Publisher: Square Enix and Nintendo
Release Date: 26/02/21
Platform: Nintendo Switch
I remember when the original Bravely Default released back in 2012. I got it as a Christmas present and was glued to the game the entire remainder of the school holidays. It felt like another Final Fantasy, which made sense given its original ties to the series. I really enjoyed the game overall, despite the monotonous latter half. While I never played its direct sequel, Bravely Second: End Layer, I was instantly excited when Bravely Default 2 was announced.
Much like its inspirations, Bravely Default 2 is a standalone JRPG that retains core aspects and ideas of its predecessors in the series. Does this sequel maintain the magic, or is it too much retreaded ground? Keep reading to find out.
Washed Ashore for Adventure
A young sailor called Seth wakes up on an idyllic beach after being washed ashore. He is found by the princess Gloria, who is travelling on a mission after her kingdom was destroyed. Along the way they also meet up with the brilliant duo of Elvis and Adelle, a scholar and mercenary respectively. After a some initial scenes and interactions, the team must set out on a grand adventure to locate and retrieve the four, sacred crystals that were stolen. The power of these crystals is slowly waning and a dark and powerful entity, known as the Night’s Nexus, will be able to break free from its containment and destroy the world. While Bravely Default 2 may have a fairly standard, good vs evil fantasy narrative, it’s strong enough in its writing and characters that it’s not really an issue.
You must travel the beautiful continent of Excillant, battling various creatures, exploring ruins and caves, solving the people’s problems, as you slowly gather the lost crystals and fight back against evil. While the story isn’t particularly unique or intriguing on the surface, it surprised me just how dark and complex a handful of sections and themes could be. One part features a psychopathic artist, who uses the blood of her victims to paint a demonic mural on a cave wall. Then there’s a snowy town with horrific customs that are heavily reminiscent of the real life witch trials. This mature content often sets the game apart from many other similar experiences, and it’s often more disturbing when juxtaposed against the very cute art style the game boasts.
I think the overall story has a lot to love and it culminates in a satisfying conclusion, well, as long as you continue and get all three endings. That’s right, there are three different endings. You must load the game back up after getting one, to continue for a bit longer and get another, doing the same for the final and true ending.
The Warriors of Light
A great story needs to have a strong set of characters, and Bravely Default 2 is no exception to that rule. Both Seth and Gloria are solid protagonists, but honestly, Adelle and Elvis steal the entire show and every scene they’re in. They have such a brilliant dynamic and chemistry and it made me become so attached to them in particular. As you explore and progress through the game, you’ll often get the opportunity to see a bit more banter between the party that isn’t mandatory. I always made sure to press the button prompt when it appeared, as it really helps the player learn a bit more about them and their responses to the many different situations.
Even the various secondary characters often have a surprising amount of nuance to them. While there are a handful of pretty average individuals that are just there to push a certain part forward, more often than not, they add more variety and emotion to the plot than I would have initially thought. It also helps that the voice acting is so striking and memorable. It can verge into being a bit overbearing at times, similar in ways to the cast of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but I thought it adds a nice flair to the characters and also gives the game its charm.
A Job For Every Occasion
Like any good RPG, a variety of customisation options are needed for the player to choose their own style of play. Bravely Default 2 excels at this, having a wealth of options so that a team can be built that is perfect for you. At the heart of this is the jobs system. As you progress through the game, defeating certain characters nets you their job for your own use. These act as classes for your heroes and range from the traditional black mage, to others like the Spirit Master, Pictomancer, Arcanist, etc. With so many to choose from, it can become a bit overwhelming, but it’s a system that encourages you to test and experiment with as many as you can to find the ones you like the most. Trying to find the best combination is part of the fun and working out strategies with how different classes compliment each other is rewarding.
Each character can equip a primary and secondary job, benefiting from the abilities from both, while the primary job determines the attributes and weapon proficiency of the character. Picking two jobs that synergise well is important, allowing you to get the most out of both. On top of this, you also have your armour and weapons to think about, where the job you have equipped determines how well they can use a particular type. With so many options to buy and find out in the world, you won’t have a hard time in locating one you like. All of this leads to Bravely Default 2 being an in-depth and varied experience, full of replay value. Having a good understanding of the systems, as well as making a team that is well-balanced, is crucial when the game ramps up the difficulty in its combat.
Strategic and Engaging Combat
The combat is a standout aspect of Bravely Default 2. On the surface, it may seem like just any other turn-based combat, where you take turns depending on your character’s speed and have the option to attack, use spells and skills and use items. In reality, there is another layer of mechanics that adds greater depth and strategy into the mix. Alongside those actions mentioned prior, you can ‘Default’ which acts as a defence command while increasing the number of Brave Points a characters has. You can also ‘Brave’ up to a total of three times, which allows you to make multiple actions in a single turn, often turning the tide in a battle. Managing your BP is critical, as falling into negative means the party member is unable to act until they reach neutral points. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to take the risk of braving when you don’t have enough BP. With BP also used for certain powerful abilities, weighing up your options and managing this crucial resource adds so much to the gameplay. It’s a distinguishing feature that sets it apart from other turn-based combat.
An issue I have with the combat is the inconsistent nature of the difficulty. When it comes to standard encounters in the world, you’re often able to just brave everyone to the max and steamroll through the enemies quickly. Bosses offer up a fair bit of challenge, however, there are times when the difficulty spikes so drastically that some bosses feel completely unfair. One seemed to counter all damage, while another crippled my team to the point where I had no chance of acting for a long period of time, ending me without letting me do anything. While there are difficulty options, it can still be a bit of a grind, especially in the later parts of the game. One saving grace is that you can increase the speed of battle a lot, cutting down time it takes to grind out levels. Even when I had 4x speed on pretty much permanently, the game still took roughly 50 hours to complete. This is a long game for sure and worth your money in that regard. Despite my grievances with inconsistent difficulty, the combat remains a brilliant aspect and is brimming with strategic value. It also adds an element of nostalgia for the traditional JRPG.
Like pretty much every JRPG, the side quests are a clear weak point in Bravely Default 2. The majority of them boil down to mindless fetch quests with little narrative intrigue. So many are just variations of similar tasks, such as killing ‘x’ number of monsters, go speak to this person and come back, or go find this item and return. It gets to a point where it feels reductive and lazy. One awful one has you go back and forth between these two people in two different locations like 4 or 5 times, like the game was revelling in how badly the quests were designed. It’s neither fun or engaging, where the quests are mostly there just for the sake of adding content into the world, instead of including anything really meaningful.
There are a handful of quests that do appear as if more effort was put into them with interesting stories, ones that have proper cutscenes, it’s just a shame that these are in the minority. I don’t mind fetch quests if there is a good balance of them alongside more thought out ones, but unfortunately, Bravely Default 2 doesn’t have that. On the plus, there’s a neat little card game that offers a good amount of fun if that’s something you like.
Set Sail for Plunder
Early on in the game, you gain access to a boat that can set sail and gather various items and gold that will help you out in your adventure. The experience and job point orbs are particularly useful for helping to alleviate some of the grind. What’s great about this, is that the boat expedition only works when you’re not playing and the Switch is put into standby mode with the game still running. This means you can leave the game overnight or go to work, then come back to find various items have been found for your benefit. If you use use online functionality, you will receive even better rewards. It’s a win-win mechanic that helps you out when you aren’t playing.
Great Presentation With a Huge Cost
An immediate though when playing this game is just how good it can look. It expertly blends stunning 2D vistas with charming 3D graphics. The towns/cities are presented as almost beautiful paintings that stretch into the horizon. It’s as if you’re wondering through an elegant, pop-up book. The rest of the game utilises 3D environments and models for the characters and enemies, which look equally great in its own way. The dessert location stands out to me, where the sandy expanse and warm-toned rocks look incredible together. The monster designs are detailed and character models are full of personality. However, the beautiful visuals do come at a cost unfortunately.
While the resolution itself does lead the game to appear a bit blurry, the main issue here is the performance. The frame rate will regularly drop while playing the game. If it was kept to just certain times when a lot was happening on screen, then it wouldn’t be a problem. but it does it so often in just regular gameplay that it’s quite obvious. What’s worse, is that the game will stutter frequently in cutscenes, causing them to appear messy and even missing things. It’s times like this where a more powerful Nintendo Switch is desperately needed. It’s just a shame that consistent performance issues occur here and do take away from the experience somewhat.
A final note I want to touch on is the brilliant music. A standout in many JRPG’s, the soundtrack here really compliments Bravely Default 2 well. Thrilling and catchy battle music keeps the endless fights from becoming to dull, even after 40-50 hours. Sinister story moments are accompanied by music that reinforces the tense and unsettling atmosphere. It’s exquisite and helps make this, already excellent adventure, all the more memorable.
If it wasn’t obvious enough already, I loved my time with this game. From the thrilling narrative that subverted my expectations in all the right ways, to the strategic and engaging combat and customisation, this is a JRPG that begs to be experienced by lovers of the genre. It has its handful of issues, but they’re not enough to leave that big of a mark on the overall excellent journey. With Final Fantasy moving more and more away from its turn-based roots, it’s comforting to know that Bravely Default 2 continues that legacy, and ends up providing both a stellar experience and nostalgia driven adventure.
Honest Rating = 8.5/10
You can buy Bravely Default 2 from the Nintendo Store.
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