A few weeks ago I explored the original Bravely Default, which released exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013. Today, I want to delve into its recently released sequel, Bravely Default II, and explore why it’s a must play JRPG for the Nintendo Switch.
I advise anyone unfamiliar with the game or the series, to check out my previous review, as there are many mechanics and concepts that are continued and improved upon in the sequel.
Also, Bravely Default II is actually the third game in the franchise, with a direct sequel for the first game called Bravely Second: End Layer releasing in 2015 in Japan and 2016 worldwide. I unfortunately never got around to playing that game, so I cannot comment on how much the newest release borrows from End Layer. Don’t hold that against me. Now, without further ado, on to the review.
Bravely Default II at first glance appears to be a retread of old territory: the art style still leans heavily on almost cutesy characters; combat still revolves on collecting job asterisks and employing the titular risk/reward mechanic of “brave” and “default;” the plot is also largely similar, with four adventurers setting out to recover crystals of the four governing elements. Yet it becomes apparent fairly quickly that this sequel indeed elevates the experiences of old, becoming less of an homage to the JRPGs of twenty-some years ago, and more of a natural evolution of that classic formula.
Players assume the role of a young sailor named Seth who has washed up on the shores of the continent of Excillant. Here he is rescued by a former princess named Gloria, who has become a refugee after her kingdom was raised to the ground. Soon afterwards, Seth encounters two other companions: a scholar named Elvis who is seeking out the powerful asterisks that can imbue their owners with fantastic abilities, and his hired bodyguard Adelle who in turn is searching for her lost sister. It doesn’t take long for the foursome to band together, as all their tasks seem to go down the same road: find Elvis’s asterisks, restore Gloria’s kingdom, locate Adelle’s missing sibling, and return to Seth’s homeland.
The four party members are bursting with personality, and they complement each other tremendously during story segments. One moment the dutiful Gloria will be bickering with Elvis over his aloofness, and the next his exceeding intelligence will aid the princess in solving the problem that had flustered her to begin with. These traveling companions really do come to feel like friends once the story gets going, and I loved seeing them play off of each other in their various predicaments.
The game features an equally wonderful cast of supporting characters as well, from spoiled princes and eccentric mad scientists, to smart-mouthing baby dragons and warriors hell-bent on revenge. Whether or not they are aiding you in your journey, or have the party in their crosshairs, these heroes and villains all give Bravely Default II that boost of charm that made games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI the classics they are today.
While the cartoonish art style may give the impression that this is going to be a rather tame story, the writers aren’t afraid to take the plunge into darker, more mature material. You will witness the deaths of important characters, betrayals by those close to you, witch trials that leave innocents dead, and even mass murders. The game doesn’t talk down to its audience, and presents a complicated, thought-provoking tale in a way that can be understood and enjoyed by players both young and old. I appreciate the respect from the developers.
The battle system has been improved upon from the first game, making for perhaps the best turn based RPG system I have experienced. Bravely Default II adopts the Active Time Battle (ATB) concept from many Final Fantasy games. Traditionally, battles flow in real time, with characters only able to act once an action bar fills completely. In Bravely Default II however, once this bar fills, time freezes, allowing players to plan their action without having to rush. Players can judge approximately whose turn will come next based on the progress of each character’s bar, and while the game doesn’t tell you exactly when an enemy will attack, it does indicate when it is close to their turn with a handy exclamation mark. This way, players can strategically attempt to eliminate a foe before they can even act.
The “Brave” and “Default” actions from the previous game returns with little to no changes. This is the crux of the battle system, and continues to make battles exciting and often unpredictable. Common enemies are still easily dispensed for the majority of the game, but boss encounters can really ramp up the difficulty with both sides strategically using their brave and default commands. It’s thrilling when these major encounters go on for several minutes, both sides exchanging blows, each character making full use of the deep combat system. It’s in these moments that one can easily forget they are fighting against a computer A.I. and not another experienced player, and I love that.
Just as important to the combat system are the asterisks players will collect, which are used to change the jobs of their four party members. These really shine in Bravely Default II, as each of the 23 jobs feel mightily important and can benefit the party in a variety of situations. There’s nothing worse than encountering a niche class that seems to serve only one purpose, but you don’t get that here. What’s even better is that the pacing is top notch when acquiring these; just when you’ve leveled up one, you’ve obtained two more, thus the game always maintains that sense of freshness. The best part of Bravely Default II for me was equipping my characters with the best abilities from multiple jobs, making each party member a real powerhouse. It’s almost too easy to “break the game” by getting the most out of your asterisks, but that’s a large part of the appeal. Besides, who doesn’t love turning your ragtag group of adventurers into God-like forces of nature?
Random encounters have thankfully been eliminated this go around, with enemies able to be seen on the world map. Players can attack enemies from behind to gain an advantage, but must also try to avoid being ambushed by foes as well. There are still some surprises, such as some creatures that disguise themselves as common things such as trees and rocks, or those that attack after opening a treasure chest. Still, it’s vastly improved over the stale old concept of random encounters.
Bravely Default II utilizes many different perspectives when exploring its world, helping to prevent the experience from ever becoming stale. The world map is always three dimensional, with the player able to turn the camera and see what may be hidden around them. Dungeons on the other hand are always viewed from a fixed top-down angle, making it easier to navigate the smaller corridors of these dangerous labyrinths.
To help ease the monotony of exploring these large maps, the developers made it possible to cut grass and chop down trees with one’s sword, much like in the Legend of Zelda games. This was a mistake… if only because I can’t help but slash every piece of greenery on my way to my objective. Doing this early on is a must, as so many rewards can be uncovered if you’re willing to take some time and mow the lawns of every dungeon and over world location.
The first Bravely Default had a social mini-game where you use the 3DS street pass feature to recruit other players in order to rebuild a village. The sequel does its best to create its own social side quest without the use of street pass. Early in the adventure, players will gain access to a boat, which they can send out to explore the open seas. The player doesn’t have any direct control of the boat, but that’s ok because the ship will explore on its own and collect valuables for you to use. This will last for a maximum of 12 hours, though players can return at any point to collect what treasures have been found. Using the online functionality, players can bump into other players as well as those on their Switch’s friends list for a chance to receive rarer items than usual. There are some caveats though: the Switch must be in standby or sleep mode for the expedition to work, and Bravely Default II must be the game running in the background. Also, “time travel,” or changing the time on the system hardware, doesn’t work, so it’s not a feature that’s easily exploited. Still, I found this to be a mini-game that kept me coming back to the game often, if only to recover my bountiful loot. There are incredible rewards to be had from expeditions, such as experience and JP orbs that can really cut down on grinding, as well as large amounts of cash. The bottom line: this is a feature you do not want to pass up, so be sure to use it and use it often.
Another major mini game in Bravely Default II is a card game called “B & D.” It is very similar to the praised “Triple Triad” card game from Final Fantasy VIII. Players can collect cards depicting enemies and characters from the game, each with their own strengths and sometimes even abilities. The goal is to cover up squares in a five-by-five grid, with some cards able to remove or steal their opponents squares. It’s an easy to learn, tough to master game that can provide hours of enjoyment for those up to learning it. Unfortunately, there aren’t many grand rewards for filling up their collection, although one asterisk requires the player to dabble in it to a small degree.
The game is also littered with roughly 100 other optional side quests. These can provide any variety of nice rewards, and are definitely worth completing if only to give your party a boost. It’s unfortunate thought that most of these are your standard JRPG fair, requiring the character to fetch specific items, talk to a certain person, or slay a powerful foe. The most heinous example of one of these has the player running back and forth between two characters multiple times before claiming their reward. It’s all mostly busy work. While it’s good that side quests are included, they don’t offer much in terms of side stories or world building, which is a huge bummer.
Returning to compose the game’s soundtrack is Japanese musician Revo. The majority of Bravely Default II’s music is of that some high quality you come to expect from Square Enix, with imaginative melodies that you’ll catch yourself humming after putting the game down. There are a few tunes that stand out to me, and not in a good way. The town and over world themes in Chapter 2 can be a bit off-putting for some players, as each features a muted trumpet whose high pitch just don’t sound great coming from the Switch’s handheld speakers. Otherwise, the music is a standout, and more than a few songs will undoubtedly find their way into your audio library if you’re the type to casually listen to video game music.
The Verdict: 4.5/5 Stars
Bravely Default II, unlike its predecessor, doesn’t just feel like a nostalgic throwback to the JRPGs of yesteryear, but more like the organic growth of those original ideas and adapted for modern gamers and systems. It doesn’t feel like a game held back by limitations of the past, but more so a game conceived in the nineties that couldn’t be made until the technology caught up with it. In this way, it improves upon the original in most every way. Although not perfect, Bravely Default II is sure to please gamers everywhere, and deserves a place in your Switch catalog.