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The Courage to Disobey: Intro: Square Enix disappointed their Final Fantasy fans since the release of Final Fantasy 13 and 14 (Which from what I hear was fixed in a Realm Reborn, well done!) but then we got to 2014 and Square collaborated with Silicon Studio to bring us Bravely Default for the 3DS, a final fantasy spinoff. Has it revived the hope for Square JRPG fans? I’m here to answer this question. Story: The story of Bravely Default revolves around four different protagonists. Agnes Oblege, Tiz Arrior, Edea Lee and Ringabell. There’s an AR (Augmented Reality) intro that gives you a sense of urgency of what’s happening. And then a 5 minute intro cinematic does a fantastic job of introducing the characters well before you meet them. Agnes is the vestal of wind, one of the vestals who live with an organization called the Crystal Orthodoxy. The vestal’s jobs are to maintain the crystals and awaken them should the worst comes to pass. Her mission is to awaken the crystal which have now become consumed in darkness. Ringabel is a mysterious charmer who suffers from amnesia but has a journal that somehow has future events recorded on it. Edea is an 18 year old who has just graduated from learning swordsmanship by her master and has now become a sky knight, so she’s one of the people who hunt down the orthodoxy. Tiz is a farmer who lives with his younger brother, Til in a small village called Norende. The game starts once Norende village gets swallowed up by the great chasm, which not only kills his younger brother, but is also the source of darkness that affected the crystals Agnes and the orthodoxy were trying to protect. Tiz wakes up in the kingdom of Caldisla by the friendly innkeeper called Karl. Then he meets Agnes and joins her on her journey. After defeating two formidable sky knights (Holly Whyte and Barras Lehr) They afterwards regroup in Caldisla where they encounter Ringabel who offers joining them and Agnes reluctantly agrees. They then encounter Black Mage Ominas Crowe, whose actions were so despicable, that Edea herself rebelled against him and joined the group. These four colorful characters’ goal now is to restore power to the four crystals of the elements and close the great chasm before the world is consumed by darkness. The story is at least interesting enough to keep you going to the end, and it even has some really dark moments such as the aforementioned death of a child character. And has some interesting symbolic sub-plots such as the fact that there’s a faction of Shieldbearers fighting against Swordbearers, I find it to be symbolic because of how it represents the event with the Swordbearers being the attackers and the Shieldbearers being the defenders. While the main plot itself is quite cliche and not all that great, it makes up for it by having some of the best characters and side quests I’ve ever seen in an RPG in quite a long while. There are Party Chats, which flesh out the characters even more. Think like Fire Emblem’s support system or Xenoblade’s Heart to Hearts. Party Chats are basically little event scenes that provide some character development. The main cast itself is superb, with Edea and Ringabel stealing the spotlight, Ringabel is my personal favorite because of how awesome, charming and mysterious he is. But the other characters all have their own admirable qualities and little personality quirks revealed in Party Chats and quite a bit of cutscenes, too. I mean, Tiz is a very light sleeper, Agnes has a terrible sense of direction, and Edea is VERY quick to anger. As for the Asterisk bosses and side quest characters, the villains all have deep characters with motivations for their actions rather than just being a bad person. They usually have their characters explored in a 4-6 minute cutscene with a bit of dialogue, and even some actions that take place to build up tension before the confrontation. I also like how some villains get their own cutscenes to show the story from their perspective. It’s pretty cool. Some special guests appear in Party Chats. Such as Zats, Datz, Airy and Egil which gives what are otherwise minor characters some more exposure. Overall, the story is there it’s good; but it’s the characters and asterisk bosses are what make this game’s story special. Graphics and Presentation: The art is really good in this game. I mean, what can I say about it? Just like Wind Waker, this is another game where I was really skeptical about the graphics until I actually played it and found out that it adds a lot of personality to the game. The game’s art looks a bit like a chibi anime but I think it adds to it because it makes the characters pop out even more than they otherwise would, and it would just not be the same as a regular JRPG anime art style. I instantly noticed from the get go that the reason why they did it is not just because of the creator’s artistic vision, but also because of technical limitations to make it look clean. Which is completely fine because it’s a 3DS game and I understand how limited you can be here. What it does well on a technical level is that it has some nice looking particle effects. The spells are satisfying to cast because of that reason. And the animations look pretty solid. I always get a kick out of watching the special attacks for their cool animations. The sound is good, every sound effect fits the attack or ability you use for it. But it’s quite bizzare how abilities like Stomp, Shell Split, etc, have a blade slashing sound effect even if you have your fists equipped. The soundtrack is superb, some of the best music I’ve heard in any JRPG ever, which is a huge achievement, I’d say. The voice acting is mostly solid. The lines are overall well written, but some voice actors have more believable line delivery than others. But it’s for the most part solid, and the game itself is mostly voiced, cutscenes, dialogue sequences and all. Minus at least Party Chats and NPC dialogue. So overall, on the presentation side, it’s very good. Gameplay: The gameplay of Bravely Default is easily the best part of the game. First of all, let’s talk about the game’s overworld exploration, the exploration part is mostly isometric. During exploration of cities, you’ll find shops that sell you different types of gear and spells, and some interior areas have hidden secrets where you don’t expect to find. Dungeons however don’t encourage you to do the same, instead having treasure chests as the only method of finding items during exploration, which makes sense giving that if you make it harder than that, it makes you have a random encounter while trying to gain an item which is quite annoying. The open world exploration is really fun and addicting to do because you always encounter new areas and enemies, and your boundaries are smaller since you have an airship that can take you anywhere. But sadly, some side quests feel the need to lock exploration of some areas because you still didn’t accept that side quest, so guess what? There’s no reason to go here, turn back. But why? Allow me to go and explore this cave and if I made a mistake and it’s too hard, let me live with my consequences. Otherwise, the exploration experience is just about peerless. The game’s dungeon design is decent, there weren’t a lot of ones that stood out, but exploring them, avoiding traps and opening treasure chests was all very fun. I also liked the party chats initiated by some of the traps triggered, they were funny. The game’s battle system is where the game truly shines. What sets it apart from classic turn based RPGs like Final Fantasy 5 is the Brave and Default mechanics which is one of many reasons why the game has the name Bravely Default, I’ll let you discover the other reasons, you’ll feel rewarded once you do. Any way, combat! Default allows you to block attacks and bank your turns while Brave allows you to execute multiple turns in a row by using BP (Brave Points, otherwise referred to as Battle Points) You can still brave without brave points but that puts your BP count in minus, which means you’ll remain idle for the specific number of turns because you braved without BP. A lot of people pointed fingers at it for being not that significant but oh, hell no! It adds a lot of depth to the game’s battle system because of how much risk vs reward it has, you can attack four times from the very beginning of the fight but do you want to risk that? If you succeed, you are greatly rewarded by victory bonuses such as a bonus for one turn victories, unscathed victories, winning streak, so on and so forth. That help encourage the player to take these risks and earn their pay. There’s nothing as satisfying as having your healer being idle actually paying off since you can now cast heal multiple times. Same applies for other support abilities and even DPS. The combat system is absolutely phenomenal in this game, as you can tell. It’s also quite challenging. I was playing on Hard mode and Normal mode pretty much 50-50 of the time. I changed based on how challenged I wanted myself to be. I have a few minor issues with the combat and one is that I personally feel that random encounters are kinda outdated in comparison to enemies you actually find in front of you in the overworld like in Ni No Kuni, Xenoblade Chronicles and as much as I hate to praise it, Final Fantasy 13. Random encounters are kind of a no no for me unless I’m playing Pokemon as in those games, you mostly encounter enemies in specific encounter zones such as bush and such. Another issue I have is that some of the bosses have unfair difficulty spikes, such as Rusalka, who has a clear pattern to his most deadly attack but you can’t avoid it’s enormous damage output unless you have a Templar or a Spirit Master, which are both unlocked much farther along the line. Another thing is that some enemies have quite the annoying abilities that can only be avoided by trial and error such as abilities that inflict mean status ailments/instant death if you don’t do a specific thing about it. But this one is more of a nitpick because such is the nature of old school JRPGs. But if you’re not a fan of that kind of trial and error is too much for you, you can always turn down the random encounter rate or remove them entirely if you so wish. Which is quite useful for players new to the genre, or players who are too overleveled and just wanna get to the boss, etc. One more nitpick, the developers should cut some of the RNG bullshit, I’m not a fan of getting a crit from an enemy in any RPG, it’s random high damage to a party member while the enemy has much more health so they can afford to get critted, but that’s mostly me. Another thing about RNG is that I don’t like how occasionally, allies or enemies get +1 BP or get free first attacks. And I think the game should allow me to prioritize some of my actions, such as Ironclad being cast after Stomp to cure the effect but maybe that was for balancing the game, I suppose. And sleep points before bosses would help instead of backtracking back to a city to heal up because I’m beaten to a pulp. Another thing is that your healer uses a healing spell on a different ally if the original cast target is dead. But what if I changed my mind and don’t wanna cast it anymore since he/she is dead? But the AI is smart enough to automatically give it to the one who needs it most. But all of the aforementioned flaws are more minor nitpicks to an otherwise peerless turn based battle system. The game’s job system pulls a little bit of Final Fantasy 5 out of its pockets by allowing you to mix and combine two different job classes at will. Making it a big room for tons of different builds and synergy that the player can achieve. There’s a lot of different combos that you can do and some jobs can combo surprisingly well with others. Like for example, the Dark Knight. You’d think that as a secondary job, it would be a terrible option for any other job for it’s kamikaze abilities, but the Monks have very high HP, so it synergises well. And the salve maker synergizes excellently with the White Mage since they have the Healing Lore specialty which doubles the effectiveness of healing abilities and spells. I have a knack for job systems in RPG, I absolutely love experimenting with them no matter what. You can also experiment with your special attacks, customize their dialogue and special effects, which is quite nice. And get many different upgrades from Norende Village, which is a side quest built in as a mechanic, it allows you to use players you streetpass as citizens and hire them to build shops, open roads and even upgrade existing shops. Every extra worker cuts down construction time by half, so if you have many, you should finish quite quick. These shops will give you some quite powerful items that are admittedly super expensive to keep things balanced and encourage you to get less dramatic upgrades from the town shops. The game’s pacing is mostly solid, but the bard’s side quest felt very backtrack heavy. And the side quest markers in that quest only change after you leave the area which can be quite confusing for some players. And that one objective of rescuing 18 canary boys in the Mythril Mines was kinda immersion breaking for me, it made me feel like I was playing a game and just constantly rescuing similar looking NPCs that had mostly similar dialogue and maybe that’s a bit unrealistic and game-like. Now speaking of pacing, I’m gonna harp a little bit about the second half of the game. It’s boring! I dunno what other word is perfect for describing it. It’s tedious and mediocre at best. Without spoiling it, basically, chapter 5-8 is you doing everything you did all over again. Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds since you have an upgraded airship to cut down on backtracking, but the backtracking inside the dungeons still exists. And fighting the same bosses over, and over, and over, and over again is just boring! If there’s one positive about it is that it fits well within the context of the plot, I won’t spoil why that is. But frankly, I don’t care how well done your story is. This is a game, I play games to have fun, I’m an independent game designer myself. But trust me, even way before I became one, I would’ve realized that this is a massive game design error that even I would avoid. It’s not only a lazy way to pad out game length but it’s a terrible reward for the hard working player who got that far. You can’t just slap him or her in the face and expect to get away with it, you know? But there are some cool things about it. Some things happen differently in Chapter 6 such as getting a brand new side quest for one of the most powerful jobs in the game. And Chapter 8 has every villain from each region conspiring with the Eternian Knights to fight together and repel your party. Those differences are cool, but they’re just not big enough to excuse the fact that the developers did what they did. On a brighter note, you can actually finish the game as early as Chapter 5 if you do a certain thing I won’t spoil. But the true ending is achievable once you finish all of the chapters, so essentially finish the game four times again to get the true ending. But the final boss was truly marvelous. It’s so epic, grand and climactic that it kinda redeemed the BS behind the last four chapters. I won’t spoil anything about it, but make sure to have friends playing the game if you want the ending and final boss to affect you to a greater degree. The game lasted me about 90 hours to complete. Longest game I ever played. And with all of that said and done, what’s the final verdict on this baby? Final Verdict: Bravely Default is overall a stupendous game. I can’t believe me saying this, but since there were some notable differences to freshen things up a little bit in the second half, and the final hours were beyond masterful. I’m actually now kinda willing to give it a less than harsh final verdict. I have gotten tons of hours of enjoyment out of this title and consider it to be one of the better JRPGs I played on the 3DS, second to Fire Emblem: Awakening, I’d say. Yes, the second half was very poorly thought out, but the game as a whole was incredibly fun regardless. I think Square Enix created one of the better Final Fantasy games in over a decade. Now if only it fixes its second half to make the jump between chapters as dramatic as from 5 to 8, or hell, maybe even take out 3 unnecessary chapters, then it would be a classic. But now it stands as a great game that could be even better. Which is what I’m hoping to find in Bravely Second. Speaking of which, you get a cutscene teaser of the sequel after finishing this game and it looks quite good. I hope Bravely Second expands on what the first game offered and never deviates into any unnecessary padding. In the end, Bravely Default is still one of the best 3DS games I’ve ever played. Without the second half taken into account, I would’ve given it a 9, but I can’t do it now in good faith. Final Score: 8/10 Very Good Update on upcoming reviews: Well, this was quite the adventure that I went through. It had it’s ups and downs, but nothing can stop me from enjoying it. I put 90 hours in. I put over 400 hours in other games but in terms of pure story mode, this is the longest it took me. The next game for me to review will be either Sin and Punishment: Star Successor or Mario and Luigi: Dream Team. Whichever one I choose first, I will still do them both. If you haven't read my review of the Metroid Prime Trilogy, go here for Prime 1 http://serenesforest.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=52669#entry3664154 Here for Prime 2 http://serenesforest.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=53553#entry3749129 Here for Prime 3 http://serenesforest.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=53553#entry3749129 If you're looking for another educated opinion on Bravely Default, try Zera's review of it http://serenesforest.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=53866