Title: Bravely Default II
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: February 26, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Square Enix
Turn-based games are far from a dying breed nowadays, thanks to indies and other such titles preserving the genre in recent years. However, major developers and publishers have strayed from the genre to focus on action. The Bravely games are rare recent examples of turn-based titles created by a major developer, in this case, Square Enix.
The most recent entry of the series, Bravely Default II, carries the same spirit as its predecessors while being just adaptable enough to cater to any audience that has the patience to grasp its systems. It is not a title for everyone, but given enough time and parsing of the admittedly overwhelming number of options and mechanics, any intrigued party can sink dozens upon dozens of hours into the depth this JRPG titan houses.
Bravely Default II follows four protagonists; Seth, Gloria, Adelle, and Elvis. The adventure opens with Seth, as the three other party members quickly join the ranks before the end of the first chapter. Each protagonist has their own unique set of circumstances, but ultimately their initially shared primary goal is to gather the crystals, Gloria’s destiny as she puts it.
I would rather not discuss the intricacies of what the story tackles, but it at least engaged me enough to care about the general sequence of events. The narrative is fairly typical from a conceptual perspective, and while it does contain a fair degree of twists and turns with some shining character moments, it is not really the true main draw despite its focus. Combat is where the meat and potatoes are and will either be players’ addiction or doom.
Combat in Bravely Default II is centered upon several major factors. The first of these factors is the Default and Brave commands. When using the Brave command, players can use multiple actions in a row at the cost of using multiple turns. This is a clear double-edged sword since spamming the Brave command, especially in boss fights, is tantamount to suicide.
If your turn number goes into the negatives, you are defenseless and are ripe for the enemies to tear asunder until that value becomes 0 once again, that is, the neutral amount. The Default command is the opposite of this notion, as using it causes characters to enter a guarding stance and build up more turns. Generally speaking, this is the safer option to perform, and the obvious strategy is to store up a bunch of turns and then go ham. However, that strategy is far from enough as the bosses truly test your mettle and mastery of the mechanics, of which there are many.
Mastering Brave and Default is only the beginning of this combat system, as the Job system is where players will be spending most of their time experimenting. The 4 protagonists can all equip a main Job and a sub Job class. These are unlocked by obtaining various asterisks received after story events and are the other cornerstone of combat alongside Brave and Default. They each have their own starkly unique abilities and overall usages that grant an impressive degree of player agency.
Despite having played the past main titles, the amount of variance and freedom players have with this system still truly compels me to no end. The story begins with very little to customize in the realm of Jobs, but they are obtained fairly frequently, quickly opening up vast quantities of combat potential. From classic Jobs such as Black Mage and White Mage to more unorthodox ones like Beastmaster, it is supremely addicting to peruse over each Job’s potential. Imagination is the real limit here.
Jobs are leveled separately from the characters’ individual levels and come with new skills exclusive to that Job and passive abilities that can be equipped to the characters themselves. The latter helps make the cast feel more individualized other than just being Job magnets with nothing unique to their name aside from stat differences. Jobs also alter the cast’s appearances, but players can choose to stick with each characters’ normal/Freelancer outfits, too, so the best of both worlds is available.
The one truth that players will have to accept diving into this game, especially newcomers, is that failure is solely a means to an end. Going into this title expecting to steamroll everything in your way is not how this series operates. Above all else, experimentation and patience are needed to understand the mechanics and how you want to approach battles.
The slew of options can provide an overwhelming sense of freedom that can make new players feel directionless. This may sound like a complaint, but it is, in fact, the complete opposite. The lack of handholding and ample degree of player choice for combat is a breath of fresh air that offers a genuinely addicting desire for replayability.
There are three difficulties to choose from, which is great for accessibility, but there is a semblance of critical thought required for progression, even on Casual mode. Personally speaking, the title felt rather easy on Normal mode, though I did face a few difficulty spikes that required thoughtful introspection regarding my builds.
I believe Normal is a suitable difficulty for most players to jump into, but for those desiring to truly delve into the nitty-gritty of combat potential, Hard is there for you to go wild. It is worth noting that difficulty can be changed at any point, so do not feel opposed to tone things down or amp them up at your leisure. The world is your playground here.
Exploration is nothing groundbreaking, but it is enjoyable and never came off as burdensome, at least on a base level, thanks to numerous treasure chests being strewn across the map. Fast travel from towns is one of the conveniences offered, so very little frustration is dealt with when backtracking to prior areas.
Party Chats are a more welcome reprieve when exploring towns, dungeons, and the world map. These are akin to Skits from the Tales franchise as they consist of the cast conversing with each other from the main story’s events to sidequests and more mundane subject matters. These were always a joy to read since they helped make the characters feel like their own people and not chess pieces strictly tied to the main story’s whim.
Characters are one of the backbones of modern JRPGs, and thankfully Bravely Default II succeeds in making them entertaining despite the cliches they all possess. Unfortunately, the Party Chats do not contain voice acting, which was quite a disappointment since practically the entire main story and a good chunk of side quests are all voiced. This is far from a dealbreaker, but I couldn’t help from desiring its inclusion.
Speaking of the voice acting, I played using the English dub, and I found it rather charming in a similar manner to the prior 2 mainline entries. It is certainly cheesy and incredibly over the top, but it fits the molds these characters wear and breathed some needed life into them, which I can appreciate.
There are several sidequests players can accept, but this is one of the game’s weaker aspects. These were always simply busywork and just felt like chores to complete rather than genuinely engaging activities. At best, sidequests are acceptable divergences players can turn to when wanting to grind their Job levels and take a break from the main story.
A few of these quests provide some character fun and backstory, but those are relatively few in number. At worst, most sidequests can be written off and forgotten about, and doing so would honestly not hinder the experience any which way.
There is also the ‘B n D’ minigame I’ve neglected to mention. This strategic card-based minigame mimics the combat design in a way, in the sense that it comes off as initially overwhelming. Still, it too can become highly addicting and rewarding once enough time and preparation are given to it. At its core, it is about gaining territory with several cards obviously having varying effects. This is a fun little time-waster I grew amused by, but it might not be every player’s cup of tea. Taking this slow and carefully analyzing the board and the cards is the best way to tackle it.
Performance-wise, I encountered a few technical hiccups while playing. Loading times can sometimes be uncomfortably long, and there are instances of dropped frames when exiting and entering menus. These issues were always slight and never impeded upon the experience in an awful manner, but they were more than noticeable and might disturb the game’s flow for some players.
The art style has been the subject of much contention, but I found it quite charming personally. It is not everyone’s preference, and I get that, but I think dismissing this title as a whole based on its art style is a bit of an overreaction.
In regards to the soundtrack, the tracks in this game are varied and immersive. Town themes are realistically fitting with the atmospheres the locales represent, and the battle themes are intense and adrenaline-pumping. Personally speaking, the first game’s soundtrack is still my favorite, but the one this title provides is by no means poor.
Bravely Default II is not a redefiner of the JRPG genre, and it might not stand out in the packed sea of more notable titles available. However, not every new game has to be a genre definer to be entertaining. This adventure wears its tropes and cliches on its sleeve, but it isn’t ashamed of them. It basks in the roots it hearkens back to, to the point where playing it feels like stepping into a time machine leading to times of old with needed, welcome, modern sensibilities.
Bravely Default II is not for those who desire a simplistic thoughtless combat experience where progression is achieved with little thought. This game embodies the opposite of that philosophy and is meant for anybody who has the patience to fail, think, and learn. While not housing a stellar narrative, it does a decent job of providing one alongside an addicting gameplay loop that any JRPG fan should consider diving into for the endless combat possibilities alone. Each player’s combative journey has the potential to be unique to them and them alone, and that is what ultimately cements Bravely Default II as one of the best JRPG experiences on the Switch.
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