Bravely Default | battle

Bravely Default (3DS): Many Will Play, Few Will Finish (Detailed Review)

Ever since I knew of Bravely Default’s existence, I was hyped up for it. Just about everything I saw was a sign that pointed to this being an amazing game. First of all, it being a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light was a good sign seeing as how I found that to be one of the more underrated games in the Final Fantasy series. 4 Heroes of Light was a game I greatly enjoyed just due to how it managed to easily capture the feelings of Final Fantasy I-III while improving on their mechanics and presentation. Many have criticized it for being unpolished or overly difficult, but that was not correct. The game, despite not being easy in any sense, was well balanced enough due to how much more accessible and convenient the game’s job system was than previous games like Final Fantasy V. Yet what was probably the most memorable aspect of 4 Heroes of Light was its simplicity.

The game never felt as though it was trying to be this large scale epic that a lot of the games in the Final Fantasy series do, yet there were certain subtle aspects of it that gave it a unique charm that most JRPGs lack. The story was mostly out of the way and it was never the central focus, rather it had a better focus on its atmosphere. Despite the fact that the plot made zero sense and that the characters had almost no development, it was still enjoyable just because that was not the main point of the game. It had a unique yet simple battle system, a simple way of raising job levels, and a simplistic yet effective soundtrack that consisted of a mix between 8-bit chiptunes and orchestral music. 4 Heroes of Light was a simple experience with a fair challenge and unique charm that most fans of JRPGs could enjoy simply because it was never overbearing and it did not overstay its welcome.

Bravely Default | Airy
But that doesn’t mean you’ll like it.

The same cannot be said for Bravely Default. What initially had me excited was just how much it looked like Bravely Default intended to accomplish. I expected it to keep up the style of 4 Heroes of Light while having much more robust mechanics and a much deeper and involved story. For some reason, it never occurred to me that the goal that Bravely Default was aiming for missed the point of 4 Heroes of Light entirely, but even then I can generally applaud innovation more than playing it safe, regardless of the latter usually working out better.

There were a lot of things that Bravely Default tried to add in order to make itself this huge impressive game, and these things looked absolutely stunning on paper. Hell when I played the game’s demo, it showed just how much promise the game had. Similarly to 4 Heroes of Light, Bravely Default had a simple yet very effective battle system that changed things up completely, and the demo featured unique content from the full game and rewarded players for completing the demo by giving them access to early game items in the full version. The game’s demo alone displayed plenty of the game’s positive features and was just a great experience. It is a shame that this demo was a better experience than the game itself.

Now I will just say that my disappointment with Bravely Default does not lie solely with the fact that it missed the point of what made 4 Heroes of Light as great as it was. In fact, I normally do not care in the least how different a game’s sequel is as long as it provides a good experience in its own right. My disappointment also does not lie in the belief that it does not innovate or do anything new. In fact, Bravely Default had plenty of interesting ideas and I have not seen many other JRPGs try them. The reason I am disappointed and dissatisfied with Bravely Default is quite simple, because it is a game that requires you to put in hours of time into it with it giving you very little in return. Despite showing a lot of promise, Bravely Default acts on almost none of it, and instead of ending up with a game that could have been one of Square Enix’s best games, it ends up as a game that certainly has a lot it could give you, but chooses to keep it all to itself.

Bravely Default | Battle Screen

Bravely Default, at first, looks like it could be interesting seeing as how it starts out with the game’s fairy creature breaking the 4th wall to speak directly to you about an incoming crisis. It makes an excellent use of the 3DS’s gyroscope feature by showing this fairy as if she was in your own room and as if the events were occurring right there. However, the story quickly takes a nosedive off a cliff afterwards and refuses to come back out after this scene. It starts out showing our main character, Tiz, having his entire hometown and its entire population being swallowed up by a hole in the ground which now sits where his hometown used to be. He is the sole survivor of this incident. He decides to go check out the chasm for himself, when he notices that a mysterious girl named Agnes is being pursued by what one would guess is a military airship. In true JRPG fashion, Tiz decides to rescue Agnes, despite just meeting her and knowing nothing about her, and he offers to protect and accompany her on her mission.

Now I could just say that the game is overly cliched and trite based on that description of the plot, but I have stated in the past that I believe any plot, no matter how overused, can be done well if executed the right way. In fact, even with a simple plot like this, Bravely Default could have been a really well told story if it were not for its numerous flaws.

The first of many problems is the writing. The writing in this game is painfully dull and lifeless, and there is very little substance to any of it. Every character in the game is so shallow that you can stand in a pool of them and not get your feet wet, themes and motifs are often contradicted by the game’s events, and there are constant plot holes that occur from the game trying too hard to try to surprise the player. Now it bears repeating that the characters in this game are flat and two dimensional, but the thing is that it is still possible to have a likable cast without detailed backstory, development, and personality. This was something that 4 Heroes of Light did very nicely. The characters in that game were not deep by any means, but the game did not have a huge emphasis on plot, so you just got to see their basic traits when you needed to.

Bravely Default, on the other hand, has a ton of dialogue but rarely develops them, and you hear the same things from them every time they open their mouths. Tiz has no personality other than that he will do anything for Agnes. Ringabel plays the competent guy whenever he is not hitting on women, and Agnes is basically emotionless and is focused only on the crystals. However, Edea is easily the worst of the four. Her shtick of making passionate speeches about why whichever enemy she is currently fighting is a terrible person get old very quickly, and she admits that she thinks all morality is black and white. The fact that the game needed to tell you that Edea had this belief just so you can know that they are going to preach to you that it is not true shows how forced this game’s intended theme was.

Bravely Default | Black or White

Bravely Default also suffers from constant dialogue and conversation scenes that almost never tell you anything of any importance and drag the game out constantly. A majority of the time, you will forget what the characters said right after they said it. It is clear that the game thinks it is telling this intricate story and is trying to build its world, but shoehorning every last detail of the games world into the game will not help. I estimate that a majority of the game’s dialogue could have been cut from the game entirely and nothing of value would have been lost.

It is not even that it has a lot of text that makes it unbearable; I have played a lot of JRPGs that have taken up to an hour before you even get into your first battle. Hell I have played visual novels that do not dwell on as much pointless fluff as Bravely Default. It surprises me that so many people compare this game to SNES era JRPGs when those games were the exact opposite when it came to dialogue. In Final Fantasy IV and VI, there was only as much as was needed to advance the plot and they moved at a lightning fast pace. Those games were basically one epic scene after another and no moment felt misplaced. In Bravely Default, a majority of the dialogue is unnecessary and only drags the game to a screeching halt.

However, it is not just the dialogue that is drawn out in this game. You ever notice the certain pattern that a lot of JRPGs have where you need you obtain the designated plot coupon and solve specific problem in each town that is caused by a sub villain? It is a pattern that can be considered to be lazy and formulaic, but is one I am normally fine with anyway. It is a nice way to try and get you to understand separate areas of the game’s world by having an isolated incident occur in one area at a time. The problem with how Bravely Default handles it is that this formula is dragged out over the first forty hours of the game over four chapters. That makes it almost ten hours per chapter, most of which are spent on unimportant arcs that do not contribute to the overall plot and could have been removed from the game entirely.

Bravely Default | Crystal

The second chapter is the most egregious example of this. Right at the beginning of the chapter, you have access to the water crystal that needs to be awakened to progress. Despite the fact that they tell you that Agnes is easily capable of awakening the water crystal at that moment, she refuses to because she thinks it is more important for the water vestal, whom they have no idea where to find or if she is even still alive, to awaken it despite the fact that it was established earlier that they need to accomplish this as fast as possible. To rub salt in the wound, just see if you can guess how the chapter turns out? I will not spoil it, but I will just say that it is still Agnes that is awakening the water crystal ten hours later.

Oh and what was it that was so important that the game needed to be dragged out for ten more hours in order to include? The answer to that was to enter Agnes into a beauty contest. This beauty contest itself is even poorly paced because you are sent on fetch quests to find items for Agnes to use for her outfit, yet you do not end up using them and Agnes places dead last. I will at least grant the game that it provided a rather humorous scene that featured Agnes being introduced to the concept of sex appeal though, and seeing as how it was one of the few memorable moments from the game, I guess I cannot be too angry about it.

To rub it in even further, Agnes is suddenly in favor with completely ignoring those in need of help because she thinks that getting to the crystal is more important by the time you make it to chapter three. This brings up yet another issue with the game’s story; consistency, or lack thereof.  As stated earlier, it is obvious that the game tries to force the idea that reality is not entirely black and white on the player, but their attempt to do so comes across as incredibly forced and poorly thought out. For example, several times in chapters three and four, you hear some of the enemies telling you that awakening the crystals will lead the world into ruin, yet none of the main protagonists ever decide to hear them out nor do any of the villains even try to explain. Hell the Grand Marshal would apparently rather kill his own daughter than simply tell the protagonists what is happening. The entire conflict of this game could have easily been resolved in minutes if the game’s cast was not made up entirely of blithering idiots. Also a theme the game just outright says directly to you in the later chapters is to have the courage to disobey and act on your own, yet the game’s true ending is accessed by doing the exact opposite and going along with whatever you are being told.

Bravely Default | destruction
But enough about the US Government.

So I have now given my explanation for why Bravely Default’s plot was an absolute train wreck, yet it would be unfair to say it did nothing right. The bad still far outweighs the good but I will give credit where credit is due. First of all, there are some rather humorous scenes in the game that will likely stick out due to the contrast with the game’s plodding narrative. Usually Ringabel and Edea have some funny things to say, and while it usually consists of the same joke, it does find interesting ways to re tell it. Also Agnes’s catch phrase, “unacceptable,” did at least manage to make me smile when I saw it.

What truly deserves credit on the part of the writers was just how well executed the final bosses were, both the normal and true final bosses. By trying to spoil as little as possible, the normal ending’s final boss stands out simply because of how hard it mercilessly mocks our main protagonists and their various flaws in its sheer hatred, and it actually mirrored my exact thoughts on this game’s cast. In fact, a lot of what I used to blast the game’s characters came from that segment. This of course brings to mind that the writers knew they had terrible characters yet did nothing about it. As poor of a writing practice it is to intentionally leave a flaw in your game for the purpose of an artistic statement, it still stands as one of the most refreshing moments of the game.

In terms of overall execution, the true final boss was a work of genius that was so brilliant that it deserved to be in a much better game. Despite the obvious flaw that this boss, once again in true JRPG fashion, comes out of nowhere and is never foreshadowed, the battle itself still has an incredibly intense atmosphere and emotional depth to it. First of all, the voice the final boss is given is nerve wracking and menacing and I have not heard one this intense since Nyx Avatar from Persona 3. The music in the fight is amazing, not just on its own, but also in how it is used and how different parts of it are added depending on where you are in the fight. What really sets the fight apart, aside from the spectacle of it, is the way that it incorporates your real life friends, assuming you have them registered on the game, into the game’s final boss battle. Not since Earthbound’s Giygas has there been a boss that has done such an amazing job at breaking the 4th wall in such a heroic fashion. I cannot stress enough how regretful it was that such an awesome final boss was wasted on such a mediocre game.

Bravely Default | Agnes wore sexy clothes
Oh, and there’s also that I guess.

The graphics, animations, and aesthetics of Bravely Default are one of the more positive aspects of the game that made me really wish the game could have been better than it turned out to be. The game’s pre rendered backgrounds look beautiful and it makes me question why JRPGs have abandoned this practice after the PS1 era. The cinematic cutscenes, what little the game has, also look stunning and incredibly well rendered. The in game graphics have a nice look to them, although not the greatest. One complaint I have is that the character models are displayed during cutscenes instead of any artwork, which is quite a shame seeing as how the art style is one of the best features of the games. Also what is regrettable is that you cannot rotate the camera to see more of the game, like in Hexyz Force or the Dragon Quest DS titles.

One really nice feature the game has is the ability to speed up attack animations and get through battles faster, which really cuts down on a lot of the game time, which also demonstrates how overly long this game is when it still ends up as a 60 plus hour game. The game has some neat effects where you can choose what text you want to be displayed when a character uses a special attack, which can allow you to use some rather amusing lines for their attacks. The attack animations themselves are nice as well although you will not be paying much attention to them because you will be fast forwarding most of the time.

The game’s dungeon designs are rather bland and uninspired and it felt like I was repeatedly retreading the same dungeons. They are also straightforward and have very little puzzles involved, and the ones they do involve feel more intrusive than anything. One dungeon has a puzzle where you need to press the right series of switches to unlock the right doors, which becomes enormously tedious when dealing with random encounters. Another one has hot spots that damage you if you walk over them. This gets very annoying seeing as how you cannot turn the camera to see these hot spots better and you will oftentimes walk over them because you cannot get a good view of them. Even when you are avoiding them, the game decides to make you wait in your tracks for them to cool off in order to proceed. Keep in mind that you would normally be dealing with these in addition to random encounters, but the game also has the features to temporarily turn off random encounters completely, and you will be using this for a lot of dungeons.

Bravely Default | standard attack

The sound effects of Bravely Default are highly effective in battles and they really do give off the intended meaning. Ice spells have a nice cracking sound, lightning sounds like a sudden strike, fire sounds like a sudden ignition. The voice acting is pretty standard for the most part. It often sounds a bit too over the top to be convincing but it is still good enough to suffice.

The music in Bravely Default is simply brilliant and is yet another aspect that saddens me that it was not in a better game. As much as I love 4 Heroes of Light’s soundtrack, it is not hard to admit that the tracks themselves are rather simplistic and that it is more so the soundtracks premise that gives it an edge. Bravely Default, on the other hand, is full of well composed and complex tracks. I have already mentioned the final boss theme but hearing the song itself does not do it justice. Seeing how well it is used in the battle itself shows the true brilliance of it, which is a shame because it requires you to go through a sixty plus hour slog to get to it. The same applies to every battle theme in the game. The game’s most commonly heard boss theme sounds reminiscent of what would normally be a final boss theme in a normal JRPG soundtrack. The rest of the battle themes also have an excellent mix of orchestral and metal. A lot of the cutscene tracks are pleasant to listen to and even made me have less of a desire to skip the cutscenes outright at points. The only issue I have is that there is not enough variety in the dungeon themes and you here the same two tracks throughout the entire game.

There are a lot of people that say that gameplay is the only thing that matters in any game, and is the only thing that should be taken into consideration. While it is true that tedious gameplay will ruin a game regardless of how well it does in other areas, it is important to consider that other aspects can also be a huge part of an experience. This is especially true with a lot of RPGs seeing as how the main purpose of these games is to immerse the player into their world while using their gameplay as a tool. Granted that is not to say that an RPG cannot be a good game if it does not have a good story of course. What I mean to say is that, with the exception of the battle mechanics, every other gameplay mechanic is ingrained to an element of world building in an RPG, and often times battle mechanics alone are not enough to carry the game for most people when the game has so many other features that all fail on their own. To put it simply, the more emphasis a game has on story and the less precedence the battle mechanics have, the less the battle mechanics contribute to the overall experience in the long run.

Bravely Default | Dream Smasher

Now with that said, at first I thought I might have been able to recommend Bravely Default as a game to play if you were in the small group that does not care about the story at all and can overlook it easily as long as the battle mechanics are solid. The reason for this is because Bravely Default’s battle mechanics were solid at first. Throughout the first four chapters, you are put up against various boss fights, and it is when these bosses are defeated that you obtain an asterisk, which allows you to change to the job class of the boss you just beat. A major annoyance with a lot of job class systems in JRPGs is that the bosses are designed in ways where only one specific job setup works against them, and that if you did not pick the right job class for that fight then your only option is to go grind up a separate class setup and hope you picked the right one. With the way Bravely Default introduces its job classes, you are given job classes at a rate where you can give some experimentation with each class for a bit without feeling overwhelmed, and you will likely be adequately level enough with each job class that you do not need to grind them up.

Unfortunately, as soon as you finish chapter four, the game has an absurdly huge spike in difficulty. While you could previously beat every boss with a bit of experimentation and strategy, bosses in chapter five became so absurdly difficulty that the only solutions are to either do massive amounts of grinding in order to increase job levels, or experiment by repeatedly facing bosses that take over ten minutes to defeat. The latter process is especially tedious seeing as how one will often spend what feels like up to ten minutes on one boss only to be killed and have to start from the beginning. You will never be able to beat these bosses on the first try.

Normally I am the type of person that prefers challenging RPGS, but it turns out that even I have my limit. You either experiment constantly to find a setup that you can use to just barely finish a boss fight, or you spend hours grinding up a certain specific job class set up in order to beat the bosses in a cheap and easy fashion. Suddenly the nice balance of difficulty the game had earlier on is tossed aside and you are expected to know just the right class set up for each boss battle. It is made even worse due to how absurdly long it takes to gain job levels past level 10. Job levels are scaled to where the amount of experience needed doubles each time you level up. It eventually gets to the point where you need 4000 JP to level up when you gain less than 100 JP each battle, and that is at level ten. The job level cap in Bravely Default is fourteen, and the game somehow expects you to max out multiple different job classes, which means that a majority of the game’s time will be spent on job level grinding. This would not even be all that bad if it were not for the fact that you only learn new abilities by gaining job levels, and you have no way of knowing what ability you will gain aside from gaining the level itself. I am aware that there are certain tricks that can be used to mitigate the process of grinding for job levels, but if you need to resort to abusing the game’s mechanics in order to spend less time grinding than that just shows that something is messed up.

Bravely Default | plug up that sinkhole

A while back, before the game was released in the US, there was an article on Siliconera that pointed out that only 20% of people that played the original version of Bravely Default in Japan have gotten to the true ending. I originally thought that this was just because they were a bunch of casuals who were only playing for the story and were not used to RPGs, but after playing the game myself I can see why. The game is absurdly unbalanced and requires an unnatural amount of commitment to get through. The revamped version that was released in the US added several features to the game that were supposedly there to make the game easier. One of these was the Bravely Second feature where you can stop time and automatically get your turn, as well as break the damage limit on that specific turn. The Bravely Second feature can be used as many times as you want as long as you have it. The problem with it is that there are only two ways of gaining opportunities to use Bravely Second. The first is to leave your 3DS in sleep mode and you get one use per every eight hours it is left in sleep mode. However, you cannot really abuse the feature seeing as how it only allows you to have a maximum of three uses, which defeats the point of providing an option to bypass the rest of the game. However, you can gain a potion that automatically restores the uses of the Bravely Second feature to max; that is if you are willing to pay for it in real world money of course.

Yes you read that right, Bravely Default has microtransactions, and considering that the average time of completion went from seventy to thirty hours once the updated version was released in Japan, it is clear that a lot of people made use of that feature. Supposedly this feature was added to allow more people to complete the game, but if that was the case then why make people pay for it? Bravely Default is using the tactics of free to play games in a game that you already paid forty dollars for. This would not be so much of an issue if getting through the game normally was not as tedious as it was though.

Bravely Default | town

One major thing to note is that the reason that Bravely Default becomes so tedious after chapter four is not just because of the game’s poor balance alone. It also occurs because 90% of the bosses you are fighting in Chapter five are optional rematches against bosses you already fought earlier, and the only mandatory battles for the chapter are also reused boss fights. So after you clear chapter five, where you need to awaken the same crystals that you spent all of chapters one through four doing, you then get to chapter six where you realize you have to do the exact same thing again. Chapters five through eight, in terms of both plot and gameplay, all make you redo the same events and re-fight the same boss battles that you fought in the first four chapters. While the battles themselves are technically designed differently, it still comes across as incredibly lazy and it would have been much better if the game decided to focus on adding additional content that was actually interesting instead of just piling boss battles on you. As a result, the game suffers from a serious case of ending fatigue where you pass the point where it seems that the game should have ended long ago. In fact, that is probably how you can sum up the game in general.

Bravely Default is perhaps one of the most disappointing games I have ever played. I have been following the game closely ever since I knew of its existence and was convinced it was destined for greatness. Unfortunately, instead of soaring to great heights, this fairy can barely lift itself off the ground. What ultimately keeps Bravely Default from living up to its potential is that it focuses heavily on quantity over quality. The main plot of Bravely Default is basically the plot of a twenty hour game stretched out across over sixty hours and padded out with dialogue that adds nothing to the game and repeat boss battles that one can only appreciate if they really love the game’s combat system and are willing to overlook the game’s myriad of flaws in order to get through.

Bravely Default | overworld

A majority of what Bravely Default seems to offer seems to be an attempt to overcompensate for its lack of worthwhile content. The Norende restoration sidequest that is done entirely by leaving the system in sleep mode simply adds the illusion of depth and really adds nothing to the game. The fact that you repeat the same boss battles several times provides the illusion that this game has a lot to offer. Ultimately, Bravely Default is a game that you give plenty of hours to but gives you very little in return. There is admittedly a unique charm that this game possessed that made me really want to like it despite everything that holds it back, but it was all just too much. Bravely Default is not impossible to enjoy, but it is very patience trying and is not a game I can find myself recommending. It may be enjoyable at first but the enjoyment wears off and you will most likely not find yourself with the patience to finish it.

This review was originally posted to GameFAQs on March 11th of 2014, and has since been re-edited with enhanced presentation.

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