With the 3DS library filling out nicely, yet also with Nintendo’s financial woes being aired publicly, it seems that there’s no better time than ever to see if their more successful product at the moment will help turn the tide and keep the long-lived company in the gaming market. From the looks of Bravely Default, there seems to be hope yet as the game does quite well for the handheld system, as well as JRPG fans.
Bravely Default is the spiritual successor of Square Enix’s DS title Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, first being released in Japan back in 2012, and there was quite a bit of hype when its international release was announced. It was developed by Japanese indie outfit Silicon Studio, which is known for the adventure game 3D Dot Game Heroes. The sequel, Bravely Second, had been announced back in December 2013, so there is certainly more to come.
Bravely Default’s strength is in its gameplay, with similarities to Final Fantasy games’ job system and combat. The Brave and Default systems give battles a good bit of flexibility. A Brave point is used with every attack, and your enemies do the same. In each round, you can either attack as much as you want or stack up on points to spend it later to execute multiple attacks at a single turn. This system makes battles more like tactical affairs, wherein decisions are crucial on whether to go all out on offense or hold back and bide your time to attack at the most opportune time.
The in-game visuals are also quite something to behold, enough for regular 3DS users to envy their 3DS XL counterparts since they can see more of it in this game. The characters are simple and rather cutesy as per the Japanese style, but are complimented with the greatly detailed backdrops with lots of variety in settings, from the regal trappings of castles to the humble openness of villages.
There are only four playable characters — Agnès Oblige, Tiz Arrior, Edea Lee, and Ringabell. However, the job system is so flexible that it lets you come up with diverse arrays of character builds that you can experiment with. This gives Bravely Default a good but of replay value as it would be interesting to see certain characters take on roles different from previous playthroughs.
It does have a few weaknesses though, like how the writing of the story and the dialogue is stodgy at best, as well as the pacing of the endgame. It seems that most of the development was put into the combat system, but not as much on the story itself. The personalities of the characters in it though are strong and diverse enough to keep it from totally collapsing. But if you’re not into the Renaissance Fair style dialogue and rustic finery, then maybe you may scratch your head a bit. It’s not totally cringeworthy though as there is quite a bit of entertaining banter between characters.
An example of a game that combines strong narrative and solid gameplay is Fire Emblem: Awakening had a strong enough story to support the exemplary character development that gives it longevity and solid replay value. With Bravely Default though, the narrative itself does little to compel players to step up and pull all the stops to save the in-game world. There are also times when you’ll notice how job outfits carry over to the serious cutscenes, so it may be kind of funny to see when characters have dramatic moments while wearing what may seem to be inappropriate for those moments.
As you proceed through the game, you may then be taken aback by the presence of microtransactions, which is something you’d least expect from a complete handheld game that you’ve already paid money for. Whether they scare you off or choose to ignore them for the sake of finishing the game first before judging it, there could have been a better way to present them without looking too callous and obvious.
On the other hand, it also has some smart StreetPass features that avid 3DS players can really get into, so they can play minigames and such with other Bravely Default players who you may encounter. For instance, you can rebuild a ruined village in the game, and StreetPassing in the game lets you gain new villagers and cut down build times, which is a good use for the 3DS’ social features.
As the first game in the series, it seems that Bravely Default sets expectations for Bravely Second quite high. Hopefully, developers can follow this up with a worthy sequel that JRPG fans can really get into, hopefully with more refinements and a deeper and more well-written story.
Tested in 3DS. Final Score: 8/10