Review: Bravely Default

Developer: Silicon Studio | Year: 2014 | List Price: $39.99 | Buy from Amazon

Bravely DefaultExactly four months ago, a Japan-only game for the 3DS was released for the first time in North America and on launch day. I took a leap of faith and bought it on that day (one of the only times I’ve ever bought a game at launch) and wrote a couple of my first impressions down here. Well, it’s exactly four months to that day and many countless hours trying to defeat diabolical bosses later I’ve just beaten the game (just realised it’s a significant date, actually!). What’s the verdict? I’m going to sort of follow the same format as my impressions post, except now I’ve beaten the game, so here goes!

I’m going to try not to include any plot spoilers at all, but there are some gameplay-related spoilers I simply must address, and I’ll warn you when we get there.

A basic run-down of what Bravely Default is: It’s a Final Fantasy spin-off produced by Square Enix themselves and is a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light for the DS. Not having played any of those games, or any other true JRPG, for that matter, I can still wholeheartedly recommend Bravely Default to anyone remotely curious about the genre. Here’s why:

The story is quite good. Actually it’s extremely deep and detailed, but might be too wordy and draggy for some. But if you can sit back and let yourself be immersed in the world, then you’ll find yourself caring for the protagonists, seething at the gall of the antagonists, and dropping your jaw at many of the plot twists along the way (or punching walls, they’re that good!). Yes, it can be admitted that the story is formulaic, as it’s basically the heroes-save-the-world-from-evil idea we’ve seen countless times, but unlike many video game plots, the story actually seems to get more unique and creative as you progress, rather than becoming stale. All in all, if you invest a little effort in trudging through the volumes of backstory the game provides you, you’ll find Bravely Default’s plot extremely rewarding.

On to graphics and sound. The game is set before a backdrop of what seems to be hand-drawn settings, which really lends it a unique feel. The art style is consistently and Japanese-ly cutesy and fits the game’s premise well. The sound is even more noteworthy, however. The text is fully voiced in both English and Japanese which is awesome enough, but then we get to the music! Every track is just so original and catchy, really getting the player pumped for some insane boss fights. I really like the unique themes that play when each character performs their Special Moves, especially Tiz’s and Edea’s. And finally, towards the end of the game, when some really serious events are going down, many tracks are remixed into a medley and… well it’s just really cool.

Gameplay next. One of the most advertised things that makes Bravely Default unique is the titular Brave and Default system. Basically you get Brave points that can be used to do multiple attacks in a turn, but will leave you vulnerable for turns afterwards. Defaulting causes you to do nothing that turn, but nets you an extra Brave point for use later and a defensive buff for the turn. It sounds complicated, but it really becomes intuitive and I couldn’t imagine playing a JRPG without it. There are also a whole host of jobs you can assign to your four characters, and because you can use two job abilities at once, this opens up many interesting combination options for you to experiment with.

Something which the production team really put a lot of thought into is not just what you are playing, but how. They arranged the button layout such that it’s actually possible to play most of the game using only the left hand! This is useful when grinding and trying to do something else at the same time, or even just when you need to scratch your nose and mash through text at the ame time. Also, the Configure menu lets you control many things at any time within the game. You can actually set the Encounter Rate off to rush through dungeons, which is an awesome idea because it allows the player to separate exploration time and grinding time, as I do. The grinding itself is made easier by an Auto-battle toggle with which you can set the commands everyone will do every battle and just run around while watching TV or something. Finally, you can set the difficulty at any time, which I admit I did about two chapters in to Easy just to speed things along. One of the things I want to do next is to beat the game on Hard. It should be really, really difficult!

I’m going to address the length here. This is where you’ll get a mild spoiler as to the layout of the game, so skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know. Still no plot spoilers though. Anyway, the game, if played to the full ending, has eight chapters, and the first four are completely different, but the last four comprise basically the whole story again. Many people complain about the tedium of those last four chapters, and while they do have somewhat of a point, it’s only really bad if you decide to pursue all of the sidequests. I only did a couple of them and as a result, each of the final four chapters only took about an hour and a half to complete. You’ll also notice I mentioned a true ending. There is an alternative ending that can be reached as early as Chapter Five, but I strongly believe the true ending is worth the extra chapters. After you do one ending, you can still continue and try for the other one anyway, so it’s no big deal. Altogether, the game takes about 50-60 hours to complete. I myself played at a rather leisurely pace and took 57 hours, so it is a decently sized game.

In conclusion, Bravely Default provides an extremely innovative entry into the 3DS’ game library and will likely be seen on many Best Games of 2014 lists later this year. It’s actually worth getting the 3DS just for this title, in fact. Yes, it is a game that requires patience and skill, but I simply cannot recommend it enough!

Have you tried Bravely Default? What do you think about it? Tell us in the comments!

UPDATE: I always forget to do this! Time to break the game up and give it a score:

Design: 9/10 Although formulaic and wordy at times, Bravely Default’s story is engrossing with plenty of twists and turns. Luxendarc is a land rich in detail and the overall atmosphere of the game is cheery and pleasing.

Graphics: 10/10 This game doesn’t attempt to break any ground graphically, but succeeds in what it does. The hand-drawn backdrops are beautiful and majestic and the characters’ art style is unique. Also the frame rate practically never drops to a noticeably slow rate, and some of the battle animations (e.g. the summons you must survive) are simply breathtaking.

Sound 10/10 What’s amazing about Bravely Default’s soundtrack is that it’s completely original and yet can evoke a certain nostalgia. The overworld music never gets old and the Special Move themes are catchy.

Gameplay 9/10 The gameplay relies upon a tried and true JRPG formula and yet still adds enough to the mix to feel relevant. The Brave and Default systems are intuitive and the features that utilise the 3DS’ capabilities, such as Norende, StreetPass, and Friend Summons are present but unintrusive.

Replayability 8/10 The game won’t change much from playthrough to playthrough, but there is a New Game + option allowing you to experiment with Job combinations and maximising your characters’ potentials.

Total: 46/50 (A-)

List Price: $39.99 | Buy from Amazon

Have you tried Bravely Default? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!

You can check out our other video game reviews here, and see the always-up-to-date ranking of my favourite games right here!

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