JRPG fans are always ecstatic whenever Square Enix launches a new role-playing game, and this time Square Enix is banking on Claytechworks to deliver the fantasy to their fans in the latest installment of the Bravely series.
While Bravely Default II is actually the third game in the series, it is a brand new story with no ties to previous games at all, even if it is a rather typical JRPG story. Here, four brave warriors band together to travel around the world to retrieve the four powerful Crystals of Fire, Water, Wind and Earth. Together, they would fight the calamity known as the Night’s Nexus and seal him away before he unleashes chaos and destroys the world.
Players take on the role of Seth, the protagonist who almost drowned after his ship sinks. The unconscious sailor is washed up the shores and found by Gloria, the princess without a kingdom, and her companion Sir Sloan. Like any good Samaritan, they bring him back to the town’s inn to recover. Upon waking up, Seth returns to the storm-ravaged beach where he encounters travelling scholar Elvis and his mercenary companion, Adelle, while fighting a random monster. One thing leads to another, and after a dramatic cinematic, Chapter One begins and the four-man team is ready to set out and save the world.
Though the “gather all crystals and save the world” story is nothing extraordinary, the journey itself is anything but insipid. There are a couple of unexpected and well-executed plot twists and most of the Asterisk bearing bosses have an enthralling backstory. The first few chapters of Bravely Default II happen in the four countries of Halcyonia, Savalon, Wiswald and Rimedhal and each country has its own captivating main quest brought alive by their respective NPCs. Players, you are forewarned that the Rimedhal story is a dark and heavy one, certain to leave a dull ache in your chest.
The main characters are well written too, though the somber Gloria, cheeky Elvis and quick-tempered Adelle tend to overshadow Seth the altruistic hero. Besides the cinematic cutscenes, upon reaching certain milestones, Party Chats are also triggered to help players understand the characters’ journey better through their banter. One neat feature of the Party Chats is that they are all saved in the Travelogue, so if players are too busy fighting enemies to watch the party chit chat, they can choose to do that later.
The world of Bravely Default II is indeed teeming with enemies. The overworld’s tranquil background music might mislead players into believing that they could roam safely to search for treasure chests, but they would soon realise that upon nightfall, more ominous monsters lurk in the darkness. The spawn rate of monsters in dungeons is even higher, with an encounter guaranteed at almost every corner, even one that you have already passed by safely earlier. Fortunately the enemies are visible so encounters are not random. So players can choose to run away from a baleful monster walking towards their direction, or sneak up to an unsuspecting monster for battle advantage. If an enemy’s level is much lower than the party’s average, it will also scamper away, so players do not have to waste their time battling low level enemies for low experience points.
Like its predecessor, the battle system of Bravely Default II is turn-based, with Brave Points management added. Using the Brave command will use up a Brave Point to give a character an extra action for his/her turn. Players can use the Brave command up to three times, giving the character up to four actions in a single turn. However with a battle starting at 0 Brave Point, this would leave -3 Brave Points for the character, meaning he/she would not be able to do anything for the next three turns. On the other hand, the Default command will place the character in a defensive position to save up Brave Point. This is especially useful for healers to save up their Brave Points when the team is healthy, and provide more efficient healing afterwards.
Players can easily win or lose a fight solely due to their Brave Points management. While it is tempting to “borrow” Brave Points to attack the enemies consecutively, the characters will also be sitting ducks to the enemies’ attack for subsequent turns while waiting for their Brave Points to be replenished. To borrow or not to borrow, that is the question. That’s right, players. You are expected to strategize your battles and not just blindly spam the Attack button like the other JRPGs.
Besides Brave Points, players need to be well-versed in elemental types and weaknesses and the different types of buffs and debuffs too. The Bravely Default II battle system is not one in which players can just equip their characters with the weapon with the highest attack stats and hack and slash their way to victory. The cheap Magnifying Glass readily available in all shops is the player’s best friend as it will reveal which elements and weapons the enemy is weak against, and if one of the characters is a Ranger, it would also be useful to know which family monster the enemy belongs to.
There are a total of 23 Jobs in Bravely Default II and all characters can master any of them. Upon defeating a boss bearing an Asterisk, the Asterisk will be dropped and its respective Job will be unlocked. A character can hold one main Job and one sub Job, though only the main Job would earn Job Points in battles for leveling up. Each Job comes with its unique set of active and passive abilities and once a passive ability is learnt, the character could still use it even when he/she is not holding the Job anymore. When a main Job reaches its maximum level of Level 12, the two specialities for the Job will be unlocked and these are usually very advantageous in battles, like the Red Mage’s Chainspell which allows all spells to be cast twice without extra MP cost!
Each Job also gives the characters an unique costume, with some more flamboyant than the rest, like Bard and Arcanist and the same Job costume also looks different on each character. As a Ranger, Seth looks like a university student in a sweater, while Adelle looks like she is ready for some fine martini at a bar. All these may be just aesthetic but it sure is fun placing furry ears on Elvis’s head.
Besides the gorgeously dressed chibi characters, the 3D environment and picturesque towns render a beautiful world in Bravely Default II. Each dungeon has its distinctive gray stone walls or icy cold slippery ground, and one forest would have brightly colored flora and fauna, while another has withered gloomy plants. Besides looking pretty, navigation in the world is easy too, with the choice of a zoomed in map or a regional map by pressing the R button. When in town, pressing the same R button would provide a beautiful panoramic view stating important locations like shops and inns.
With a game looking that good, what about the soundtrack? Thankfully, Revo, the returning composer from the first Bravely Default game, has created stupendous background music to place players right into the mood for a rustic Halcyonia exploration or an exhilarating boss fight.
In total, players could expect to spend up to 50 hours in gameplay, with more if they choose to grind in dungeons or pick up side quests. As with most JRPGs, the majority of the side quests are trite fetch quests and bounty quests. However the couple of quests given by the main characters are worth completing as these provide a better insight of their past. The intriguing quests given by a monster named Truff are both funny and heartwarming too.
If players wish to get even more treasures and collectibles, there is also a ship exploration and a card game thrown in. Upon rescuing an old woman at Halcyonia, she would lend Seth her ship which he could send out for exploration while he saves the world. For players, it means they can send the ship out on exploration right before shutting down the game, and return later to receive the treasures the ship has brought back. The card game B ‘n’ D is unlocked in Savalon, and winning games would allow players to collect unique cards for their deck. While the card game is optional, mastering it is essential in unlocking one of the Asterisks.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
With captivating storytelling and an enchanting world, Bravely Default II is definitely a must-buy for JRPG players. When most recent RPGs have turned to real-time combat, Bravely Default II made the right decision to retain the turn-based combat spiced up by its unique Brave and Default system. The wide variety of Jobs keeps the players engaged by providing so many different ways to create different teams to fight different types of bosses. If there is anything that might vex the players, it would be the amount of grinding required to level up the Job levels. But who would play a JRPG and not expect any grinding?
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 9/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 9/10
Rhys is always fighting monsters and saving the world from evil forces. She would play all sorts of RPGs but secretly, she is still waiting for Commander Shepard to return.