After a lengthy wait, today the latest JRPG from Square-Enix, Bravely Default: Where the Fairy Flies, hits US shores. Having played it a ton since its European release 3 months ago, I can safely say Bravely Default is an absolute must for 3DS owners and JRPG fans - but here's 5 reasons to convince you to take a look.
Tactics Ogre. Final Fantasy XII. Vagrant Story. Final Fantasy Tactics. The games Akihiko Yoshida has worked are some of the most aesthetically striking games in Square-Enix's entire back catalogue, and Bravely Default is definitely no exception. Muted warm tones with the occasional bold display of colour, Yoshida's painterly watercolour style permeates the world of Luxendarc and its characters, creating a delightfully fairytale-esque land to wander about in. It's massively aided by, surprisingly, the 3DS's 3D effect - elements of the gorgeous 2D backgrounds come out to the fore, creating an extremely charming pop-up story book look that only further emphasises that fairytale feeling. Combined with the chibi character models, evoking the classic sprite-art of old 16-bit JRPGs - or even Yoshida's own work on the characters of the superlatively gorgeous Final Fantasy Tactics - looking at Bravely Default is like putting on a familiar pair of comfy slippers, like opening a childhood storybook. It's the best use of 3D on the system, and one of the most gorgeous games on the 3DS full stop.
It's not often a bizarrely-named Japanese game actually has a title that ends up making sense, but Bravely Default's really does - and it's key to understanding the game's ingenious battle mechanics.
Much like heroes performing actions in a turn of D&D, your party in Bravely Default perform moves in battle by spending Brave Points, of which they generate one per turn. However, if a character instead chooses to 'Default' instead of taking an action, they take a defensive stance for a turn and store their Brave Point to use later, allowing them to stock up to a total of 4 points - thus allowing them in a later turn to perform multiple actions in one go, at the cost of acting in the immediate one. A healer could raise a downed character and top up their health in one turn, for example, or an offensive character could attack an enemy multiple times, or a status booster could deliver multiple buffs all at once. The tactical layer of deciding whether to act instantly or preserve your moves for one massive all out offensive adds an additional layer of strategy to the game's otherwise traditional turn based combat - but it then goes a step further by letting you choose to sacrifice acting in later turns by spending extra brave points immediately, adding an element of risk to the proceedings. Do you burn some more Brave Points to get a downed ally back into the fight sooner, or on some extra attacks in the hope that your enemy is defeated before you're left open defenceless - or do you Default and wait instead? At first it's a complex system to grasp, but once you get to grips with it, it makes for an immensely enjoyable experience.
Whilst you might not have watched Attack on Titan, the Animé sensation that took the internet by storm last year, there stands a good chance you might have heard of Guren No Yumiya, its absurdly epic theme song that became a bit of a viral hit after proving that it pretty much went with anything and everything. Revo and his Symphonic orchestral group Sound Horizon bring the same sort of grandiose intensity that made Attack on Titan and its openings so aurally memorable to Bravely Default - their trademark blend of anthemic rock ballads and more traditional orchestral pieces come together to make a bombastic, bold and energetic soundtrack that worms its way into your ears and never lets go. Virtually every little thing in the game gets its own piece of music, from the places you go, to the friends you make, and the villains you encounter, and it's full of such heart and energy that it drives every moment of play - and you're guaranteed to have it burnt into your mind, to the point that you're humming its addictively catchy tunes long after you've stopped playing.
If there's one thing the ever divided legions of Final Fantasy fans can agree on lately, it's that the franchise has lost its way a bit from its humble origins. The latest titles in the main numbered time line are radically different from their elders not just aesthetically or in terms of gameplay, but in their ideals as well - however Bravely Default wears its classic Final Fantasy pedigree on its sleeve. A group of plucky youngsters heading out on a quest to save the world. 4 Elemental Crystals in jeopardy. An antagonistic Empire with steampunky technology. Airships! Turn Based Battles! Summons! A Job System! Black Mages with big pointy hats, White Mages in white and red robes, the whole shebang! Bravely Default is a nostalgia trip for any lover of the classic fantasy JRPG, and in an age where Final Fantasy is constantly trying to redefine what it is to both its creators and its fanbase, such an unabashedly old-school title is comforting to long-time fans who miss some of those vibes and those mechanics.
But for all of its gleeful reverence for tradition, Bravely Default is equally mindful of the genre's faults, as well as the need to offer something fresh and exciting in this modern world. It's not afraid to indulge in classic tropes, but at the same time it's very much aware of trying to avoid some of the pitfalls of those same tropes itself.
For example battle animations can be sped up at will to 4x normal speed, which combined with the option to use automated turns (repeating the last actions you inputted ad nauseam), makes grinding suddenly become a breeze rather than a chore - hell, it's actually enjoyable most of the time, albeit unnecessary. The rate of random encounters can be changed too, as to avoid them entirely - say, if you're returning to a save point or traversing an area you've out levelled and don't want to waste time fighting - or to double them, making for faster experience gains. Whilst the Job system in itself is a very traditional mechanic, the added ability to inherit perks and abilities from levelling one Job that can be transferred to any other allows you to mix and match skills and create unique builds for your characters. And then there's the online integration, perhaps Bravely Default's most intriguing additional element - a sidequest revolved around rebuilding a village of shops your party can purchase items from utilises the 3DS streetpass system in a quasi-farmville manner to upgrade and add new stores, for example, or the ability to summon linked copies of your friends characters to perform an attack in battle, complete with their own customised battle phrases. Neither are 100% necessary, but they add something fresh and exciting to Bravely Default's mix of traditional gameplay and modern twists, a quasi-online experience that feels almost akin the player messages in a Souls game, in that 'alone but not really' vibe. For all its nostalgia in playing towards the ideals of the classic 90's JRPG, it feels like a thoroughly modern game - all of the warm familiar feelings, with none of the frustration.