RPGs are pretty much dead. I’m just gonna come right out and say that, because they are. Long gone are the glory days of the 90’s when the Final Fantasy series was the crown jewel of gaming and countless other titles were wowing gamers left and right. Now, Final Fantasy has become a joke and the traditional RPG has very much fallen by the wayside. How the heck can you bring them back and make them relevant? Well, you make a game called Bravely Default that brings a new twist to traditional RPG combat systems and a story, setting and score that will make you think of the 90’s again. That’s what developer Silicon Studio did, anyway. I would have just released a game called “This RPG Will Get You Rich Quick” and see where that would have gotten me.
So what exactly is Bravely Default? It’s a traditional RPG through and through, as everything from the story, art style, dialogue and themes all hearken back to the days when the RPG heart was still beating strongly. The story follows 4 little heroes from the world known as Luxendarc: Agnès Oblige who is the Wind Vestal that finds the Wind Crystal shrouded in darkness and sets out to restore all 4 crystals back to normal to fend off incoming evil, Tiz Arrior who witnesses his brother and his entire hometown get swallowed up by a great chasm, Edea Lee who is of the Duchy of Eternia who then goes traitor once she learns of the evil they are committing, and Ringabel who is a mysterious vagrant that has no recollection of his past and carries around a notebook that seemingly tells the future.
Now that you’re all caught up on our heroes and their story, let’s talk about the gameplay. The gameplay is far-and-wide the main thing that makes this game shine. The battle system has a unique twist that allows the player to Brave and Default. When you Brave you use up battle points (BP) to attack an enemy consecutively but then forfeit attacks depending on how many times you Brave, and when you Default you forfeit your turn and defend so that you can build up BP to then unleash consecutive attacks later. It really is a simple mechanic, but it is one that adds a lot of depth to what at first appears to be traditional gameplay. If you are level grinding and you know that you can bring down all the enemies with one turn of consecutive hits, you can just Brave to the limit and finish the battle quickly and speed up the level grinding process. Forfeiting a few turn with Default to take reduced damage and then release a flurry of your best attacks with no penalty comes in very useful during boss fights.
Speaking of boss fights, this game packs some lethal ones. Some of the bosses that you come across in the game won’t be too much of a problem as long as you have been taking the time to level-up your characters a bit, but a good chunk of them will also make you wonder how in the world you are going to beat them. The game has a few jarring difficulty spikes that will knock you on your butt and send you home crying, but as long as you regroup and come up with a better plan and/or gain a few levels you will eventually succeed. This the first game to come along in a while where I was actually left bewildered after I died quickly in a main-story boss fight, and that type of challenge is a very good thing to have in an era of gaming where there rarely is a huge challenge at all.
This game utilizes a job system in which you can change your characters between jobs like Black Mage, Knight, Monk, etc. once you have defeated a boss who had that job and you win their job Asterisk. As you gain job experience points you will level up your jobs which will give you new moves and support abilities that will increase specific stats or give you nice little perks. I really liked how you gained jobs by defeating bosses, as it gave me a better understanding of the job as I had just witnessed the enemy using it against me. There are many different jobs that you acquire throughout the game, and some of them you achieve only from sidequests.
Outside of the game’s lengthy main-quest there are a large assortment of side-quests for you to complete, and they are actually very beneficial to conquering the main-quest. Often in these off-the-beaten-path missions you will come across characters that add a lot to the overall story, and you will gain powerful new jobs that you would not have been able to acquire if you only followed the main-quest. Not only that, but you will gain a lot of experience and items from the dungeons that these quests lead you through, which makes you far more prepared to take on anything once you return to the main story-line.
Another optional but very important aspect of the game is the rebuilding of Tiz’s hometown of Norende. You have a screen that gives you a map of Norende and all of the different shops you can rebuild, such as weapon shops and item shops that can be built up several times to give you more powerful items. After you begin rebuilding the shops you will then have to wait an allotted amount of real-life time before they are finished. You can just go on with the game to make the time pass, but the best thing to do is just put your 3DS on sleep mode while you’re not playing and your workers will continue construction while you’re doing other things! Also, if you utilize StreetPass you can recruit other players to join your town which reduces the time that each building takes to be finished.
If I have one complaint about Bravely Default, it is the voice acting. The characters themselves are all very likeable and the dialogue is well-written, but the majority of the voice actors just don’t know what to do with the lines they have. The biggest offenders are Agnès and her fairy Airy (original name!). Whenever Agnès speaks she makes it sound like her lungs are about to explode due to her over-acting, and Airy has the most obnoxiously high-pitched voice that I often wanted mute her. You have the option to switch the voice acting off, but that’s unfair to the voice actors of Tiz and especially Ringabel who both do great jobs.
One point where the audio is terrific is the game’s score. As you traverse the world of Bravely Default you are not only witness to some beautiful visuals and locations, but they are also accompanied by a grand and sweeping orchestral score that was composed by Revo. In every location and scenario the score is there to give it the necessary oomph that really sucks you into the setting and makes you feel like you are apart of the epic adventure. Soundtracks are rarely anything special these days, so when one like this comes along it really enhances the overall experience.
Apart from a few little nitpicks, Bravely Default is an RPG that needs to be experienced by anyone with a small or big interest in RPGs. It brings back everything that made RPGs great in the 90’s which gives it a very nostalgic feeling, but also adds enough variety and new ideas to make the game feel fresh. The game gives you so much to do and explore and offers a world so vibrant and interesting that it is very easy to get lost in its confines for hours on end. Simply put, you need to play Bravely Default, because if you don’t I’ll find you and make you play the last few Final Fantasy games.