"Bravely Second's saccharine characters and dialog might be a turn-off for some, but as a delivery method for more tinkering with an awesome job/class system, it's better than adequate. "
Any discussion of the initial entry in the Bravely series will address two key points: the job system is great, but the second half of Bravely Default is offensively repetitive. Bravely Default was a hit for Square Enix, but its fans were divided on Bravely Default's multiple dimensions gimmick, which forced players to replay certain parts of the plot four times before reaching the game's true ending. Bravely Second doesn't totally abandon Bravely Default's penchant for repetition, but it tells a new story with all of Bravely Default's strengths intact and with a second half that's easier to recommend.
Bravely Second begins a few years after the conclusion of Bravely Default. Luxendarc's Crystal Orthodoxy (a religious institution that wields significant political power) is restored with Agnes Oblige, one of Bravely Default's heroes, as its Pope. At the signing of a peace treaty between the Orthodoxy and the Duchy of Eternia (the villains through most of Bravely Default), a masked man called Kaiser Oblivion attacks the ceremony and abducts Agnes. Yew Geneolgia, one of Agnes's bodyguards, attempts to save Agnes but is struck down by the Kaiser. After recovering, Yew and a few of his Crystalguard companions embark on a journey to save Agnes.
Eventually, Yew meets Edea Lee, the young warrior-princess of Eternia, and Tiz, the main character of Bravely Default. These three plus Magnolia Arch, a mysterious woman from a civilization on the Moon, form the cast of heroes in Bravely Second. All four have over-the-top personalities and a few traits that toe the line between endearing and annoying: Edea is hot-headed, Magnolia speaks French with an American accent, and Yew is an enthusiastic fanboy of Tiz (and of many other things). Everyone in the cast has moments to shine in Bravely Second's story, but the biggest subplot is the budding romance between Yew and Magnolia; their relationship contributes to Bravely Second's lighter tone compared to that of Bravely Default. Sure, Bravely Second's story has world-shaping stakes and plenty of drama, but there is a surprising amount of comedy and cuteness throughout its dialog. Sometimes, watching these four chatting about their favorite foods felt like I was watching a slice-of-life anime.
Story aside, Bravely Second will feel extremely familiar to fans of Bravely Default. It's still evocative of older Final Fantasy games, sharing many terms, jobs, and flavor with Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy V. Both Bravely games are set in the world of Luxendarc, and the world map is near-identical in both games. The plot of Bravely Second has players revisit all five major metropolitan areas of Bravely Default, and adds a new city in each region. The prologue and first four chapters of Bravely Second are a world tour of these areas. The menus, combat, job system, and visuals of Bravely Default return in their entirety, but with a few new wrinkles and features that represent a net positive.
The job system in Bravely Second has eighteen jobs that return from Bravely Default and adds a new dozen for a total of thirty. The handful of jobs removed from Bravely Default see their roles represented by some of Bravely Second's new jobs. Final Fantasy mainstays like Black Mage, Summoner, and Ninja may interact with the status-inflicting Patissier, the time-rewinding Exorcist, and several others to form a very diverse selection of jobs and skills. The costumes of different jobs range from the sensible armor of Knights to the ludicrous animal costumes of Rangers. One new favorite of mine is the Catmancer, a cat-eared physical brawler job with the power to summon cats for a wide variety of effects. Each job (obtained from crystals called Asterisks) has eleven level tiers that each grant new abilities, gained via earning Job Points from battle. Characters equip one job at a time, plus the moveset of one other job, and up to five passive skills already mastered from job levels. All of that should sound very familiar to fans of certain Final Fantasy games.
Players earn a dozen of these jobs through Bravely Second's plot (including eleven of the twelve new ones), but the remaining eighteen are obtained via sidequests. These sidequests represent most of the optional content and dialog in Bravely Second, including most of Edea's character development. Eight of the sidequests involve conflicts between two Eternian Asterisk-holders returning from Bravely Default. Players, through Edea, choose to side with one of the Eternian officers, then fight the jilted other boss for their Asterisk. These choices have minor reflections in Bravely Second's world-state, affecting the dialog and presence of several NPCs. This choice-limited job selection might seem upsetting to RPG completionists, but rest assured that there is a way to obtain the missing jobs in later chapters.
The combat and customization options are virtually identical from Bravely Default to Bravely Second. Combat is turn-based and composed of separate rounds, but characters can "Default" to save up future turns or "Brave" to spend Brave Points and take multiple turns in a row. Using Brave without turns saved up results in missing future turns to get back to a neutral Brave/Default state. Using Brave turns effectively is key to strategy in this game, and several job-derived skills manipulate the effects of Brave and Default. If players win an encounter on the first turn, then they can immediately fight another random battle for bonus money, experience points, and job points, including a multiplier for all three values. Stacking up these multipliers results in huge rewards, but Brave Points aren't retained in consecutive fights. Just like Bravely Default, Bravely Second has a random encounter slider that players may employ to double the rate of random encounters or pass on them entirely. Naturally, I ratcheted the slider up when I wanted to grind levels and switched encounters off when I didn't want to deal with packs of enemy minions.
Bravely Second's world map is inherited from Bravely Default, and so are many of its dungeons. The aforementioned sidequests all require navigating through a dungeon returning from Bravely Default before the Asterisk fight, but most of Bravely Second's story-focused dungeons take place in new environments. The team navigates them in an overhead perspective, and there isn't anything more complicated than an invisible passage leading to a chest or levers activating moving platforms. There is a decent variety to the dungeon settings, but the dungeons themselves aren't anything special.
The optional minigames and communication-based features in Bravely Second are probably unnecessary, but entertaining. The click-based resource-management game Chompcraft has our heroes building Chomp toys on an assembly line while players upgrade tools and strategically boost performance with snacks. Chompcraft is mindless but cute; the money rewards for long periods of Chompcraft can be significant. By sharing data with members of your 3DS friends list, you can allow your friends to borrow your skill levels of a chosen character or even summon a friend to attack in battle. Also, players can freeze time in battle and perform additional actions by spending a resource called SP; SP, however, only recharges either by waiting for entire days or by spending real money in the Nintendo store. I never used SP — it's far from a requirement to complete even Bravely Second's most challenging areas.
Similar to the rebuilding of Norende in Bravely Default, players can rebuild Magnolia's hometown on the moon. The town acquires additional residents through StreetPass and through players uploading team data once a day via the internet. The various structures and spaceships rebuild and upgrade by assigning residents to work in certain areas and waiting in real-time. Upgrading these structures allow players to customize their characters' special moves and add available inventory to certain shops. It's completely optional, but I enthusiastically dove into upgrading the Moon village because it was the best way to find uncommon items required for Patissier and Catmancer skills.
Musically, Bravely Second is a rich soundscape. A large number of tracks from Bravely Default return (mostly the theme songs to towns that are in both games), plus a soundtrack of 40+ additional songs from Japanese pop producer Ryo. The songs feature smaller orchestrations than the tracks in Bravely Default, but the music is rarely unpleasant. The only times I feel the music has a negative impact is for a few boss fights against the Kaiser's troops, in which a Japanese comedy duo chants a march, interspersed with comedy bits.
The graphics of Bravely Second are virtually identical to those of Bravely Default for most of the game. The village areas use an unusual perspective that is closer to a 2D plane than a 45-degree isometric view, but this odd angle highlights the stunningly pretty backdrops used in the town areas. The character models are deformed to exaggerate characters' heads, but the faces are pretty expressive and there are more than 30 costumes for each character. There's a CGI music video that plays at the end of each chapter, and it's so energetic and colorful that it wouldn't be out of place as an anime opening theme.
My hope was for Bravely Second to play as well as Bravely Default did, but with more jobs. What I got was exactly that, with a more streamlined story that featured less repetition than Bravely Default and a new focus on character relationships — I finished Bravely Second in around 55 hours, while my play clock for Bravely Default was over 80. Bravely Second's saccharine characters and dialog might be a turn-off for some, but as a delivery method for more tinkering with an awesome job/class system, it's better than adequate. Bravely Second is every bit as good as its predecessor, but with more toys at the player's disposal and a second half that's far less of a deal breaker. And more cats.