecting the player. With great time-management functions for its core gameplay but an uneven and insulting plot, it's a game that you have to appreciate in short bursts, or else you may become frustrated with the whole product.