Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Hours Played: 82 hours
Favorite Moment: And spoil it for you? Not likely!
While I didn’t much care for the demo, it was the peer pressure of my friends that thwarted the cancellation of my Bravely Default pre-order, with an ice storm-induced power outage inspiring me to play it the day after it arrived instead of adding it to my somewhat embarrassing backlog.
All of that was three months ago. I last played Bravely Default on February 28, 2014, giving it nearly 82 hours of my life during the 21 days it took me fully complete the main quest. Of course, it didn’t take that long for me to realize Bravely Default is something special.
Not only is Bravely Default one of the best games on the Nintendo 3DS. I’d go as far as saying it’s one of the best JRPGs I’ve played.
Much as I expected, based on the trailers and stunning artwork, Bravely Default gushes with charm. From dialogue that’s clever and well-translated to the adorable character animations and top-shelf voice acting, everything about it shines with a level of polish that’s often found in games like Super Mario 3D World and other first-party Nintendo titles.
Equally colorful are the cast and story. Bravely Default features a brilliant collection of characters in an enchanting universe, and every main character is well-developed. Even the most menacing villains are beautifully expressed, with backstories revealed though in-game dialogue and “Ringabel’s journal,” a key item you acquire early in the game.
From the aforementioned Ringabel, an amnesiac womanizer, to “Diva of the Battlefield” Praline à la Mode, it’s hard to believe a game with characters this likable won’t woo the heart of anyone who plays it.
While I refuse to spoil any aspect of the story in this review, trust me when I say that it’s fantastic. One moment late in the game had me shaking (yes, it was that intense), and I wouldn’t want to do anyone the disservice of giving away too much.
In fact, because Bravely Default doesn’t pull many punches, it’s those seldom moments where the writers seem to falter that I found myself disappointed. I won’t go into detail, but you’ll know them when they happen.
One word of warning: The developers take an interesting, somewhat artistic approach to the story mid-game. My advice is to tough it out; the pay-off is well worth the effort.
But there’s more to Bravely Default than great characters and an amazing story. The gameplay is equally outstanding, honoring core JRPG elements while taking bold steps to eliminate the less desirable characteristics of the genre.
While you’ll still find yourself trudging through menus after enemy encounters to heal and cure status ailments, it’s a small price to pay to be able to fast-forward through battles, auto save, and adjust the encounter rate. Many JRPG purists will scoff at these features, but you’re never forced to use them, and while I personally doubted them at first, I later found them to be a godsend.
Sometimes, when I just wanted to explore a dungeon quickly, I would turn off random encounters. When I wanted to grind for experience or job points, I’d just double the encounter rate and hit my goal twice as fast. Items are expensive and hard to come by in Bravely Default, so you’ll thank your lucky stars for these options at some point during your journey.
The battle system is similarly inspired, leaning heavily on a risk/reward system that allows you to “Brave” or “Default” in order to better combat your enemies. Admittedly, there’s a lot more to it than that, and it takes some time to get a feel for how to use it to your advantage. Fortunately, Bravely Default gives you plenty of time to get a handle on things.
If you’re worried about the microtransactions making an appearance in Bravely Default, they’re nothing to – uh, lose sleep over. “Sleep Points” can be purchased for use during battle to stop time and take an extra turn, also granting the ability to inflict uncapped damage on your enemy.
Sleep Points never need to be paid for; your 3DS collects them automatically while it sleeps. Unfortunately, the game’s characters never seem reluctant to remind you Sleep Points are available for purchase. Even so, it’s only an mild annoyance at best, and I never found it overly bothersome.
I do, however, wish there was a bit more to the social elements of Bravely Default. Early on you’re tasked with rebuilding the town of Norende, which is done by recruiting other players encountered through Street Pass. Rebuilding Norende does take some time, and while it opens extra boss battles and new items to buy, I was completely finished with it mid-game. Once the town is built, there’s not much more to do with it, so you’ll almost never revisit it again.
The other big social feature is the ability to link your characters to those of other players and even summon those characters during battle. This seems like a crutch, and it can be – especially if your friends are significantly further along than you – but mastering each of the 24 job classes is quite a mountain to climb. Linking your character to another player’s character gives him or her all of the job abilities that player’s character has learned, making it easier to hold your own against the ruthless hordes of enemies you’ll encounter.
Moving at a perfect pace, Bravely Default matures quickly, evolving into a challenging game that will push you further than you’d expect. You’ll find yourself equipping your party with unique gear and abilities specifically for certain battles, toying with strategies and micromanaging your team just to make it though a new area or take down one of the many fantastic bosses.
The difficulty curve is gradual, fair, and relentless. I never grew bored or tired with the battle system, appreciating the way Bravely Default urged me to consider new tactics for each area as opposed to letting me force my way through on auto battle – something I’m shamelessly guilty of doing when a game allows it.
As expected, Bravely Default looks great in action. While the frame rate stumbles a bit with the 3D slider turned up (notably on the overworld map), it’s quite gorgeous. Try standing still in any town for a few seconds; the camera will pan out to show you the entire landscape, highlighting just how much attention went into designing each area of the game.
The Bravely Default soundtrack, composed by Revo of Linked Horizon (best known in North America for the Attack on Titan intro), fits the rest of the game like a glove. While it does grow a tad repetitious around hour 40 (there’s only so much music you can cram on a 3DS cart), songs like this one are earworms that will be stuck in your head for months.
The Start of Something Beautiful – Buy It!
I love nearly everything about Bravely Default. It’s genuine, delightful, and while holding true to its JRPG roots, it never hesitates to break conventions in order to be a better game.
Bravely Default is a triumph in interactive storytelling, despite taking some admittedly questionable risks. While it does have its faults, I highly suggest you tough it out when the going gets rough so you can enjoy the spectacular pay-off when everything finally comes together.
The depth of its characters, a phenomenal translation, and the stunning quality of the Japanese voice acting helped me get lost in the world of Bravely Default mere minutes after the opening movie. It’s deceptively dark, yet charming, brimming with laugh-out-loud moments that stay with you even months after the end credits roll.
Whether this is your first JRPG or the last you ever play, you need to experience Bravely Default at some point in your life. Once you do, you’ll be as excited for the sequel as I am.