Format Reviewed: 3DS
Other Formats: —–
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Silicon Studio
Release: Out Now
Online Reviewed: N/A
It’s no coincidence that the oddly titled Bravely Default comes with a suffix that has the initials ‘FF’ – this is a Final Fantasy game in everything but name. Bravely Default ticks all the right boxes for long-term Final Fantasy fans; this has the tone of Final Fantasy IX, the mechanics of The 4 Heroes Of Light and the complete feeling of a cohesive world you’d find in Ivalice or Spira.
You can clearly tell this game is a spiritual successor to the DS’ The 4 Heroes Of Light, released back in 2010. Neither games fit into the main Final Fantasy series, yet Bravely Default is a resounding example that the franchises’ tropes can work better outside of in-house development; Silicon Studio have taken everything that personifies the flagship JRPG series and invigorated it with a fresh perspective.
RPGs like this always revolve around their central cast, and Bravely Default does an exemplary job of finding four personalities that clash with each other by taking advantage of typical RPG stereotypes – you’ve got the level-headed, justice-hunting protagonist Tiz, the frenetic amnesiac and part-time lothario Ringabell, the defiant lady-soldier Edea and the refined, enigmatic Agnes. Where some story-driven games lose themselves in a quagmire of cast-members, the intimate team of Bravely Default serves as a great crew of agents in which to explore this new world – a world reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX’s civil war-torn realm and power games. You and your crew feel like pawns being played out on a chessboard of political intrigue and deception, and – like a dialled down Game Of Thrones – you’ll soon start looking behind the curtain, revealing the people that are really pulling the strings.
Level- and skill-progression is carried out through a job system, which – oddly enough – feels like it owes its origins and make-up to Final Fantasy Tactics. Old favourite classes are present; Black and White Mages are playable, alongside Dark Knights, Monks, Thieves and Summoners. This wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy homage without Summons, and although Ifrit, Shiva et al don’t make an appearance, one of your mystical allies does bear a passing resemblance to FFVIII’s Doomtrain. Depth of gameplay comes from merging class-specific skills with complimentary classes – similarly to Tactics, ninjas unlock the ability to dual-wield; combine that with a Holy or Dark Knight and you’ll be unstoppable. Understanding how your characters work and the distinctions of the available jobs makes this an RPG with a bit more depth than recent console-based affairs have offered us.
Another mechanic introduced for this game is the ability to Brave or Default on your attacks. Whilst worded slightly interestingly, this basically means you can stack attack points – you can move between -4 and +3 attacks; the resting value is 0, and you can ‘borrow’ four attacks to unleash a barrage, then wait four turns until your value’s replenished (this is Brave-ing). You can also choose to Default; not attack for a turn and save up for a flurry, whilst not impacting any future turns. It’s a fairly convoluted system, and you can choose to ignore it with little consequence. A few early battles teach you the importance of saving up moves to kill a bulky enemy outright, then having enough turns free to heal yourself in the aftermath. It takes some getting used to, but it can be very rewarding when you get the hang of it (our random encounters just became us hitting Brave four times for every character and wiping out the enemies before they had chance to react to us, making grinding a forgiving and not-as-dull-as-usual experience).
Bravely Default makes use of the 3DS’ hardware capabilities, too, but it all feels a little tacked on; we appreciate the effort to validate StreetPass functionality in the game, and the capability to summon 3DS friends’ avatars is a unique addition, but the game takes great pains to explain a feature that feels defunct pretty quickly. There is a mini-game where you where you can rebuild your hometown of Nolende, which can provide you with items unobtainable elsewhere in the game. This gives you an incentive to hunt down other Bravely Default players, but it seems if you don’t use StreetPass much then parts of the game will be locked-out for you.
Bravely Default takes care to observe the oeuvres of modern console-based RPGs, too, including elements of game design that have held other handheld titles back in the past. Menus and interfaces are clean and easily navigable, the battle speed is customisable and you can skip cutscenes. The game’s slightly held back by its insistence on dungeon-crawling; all encounters and enemies are contained to dungeons you’ll find yourself revisiting a few times, and overworld enemies never seem to become too threatening.
The localisation of the game has taken almost two years, but it’s worth it; the voice acting is watertight, the translation of the story is done with respect and the whole game resounds with a traditionalist JRPG vibe. Bravely Default does a lot to invigorate the genre and remind you what was so successful about old-school Final Fantasy games; a succinct love letter to the series’ roots. If this is what Square Enix can do when they outsource the Final Fantasy property (even spiritually) we hope to see the core series go down this route, too; it’s a damn sight better than the numbered entries’ recent efforts.