Review | Bravely Default II
When Bravely Default released on the 3DS in 2014, JRPG fans got a taste of an old school Final Fantasy experience with a new twist. Providing classic turn-based combat with a risk/reward system at its core, it was a really invigorating experience from Silicon Studio. That continued with the direct sequel in Bravely Second: End Layer, giving fans a continuation of the narrative from the original. Now, Square Enix have tasked the studio Claytechworks to craft the next title in the series. Unlike Bravely Second, Bravely Default II takes place in a new world with new characters, much like how Final Fantasy works. Now on the Nintendo Switch, the game gets a hardware boost with improved graphics, but ultimately, it’s still a handheld game at its core.
As mentioned before, Bravely Default II puts players in a new world, but the core concept is still very much the same. Heroes of Light are chosen to recover the crystals that were stolen from the fallen kingdom of Musa. You start out as a shipwrecked sailor named Seth, quickly answering the call to adventure. Joined by Musa’s princess Gloria, the traveling scholar Elvis, and a mercenary named Adelle, the four work together to save the world from an oncoming threat. To do this, they’ll also collect Asterisks, crystals that assign immense power to individuals. The story starts out rather simple, but over time, it adapts and evolves with plot twists to keep you on your toes. It hits a lot of the classic Final Fantasy tropes, but still manages to tell a story that bounces between dark and light moments with ease.
While the story takes a little time to build up, there’s plenty of side quests that will give even more to the world. Much like the Tales of series, you even have occasional party chats where the characters will have fun conversations. It gives more background to these characters, and while they may seem simple at first glance, there’s a ton of depth to them. Things like Elvis’ implied tastes to Gloria’s highly competitive nature, there’s a lot of interesting details to uncover. All these sequences are optional, and the only reward on offer is more immersion in the story. Those that love deep and rich stories will have plenty of dialogue to scour through to increase their attachment to the characters, and overall, it succeeds. Fully explore the game and you’ll even uncover multiple endings.
Getting to the gameplay, much like the previous games in the franchise, the combat here remains essentially the same. Players will take turns to attack their foes with basic attacks or abilities based on their job class. The staple “Brave” and “Default” commands return and are absolutely crucial to be successful in battles. Using Default will allow characters to defend and bank Brave Points up to three times. Once you collect enough Brave Points, the Brave command will allow you to spend them for multiple actions in a single turn. If players are feeling extra risky, they can even Brave with negative points at the cost of several turns.
This risk and reward system is the foundation of the gameplay, and it remains as challenging as ever. Players are not the only ones that can Brave and Default either, as every enemy in the game is capable as well. If you’re not careful, you can be subject to an onslaught of attacks from the other side. This is especially the case with bosses, of which there are many. Luckily, companions can often help turn the tide in battles. New to the series is the way you approach battles. Random battles are gone now, as enemies will now roam freely on the map. Eventually, players will even be able to attack them on the map to earn Brave Points at the start of combat. It really adds a new element that makes the game feel different from the previous games, yet still familiar at the same time.
Of course, one of the biggest features of Bravely Default II, like the games before it, are the Asterisks. These magical gems are what bestow the power of each job class to your party. Basically, if you see a character in a crazy getup, they’re using an asterisk that you can later earn for yourself. You’ll start out simple with basic classes like Freelancer and Black Mage, but over time you’ll earn other powerful jobs. Jobs like the Vanguard, who works as a powerful tank, or even the Ranger, who focus on exploiting weaknesses with their bows. Several of these are returning jobs, or even variations of previous ones. Others are brand new that allow access to powerful new abilities.
Some of these jobs can potentially break the game balance in a lot of ways. One of the new jobs, Beast Master, allows players to capture enemy monsters and later unleash them on their foes. Players can essentially build a collection of these creatures and use them to make mincemeat of certain bosses. The fact that the monsters can also counterattack when health is low is just another strength. All the jobs also come with various passive abilities that will unlock as you level them up. These passive abilities can even be retained under a different job class. It’s also worth mentioning that special attacks return, but now they’re associated with each job. They also still don’t allow players to skip or speed up the attack animation.
Overall, the job selection is full of a lot of variety and interesting classes that take a lot of strategy to fully master. Combining abilities, Brave and Default commands, and even special attacks, players will have plenty of firepower for endgame bosses. It’s unfortunate that certain jobs like the Summoner don’t return, but I suppose compromises had to be made. Either way, Bravely Default II has 24 asterisks to find and master, which matches the amount of the original game. For the record, Bravely Second had 30 jobs. Not that 24 is a small number, but it does feel like a slight step back. At least the costume designs are pretty awesome, giving a lot of unique and fun looks to each class.
Speaking of looks, the Switch hardware does provide a big boost to the visuals for Bravely Default II. The game still maintains the storybook art style for a lot of environments, especially towns. Character models maintain a similar style to the 3DS games, and battles contain some spectacular monster designs. Despite the fantastic art style, there are some downsides. The storybook towns do have issues with texture scaling, as entering certain buildings zoom in on the map. This sometimes reveals low resolution textures that otherwise look perfectly fine from afar. The game also suffers from some pretty noticeable frame rate dips, though notably not while playing in handheld mode. While the game gets a nice resolution boost from being docked, the difference in performance makes handheld the preferred way to play.
It’s also worth mentioning that the game does have very frequent loading screens. Entering towns, dungeons, and even other floors break the game up a bit with a decently long load time. It doesn’t kill the entire experience, but it does put a damper on the pacing. It sort of just goes back to how Bravely Default II still feels like a handheld RPG. This even carries over into an artificial StreetPass function implemented into the game. That’s right, StreetPass gets a strange successor on the Switch thanks to Bravely Default II’s exploration feature.
Players will eventually unlock the ability to send out a boat for online exploration while the Switch is in sleep mode. This feature only works while Bravely Default II is open, so it does create a very unusual change in habits for the system. Luckily, you’ll get plenty of amazing rewards from using it, including orbs for Job Points and experience. You can do this for up to 12 hours at a time, so it makes for a great use of your time outside of the game. Unfortunately, you have to be at specific places in the game to activate it, so it can be difficult to use all the time. It’s also not very well explained, so it takes a little to fully understand it.
Another feature is a new mini game called Bind & Divide, aka B & D. This card game gives a call back to classic Final Fantasy mini games like Triple Triad or Sphere Break. Two players will utilize a hand of six cards as they place the cards on a grid. Each card takes specific spaces and can even take over opponent spaces. The game has a flanking system where players can surround opponents, and they can even change the rules mid-game. It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot of fun. If you stick with it long enough, you’ll even get a new Asterisk out of it. Considering the previous games didn’t have a mini game like this, it was a nice surprise to find here.
When it comes to presentation, Bravely Default II has some strong features. Most notable is the music, which gets its sounds from Sound Horizon member Revo. The music does a fantastic job at whisking you away on an adventure, and it’s truly beautiful. On the other hand, the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t sound too different from the previous games, but I suppose I had higher expectations for a console game. While Seth, voiced by Chris Lew Kum Hoi, sounds perfectly fine, many other characters have cartoonishly exaggerated accents. It makes the game come off like a Saturday morning cartoon sometimes when you have such emphasis on these accents. For some of the more serious cutscenes, it kills the mood entirely.
In the end, Bravely Default II is a worthy successor to the franchise. Despite some performance problems and interesting voice direction, this is still a fantastic experience. With a new story, cast of characters, and gameplay elements, it delivers a sense of familiarity as well as a fresh perspective. The story builds up over the course of the game and provides plenty of hours of fun for JRPG fans. It can be a bit challenging, and it can even be a grind sometimes, but it’s well worth it, especially with a soundtrack that provides some awesome music to help you through it all. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll feel right at home with all new characters to love and enjoy. Claytechworks shows that the Brave and Default system is still very much alive on the Switch.
Final Score: 8 out of 10