Four warriors are drawn together through the tides of destiny. Each sets out with their own separate goal: a purpose in mind. One looks to save her kingdom; another searches for a lost person; another to uncover mysteries; the last… the last is there to help and to have adventures. They find themselves blessed by the elemental crystals of light, granted the powers of wind, water, earth and fire to fight against the encroaching dark.
This is, loosely, the plot of Bravely Default 2…
…it’s also essentially the same plot as Final Fantasy V.
This game feels like the designer of FF V was trapped in a bunker for the past few decades, and only in the last few years was told and shown how various new game mechanics work. They then decided that they would simply take what they wanted and make FF V all over again.
Because that’s what this game feels like: a throwback in all the best ways. The four characters are each chosen by the Crystals, and their journey is essentially blessed by Light to fight against the Dark Empire run by the Dark Knight who has a Dark Advisor. Their stats are linked to various jobs that they can master utilizing Job Points (JP). Gain enough JP, unlock a new ability on that class. The class levels up, unlocking new abilities, some of which are active and attached to the class, others of which are passive and can be mixed and matched.
The game does essentially suggest classes based on the characters’ backgrounds. Princess Gloria is the refined princess of light from the shattered kingdom of Musa (first wrecked by the Evil Empire of Holograd). she’s a kind, caring soul and slides almost too easily into the white mage/haler.
Elvis is the rogue scholar with a Scottish brogue. He literally starts as a black mage who came from the kingdom/town of Wiswald. He could not be more aligned to be a black magician if he tried.
Adelle starts with two swords, stating that she’s essentially hired on as the bodyguard of Elvis. Given her slight build and everything, she’s likely to become your attacker.
And Seth is the barely infused with a personality sailor who washed up ashore, with the sole/soul purpose of helping others.
The story does operate on generic beats with relatively generic characters, but it goes deeper and darker than one would expect. The second area you go to has a political drama where a desert prince is desperate for his kingdom to get water. A later area has a couple who are devastated about the loss of their child and rely on dark talents to restore some hope of what they lost. In that same area there’s a crazed, psychotic painter who literally kills people for their blood in order to make the best red paint; she’s one of the best villains I’ve seen.
People straight up die in this game for story reasons. It’s not shown in graphic detail (I’m not sure how well their choice of graphics would work), but it most definitely happens. They treat this story with all the weight of a Game of Thrones parody, and it becomes quite gripping.
It’s a bit of a shame the characters don’t quite live up to it. The only character I really cared about was Adelle, who has an interesting mix of carefree attitude with a sort of group big sister vibe that I dug (plus she has an interesting accent that comes off as almost north-eastern European, maybe?). Seth is practically a blank slate, whose main personality trait isn’t really emphasized until hour 40. Gloria is the same, self-sacrificing princess archetype that was absolutely nailed in FFIX, only with almost no variation or fun stuff (like Garnet was in that game). And Elvis might be a fun magician with a catch phrase of “don’t sweat the details,” but we’ve seen that before too.
That’s become something of the reoccurring thing here. Besides some real depth to the story where it goes places you wouldn’t expect, there’s nothing in this game that hasn’t been done tons of times before. The story beats almost copy old JRPGs, particularly old Final Fantasies, perfectly. In many ways this game feels like what so many of those copycat indies are trying to accomplish in capturing the feel of the old games.
They have streamlined and added new elements though. You can see enemies on the world map and slash at them to gain advantage. Data on enemies is shown and they have weaknesses you can readily exploit. Nearly every major scene is voice acted (pretty well).
The biggest thing the series brings is the system that lends the game its name. You can opt to “default”, which is the same as defending. This grants your character a “battle point” (BP). You can burn several BP to either do powerful moves or take several actions in a row. You could overload and go into negatives, but that means your character is standing there for a while.
This adds a dynamic to the turn based system that adds a new level of complexity and detail that works pretty darn well. It’s highly engaging and makes battles fun. Plus, when you mix it with speeding up, it turns the various battles with minions a breeze. You can grind in no time, particularly if you combine this with another tactic.
You can utilize these things call monster treats. They match up enemy types, and if you encounter an enemy of that type, you fight several battles with those monsters in a row. This adds a bonus to the JP you earn, and it also nets a decent chunk of EXP. I didn’t really work this until the second area, but when I did, it became my standard way of approaching an area. This was the only way I could find a challenge outside of boss fights.
And boy, are those boss fights tricky. Turns out the enemies can use the bravely default system too. This means that they can sometimes wreck you in a turn.
Again, what makes this game work is that it’s obviously an homage to games past. This really feels like it was made by the same exact people behind FF V, which came out in the old SNES days. I have played a lot of games that bank on the whole retro feel (several of which I have reviewed on this site). Bravely Default 2 replicates the feeling and story and everything of those old games in the best way I’ve seen.
There’s been this longstanding debate/argument among those that play JRPGs. Several series, including Final Fantasy, have moved to more active battle systems. More and more frequently those big name, AAA games have been action RPGs. Those are the ones that make the bank and get the headlines.
There have also been games that draw on the whole retro feeling and aesthetic. Frequently this produces games like Eastward or The Messenger or others that really work quite well. these are almost exclusively indie games that rely on old graphics and presentation,
But Bravely Default 2 seems to stand defiant of all that. This game’s story, battle system, and just about everything feels like it could have stepped out of the old SNES era, or maybe a little more advanced. The story reads like a slightly more mature take on it. I’ve seen variants like that done before in homage games. And this feels like that.
But it’s Square-Enix. They use the various classes, item names, and spells that have existed in Final Fantasies for all time. Throw in some moogles, chocobos, and a guy named Cid and this could be a mainline FF game.
It seems to indicate that there’s still an audience for this. That the big players are realizing that we still want to play games that draw on the old stories and systems. That someone realizes what we’re looking for this. it also seems to demonstrate that games like this can be made.
All of which begs the question: what do we do about a game that adds nothing new to the conversation?
I may be insulting someone by saying that. I want to make something clear: I think Bravely Default 2 might be a perfect game. It does everything almost flawlessly, with my main complaints being that the main characters could use some more developing (particularly earlier) and there are a few too many needless side quests. But for the most part, it does everything right. The main story feels deep and well written. The job system harkens back to the old with just enough upgrades. There’s a high level of customization that still seems to push characters toward specific roles or classes.
so there’s nothing new here, but it’s all done perfectly well. What does that mean for this?
I’m not sure I’d call it a new classic. It seems to want to reach for that, and in some ways it feels like it earns it. I did love it. It hits some great retro feels and really feels like it was made with great thought and heart. But it’s not going to make any top lists for me (it may have just scraped in last year, and I made change my mind when it hits December, but with Triangle Strategy, Chocobo GP, Live a Live and several others… I doubt it).
Games like this do feel necessary though. We need reminding of what made games like this last. We need games like Bravely Default 2 and the long lasting Dragon Quest series (fun fact: I don’t like most of those either, for most of the same issues I had with this, only amplified). They take the old and make it perfectly done again. Everything is polished to, well, a crystal gleam. it works in homage to the old, and it’s important that we know about that (I was just writing about guilty pleasures, after all).
If you’re looking for a classic JRPG, then this is one that you can and should definitely pick up. It hits retro beats almost too well, and the only elements that may turn someone off are some of the chibi graphics and a few minor annoyances. It’s a perfect relic of the past produced in the modern era, and we need more games like it.
10 sort of; kind of on a slant; I’d probably give it a personal 9 because of preferences (and I weirdly can’t see this making top lists), but it’s still what I just said: a perfect relic of the past in the modern era.