“Bravely Default,” despite its clunky sobriquet, is a breath of sweet air for a lifelong gamer such as me.
A screenshot from the game “Bravely Default.” — Submitted image
Its breeding calls back upon 16-bit greats like “Chrono Trigger,” “Phantasy Star,” “Dragon Quest/Warrior” and “Final Fantasy” back when the term JRPG wasn’t considered a dirty word. So be warned, as “Bravely Default” is bringing with it such archaic concepts as random monster encounters, turn-based combat and enough text to fill a tome.
However, there is more at work below the surface in “Bravely Default” than simple nostalgia.
Perhaps its most modern addition is the way the game handles combat. In its opening battles, things are very much meat and potatoes — the standard “attack, item and run away” options. It’s not long though, before the source of the game’s name is unlocked, and fights take on a very interesting slant.
“Brave” and “Default” act as an interesting risk for reward. Brave allows players to take multiple turns one after another, dealing out hellacious damage, but potentially leaving a character fatigued and open for a brutal reprisal. Default forgoes an attack, and bolsters defence, stacking turns for use later in battle.
One wouldn’t think that two such simple options would add much to a style of combat that has been in use since the late 1980s, but “Bravely Default” handles it so brilliantly that even into the late hours of the campaign, players will be toying with their party members, trying to find new ways to seize command of the pace of a battle and deliver a brutal defeat to their foes.
Added to this glorious spin on the no-longer-vanilla flavoured JRPG combat are a collective of 24 different character classes (jobs, to Final Fantasy stalwarts), that are slowly doled out during the course of the game as rewards for conquering some of the fiendish boss encounters.
Of course, this includes industry standard Rogues and Knights, but also a few cool twists, such as a Top Hatted Merchant, that serves up higher damage in conjunction with that character’s monetary wealth. (I can’t help but imagine Woolworth or Selfridge, if they had taken up a sword.)
Add in some interesting conceits, such as Pirates, Ninjas and Vampires — along with the ability to combine skills from one job with another — and gamers will be switching load-outs on a fairly regular basis, just to see what else the game can offer them.
This flavour of charm permeates from every second spent with “Bravely Default.” It is doubtlessly a Square-Enix title, its art design finding routes in the fantastic “Final Fantasy Tactics” games.
The cast are loveably eccentric, especially the supporting players outside of the four main party members. The story is decidedly epic, and tear-jerking moments abound, especially for main character Tiz.
Yet, “Bravely Default” still has plenty of room for incompetent royalty, lecherous wise men and a wonderfully egotistical Diva of the Battlefield.
Coupled with some on the button voice acting and we’ve got a game that makes an impression.
Equally impressive is “Bravely Default”’s level of presentation. The graphics are decidedly lavish, with a meticulously detailed, hand-drawn look to the surroundings that perfectly fits the cute nature of the character models.
It’s never less than amazing when the camera draws back on an environment, and reveals the sparkle of the seas, or clouds rolling across the horizon. The score is powerful and varied, and it’s pretty fantastic all around, whether reflecting the frenzy of battle or the game’s sweeping drama.
The game even makes some interesting choices to make use of some of the 3DS’s other features.
It is possible to learn custom special attacks by playing in the vicinity of other players through use of Street Pass — which also can be used to gain new residents to help rebuild Tiz’s devastated hometown of Norende.
More residents cuts the time it takes to accomplish a rebuilding task in half, making this massive side quest more manageable.
I also like the ability to put the 3DS in sleep mode as opposed to powering it down, and gaining points for every eight hours it is asleep, which can be cashed in for a special time-freezing skill during battle.
“Bravely Default” is a triumphant merger of old school JRPG sensibilities with fresh ideas to keep the gears turning after upwards of 70 hours of playtime. It encourages new strategies, and keeps coming up with new ways to subvert traditional means of thinking when it comes to its genre’s tropes.
2013 was a strong year for software on Nintendo’s 3DS, and hopefully this is a sign that the level of quality won’t be letting up any time soon.
Developer: Silicon Studio
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Feb. 7, 2014
Rated: T for Teen.
Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via firstname.lastname@example.org.