"I recommend Bravely Default to anyone hoping to recapture the magic of the Super Nintendo era of Final Fantasy."
When I first heard about Bravely Default, I admit I wasn't exactly foaming at the mouth in anticipation. I had read that it was a sequel to the Final Fantasy spin-off title, The 4 Heroes of Light, which, while fun and harmless, didn't make me want to return to it. Bravely Default certainly carries over a lot of qualities of its predecessor, but it's far more ambitious in almost every way. Complex personal relationships, an exciting high-risk/high-reward battle system and a plot with a staggering scope all elevate this game beyond spin-off status. It has its own identity and it doesn't leave one wondering why it was made its own IP.
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy is made enjoyable in no small part to our four main protagonists. This includes the typical JRPG hero in all ways Tiz Arrior, the smooth as honey amnesiac womanizer Ringabel, the soft-spoken but extremely determined Agnés Oblige and finally the hot-headed but moralistic Edea Lee. While the main plot gives players plenty of opportunity to understand each and every one of their hopes, dreams and motives for what they do, I found that my favorite moments came from the optional "party chat" segments. If I had to say what my favorite aspect of Bravely Default is, it would have to be that characterization doesn't just stop with the main cast of characters. So much of the supporting cast is given time to express their thoughts and share their histories that the game becomes just as much about them as it does the main party.
Characterization isn't the only thing going for Bravely Default though, as it could possibly have the most fun and addictive battle system I've played in a long time. You may be wondering just what on Earth "Bravely Default" means and truth be told I have no idea, but I do know that there are two actions you can take in battle called "Brave" and "Default," so let's talk about those instead. When you select "Default" in battle, you essentially use the classic "Defend" option, yet without losing a turn. Instead, you store that turn (usually up to a maximum of three turns, or BP as they call it) and can then unleash them all at once using the Brave command. This lets you defend and take reduced damage when your enemy is at their strongest, and unleash a flurry of attacks or spells (up to four) all at once when they're more vulnerable. Thanks to being able to go into a negative number of turns, you can even use Brave at the very start of the battle without Defaulting. I wouldn't recommend letting your entire party go negative unless you're sure you can defeat the enemy that turn, otherwise the enemy will enjoy a bunch of free turns pummeling you into dust. This system offers a lot of flexibility and strategy, particularly in boss battles.
The truly addictive part of Bravely Default is in the job system. If you have ever played Final Fantasy V the job system will be familiar. Through the acquisition of items called Asterisks you can unlock new classes that excel at their own specialty. This can range from the old staples of White Mage, Black Mage and Knight to some new ones such as the Vampire, Arcanist and Spiritmaster. The joy of first unlocking the powers each job gives by leveling it up and then mixing and matching them to create fun and powerful combinations cannot be beaten.
There are many other fun and exciting new features in Bravely Default, but for brevity's sake I won't talk too much about them. I will mention something I found mostly underwhelming, however, and those are the features regarding your 3DS friends. Through the acquisition of Streetpass friends you can summon battlers from their world into yours and allow them to cast a spell or inflict some damage during battle. If you have a friend who is far in the game this can do a significant amount of damage, sometimes even killing a low-level boss in one hit, as is what happened to me when I tried it out. If you don't have any friends, you can either use the online feature to send out random invites to other Bravely Default players once a day, or you can rely on the Friend-Bot the game gives you, who is largely useless. There is another use for collecting Streetpass friends however, and that's in relation to a town called Norende.
Norende is a town destroyed in the first minute or so of the game, so I don't feel bad about telling you this. Each Streetpass you collect gives you an extra worker to help rebuild Norende in a small-scale world-building minigame. By rebuilding Norende you get access to unique items, so I do recommend doing it, but only if you have lots of Streetpass friends or plan on collecting them. Norende is rebuilt in real-time and each worker reduces the time it needs dramatically. This can be the difference of a building taking four days to complete and two hours to complete. All in all, it isn't the most fleshed out system, but the good thing is its entirely optional and you aren't missing out on anything too spectacular if you just want to concentrate on the main game.
So, now that I've spoken my mind on the gameplay and characters, I can't delay talking about the story any longer. I know that a large amount of people are only going to look at the score I gave the story, and then assume either that I didn't like it or that it's nothing special. Well, neither of those is true. I did like the story and it's far from bland, so why the comparatively low score? Well, it's very hard to talk about as it actually relates to a significant plot element. So, while I won't spoil it in this review, if you think you're smart enough to piece together my vague allusions as to what I'm talking about, skip the next paragraph and just know that on the whole I think the story of this game is flawed, but still good.
Bravely Default follows our four heroes as they travel the world, restoring order to the four elemental crystals that have become imbalanced. They must do this all the while being pursued by the forces of the Eternian Kingdom, who seek to stop our heroes from returning balance to the crystals. The biggest problem I have with the story relates to its structure. Suffice to say, after a certain point in the game the story gets extremely repetitive. This is due to the very premise the story hinges on, so while I admit it can't be changed if this is the story it wishes to tell, I still believe there were opportunities to alleviate the repetitiveness.
Okay, you can come back now; I'm done with the story. Let's move onto something more straightforward: the soundtrack! I was initially unsure how I felt about the game's music. I wasn't sure if it left much of an impression on me whilst I was playing so I decided to listen to the soundtrack again before I made up my mind and I'm glad I did. Bravely Default's soundtrack is impressive and I'm not sure why I didn't hear it sooner. Perhaps the soundtrack complements the visuals and gameplay so well that I couldn't properly separate them, but by listening to it alone I've come to appreciate how varied and well arranged it is. If only the same could be said for the voice acting. It isn't actually bad by any stretch of the imagination, but a few performances are so hammy that they stand out like a sore thumb. Thankfully our main cast puts in a good performance, despite the occasional "mrgrgr" from Edea.
I recommend Bravely Default to anyone hoping to recapture the magic of the Super Nintendo era of Final Fantasy. It's epic in scale, despite being on a handheld, it's a fresh twist on classic Final Fantasy and it isn't afraid to be daring, even if it doesn't always work. Bravely Default: Flying Fairy is in my opinion one of the best RPG's out on the 3DS right now and my hang-up regarding the story is the only thing stopping me from giving it the Editor's Choice award. North America can look forward Bravely Default: Flying Fairy on February 7.