Final Fantasy has fallen on hard times recently; the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy has proved to be controversial in both story and gameplay; Final Fantasy XIV originally launched to abysmal reviews; and Final Fantasy XV, announced over 8 years ago under a completely different title, is still missing in action. Although under a completely different moniker, Bravely Default shares a startling amount of tropes with the Final Fantasy series. White and black mages don their mysical garbs, players dash around the world map in a high powered airship, and four warriors find themselves tasked with restoring power to a set of magical crystals. What makes Bravely default so special though is that it clearly shows Square Enix has the ability to make great Final Fantasy games again.
Bravely Default depicts a world governed by four crystals that keep the elements in check. Something is amiss with the crystals though which is causing the world to slowly spiral out of control. Agnes Oblige, a young wind vestal who is responsible for looking after one of these crystals, takes it upon herself to reawaken these crystals in order to restore balance to the world. Along the way she encounters three individuals who’s fates will become closely connected to her own. This includes Tiz Arrior; a young man who’s life is turned upside down when his hometown is destroyed; Edea Lee, a knight who turns her back on her own country in order to help Agnes with her cause; and finally Ringabell, a flirtatious amnesiac who possesses a mysterious book containing details of the party’s future exploits. All of the characters are extremely likeable and fleshed out, bringing a layer of personality and dynamism to the game that is usually missing from the usual job based Final Fantasy titles. The same can’t be said for the voice acting which is pretty mediocre all round apart from a few notable exceptions. Edea and Ringabell are given some of the best lines of the game which are delivered very well, but unfortunately Agnes’ voice acting is woefully painful to listen to, which is a real shame given that most of the important events are based around her.
The story of Bravely Default is surprisingly dark, containing a great deal of twists and turns; some that will intrigue the player and some that will leave you scratching your head in disbelief. Regardless, many of the scenes are powerful and the overall scale of the game is incredibly grand. It also has a few lighthearted moments spread throughout that give the characters a great deal more likability, especially in the case of Edea and Ringabell who’s relationship is used to an often humorous effect. It’s this shifting tone that gives Bravely Default the much needed personality that has been lacking from recent Final Fantasy titles. This isn’t to say that the story is wholly successful, as the second half of the game takes a turn for the tedious that is obvious an effort to lengthen the story. It’s a poor decision on behalf of the designers, especially because most of the later content is recycled from the first half of the game.
The graphics in Bravely Default are highly impressive, especially considering the fact that it’s limited to the weak architecture of the 3DS. The character artwork is striking but sometimes a little odd looking, due to the fact it blends chibi characteristics with realistic proportions. The creature design’s in battle are highly expressive and extremely varied with loads of different types for the player to marvel at. The world design is just as beautiful, with hand drawn backdrops (continue later)
The soundtrack is a strange mixture of celtic and rock which works surprisingly well given the world the game is taking place in. The battle theme is, as per usual, addictively catchy and the boss themes get the blood pumping for the long arduous battles. As said before, the only drawback from the sound design is the mixed voice acting that can sometimes detract from the quality of the character exposition.
The battle system is where this game shines though, taking the turn based battle system of Final Fantasy but adding it’s own titular actions to add a strong sense of dynamism to the proceedings. Battles are determined by BP which determined how many attacks you can deal per turn. By clicking the brave icon, you can use up to four attacks in a single turn but at the expense of going into negative BP territory which means the character must wait the allotted number of turns to attack again. The way to counterbalance this comes through the default command which causes the character to wait a turn and defend, thus giving them an extra turn for the next phase of battle. Regular battles can be breezed through quickly by using the brave commands, but it’s the boss battles where the battle system soars. You’ll find that discovering the right balance of attack and defense creates is key to winning against the difficult bosses in Bravely Default.
The game also brings back the legendary job system of Final Fantasy, which includes the usual knight and mage jobs from Final Fantasy, as well as some new additions exclusive to Bravely Default. Much like Final Fantasy V, characters can dip and out of each job borrowing techniques and abilities from each one to use with their existing job. The costumes for each job are striking and typically grandiose, but with unique features for each character that help define their personality.
Bravely Default also has a few online touches courtesy of Nintendo Streetpass which can be used to rebuild Tiz’ hometown of Norende. This isn’t a purely superficial venture though, as taking the time to rebuild Norende can reward you with some very helpful items and attacks. There is also the option to buy some special potions that stop the flow of time mid battle, but these come at the cost of actual real world money instead of an in-game currency.
Bravely Default is a top notch RPG that manages to merge genre traditions with modern sensibilities. It takes the time to appease old school enthusiasts with a strategic battle system, whilst offering a fast paced and stylish presentation that will please modern gamers. It suffers a few unfortunate pitfalls along the way, but this is a journey of epic proportions that is definitely worth taking.