Cast aside Bravely Default‘s name, and you’d be forgiven for believing that this wasn’t an extension to the Final Fantasy series. Whilst Square Enix have suffered a rather tumultuous few years in trying to modernise their iconic creation, this collaborative effort with Silicon Studio takes great strides to fuse classic and more innovative gameplay elements together in delivering a knockout JRPG experience like no other.
We find ourselves thrust into the world of Luxendarc, where a malevolent darkness has begun to sweep the lands. Threatening the four elemental crystals that spread light throughout the world – fire, water, wind and earth – their troubled existence ruptures the earth and causes the Great Chasm, seeing protagonist Tiz Arrior lose his village the ferocity of the disaster and miraculously left as the sole survivor. Rescued, he soon recovers in the nearby town of Caldisla, where a fateful encounter with Agnès Oblige, vestal of the Wind Crystal, and Airy, her accompanying cryst-fairy, sets Bravely Default‘s narrative in motion.
Despite the fantasy setting, it’s a very human journey that touches upon loss, betrayal, unlikely friendships, and rugged determination, as the young heroes are soon joined by Edea Lee and Ringabel in their seemingly insurmountable quest to restore balance to the world. English voice over work (or Japanese if you desire) does much to heighten your engagement with the story, with optional, admittedly hilarious, conversations between your party interspersing your travels to add further character.
What’s in a name, though? Bravely Default‘s title actually plays reference to an integral battle mechanic, that dispels their otherwise turn-based design. Whilst you’re free to battle your way through like any traditional JRPG, a new “Brave and Default” system presents strategic opportunities that you’ll certainly welcome. “Brave,” when used, allows you to perform up to four actions per turn, whether that be attacking, casting spells, or using items. Although, this runs the risk of delaying when that specific character’s turn returns next, shifting you into minus Battle Points until you once again arrive at the zero. To overcome this, you can earn up to three Battle Points in advance by selecting “Default,” your character defending that turn to then perform more actions the next without such worry.
Your choice of strategy is therefore paramount, one such choice, for example, seeing your strongest attackers and spellcasters quickly whittling down an enemy’s HP by using multiple Brave Points at once, leaving a Healer taking things turn-by-turn to counter any incoming damage. It’s perhaps hard to convey the mechanic’s successes in written form, but know that it works exceptionally well and does much to shake up the standard battle formula.
This is extended through the “Bravely Second” ability, which lets you temporarily freeze time to whack foes without fear of a reciprocated attack. Sleep Points are necessary here, earned through leaving your 3DS in Standby mode with Bravely Default playing – one point per eight hours, so perfect overnight or whilst you’re out during the day. You can also purchase these through micro-transactions, somewhat needlessly seeing as you can only hold three at any time.
You may only have four characters, but a Job System ensures that you can steadily begin to craft your party as you wish. You’ll have to gather Job Asterisks first, usually from boss fights, but you’ll secure these at regular intervals, letting you move your party away from being Freelancers to professions such as Monk, White Mage, Black Mage, Ninja and Pirate. There are 24 in total, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, so there’s plenty of room to tweak until you find your own winning combination.
For those that don’t have as much time to pour into such a lengthy JRPG, Square Enix even have you covered. Battle animations can be freely sped up, or even paused, whenever you wish, whilst you can lower or heighten the difficulty and random battle encounter rate at any given moment. Such an effort on the developer’s part will hopefully attract more casual players who may have felt the genre previously unapproachable for them.
StreetPass sees notable support, with Bravely Default becoming part-city builder in fulfilling Tiz’s desire to rebuild his lost village. Every player that you pass will grant you a new resident who will act as a worker that can be designated to clear rubble or help construct new buildings, which will be completed quicker the more workers you assign. Through StreetPass, you can also store several powerful monsters, known as Nemeses, which will reward you with special items once defeated. Restoring Norende Village is more than worthwhile through, creating your own hub in which you can resupply your party.
It is the game’s art direction and sumptuous musical score that rounds everything off nicely, a hand-painted watercolour charm within the game’s many locations being beautifully accentuated by the stereoscopic 3D effect. This amounts to a particularly striking audiovisual accomplishment on the 3DS, and easily ranks as a game that best represents the handheld’s unique qualities.
With the release schedule now settling down as Christmas makes its cheery approach, Nintendo of Europe have neatly positioned Bravely Default as a suitable conclusion to a year in which the 3DS has proved its software dominance. Without any expectation lauded behind it, Bravely Default cannot only celebrate becoming the hidden gem of 2013, but the latest in an enviable string of must-have titles to have fluttered their way onto Nintendo’s handheld.