Bravely Default 2 Review: Innovative Combat cannot completely heal a generic RPG story
“The Brave and Default system strikes a near perfect balance between two rival combat mechanics that have struggled to coexist over the decades, but that’s about the level of the game’s individuality.”
Strategic brave / default system
Bosses are tough but fair
Pleasant voice output
Boring gameplay loop
Bravely Default was born to draw on the earlier JRPGs. The genre made it big with global adventures where slow and steady turn-based battles gave us plenty of time to ponder every battle decision. Then came the Active Time Battle system, which speeds up the slog of traditional turn-based combat. The newer system seems better suited to our twice-per-minute newsfeeds and hot-take tweets needs.
While Bravely Default 2 is the perfect answer for those who want a traditional setting with a touch of something new, the new role-playing game takes on the past without understanding why the systems it is trying to emulate have gone out of style in the first place are.
A tense start
Like its predecessor, Bravely Default 2 offers a unique twist in combat in addition to a generic RPG story. As soon as the game starts, our seafaring hero is stranded on a beach after being rescued by a talking crystal while unconsciously floating through the ocean. At this moment we’re just an amnesia stereotype away from a hat trick right outside the gate.
It’s just a shame after a few hours you’ve seen almost everything it will ever offer.
It is not that a story that contains elementally tuned pieces of geological matter is inherently bad. I absolutely loved Final Fantasy III. But it’s an RPG standby brought to death – a chronicle that makes it difficult to shake the idea that Bravely Default 2 takes the idea of RPG nostalgia a little too far.
What I can attribute to Bravely Default 2 early on is how fast it starts. Instead of sitting through a good hour of chat and tutorials, players get their first permanent group members as soon as they wash ashore. A fourth and final teammate is about to come down the street. With the adorable Scottish Elvis, his hired hand Adelle, and the outrageous British Gloria by your side, you’re on your way to meet the game’s far-reaching international cast. The foundation is laid quickly – it’s just a shame after a few hours you’ve seen almost everything it will ever offer.
As soon as the long prologue chapter ends, most of the time the players have seen it all. You’ve dealt with a crisis in the chapter’s chosen city, wandered aimlessly through countless corridors in a few themed dungeons, battled a powerful boss or two, and ended up with one crystal in hand and one at a completely new geographic one Gone place rumor about the location of the next. And that is exactly what they will do over and over again. In at least 30 hours of playing the game, players will see virtually nothing new beyond this opening chapter. They just repeat the same trip disguised as a new excursion until the credits finally roll in.
Same systems, same headache
Where Bravely Default 2 manages to repeat its inspirations is the job system – a feature of Final Fantasy III that has served as the foundation for every JRPG ever since. “Starlets” stolen from bosses throughout the story unlock equippable classes like thief, red mage, bard and berserk – each with unique spells, abilities, passive abilities and special attacks to spice up your strategy.
Once players get into the habit of using the eponymous Brave and Default systems that allow characters to spin rounds instead of lining up them later, the battle becomes relatively straightforward. But it is the returning, refined job system that successfully supports future combat strategies.
Characters can only use spells from the two jobs they are currently equipped with. Once unlocked, passive skills from any job can be mixed and matched at any time. Even if the players don’t plan on adding a new job to their team, there is reason to theory how his passive skills can improve your current setup. Each of them ends at level 12, so it doesn’t take long to go down the path of experimentation either.
It is the returning, refined job system that successfully supports future combat strategies.
The roles available are inherently little new compared to similar games, but when each party member specializes in two roles at once, the doors open to some wonderful customization options – like a white mage engaging with bard fans or a monk engaging in Berserk oriented role to beat even harder. It becomes a key aspect in fighting some trickier bosses. Sanding levels to practice brute force through those brick walls can work, but the right strategy is always hidden in sight for free thinkers.
The right idea, the wrong execution
If anything, it’s fascinating to see the Bravely Default series have to exist in the first place. It doesn’t offer much that can’t be found elsewhere. My personal favorite JRPG, Lost Odyssey, which happens to be the birth child of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, came out of a similar need to satisfy those looking for a nostalgic yet modern take on the genre. Unsurprisingly, critics take up the traditional systems that some consider tedious and old-fashioned: long, chatty cutscenes, turn-based battles with a slight change, and chance encounters that rounded off the entire trip.
It’s easy to see why the latter have disappeared over the years. The game becomes a slog when players find themselves in their fourth, virtually identical dungeon, which splits into five different paths, each one full of lengthy, inevitable battles. The battles are not entirely random, but even the modern approach of enemies that appear on the overworld map fails in this case.
The game becomes a slog when players are in their fourth, virtually identical, dungeon.
The small but wide world poses no real threat when traveling to and from dungeons and cities. But enter a dungeon and its long, thin corridors lack space to avoid most fights if players only explore the exit or want to reach it quickly and get on with the game. It’s a harrowing contrast that is likely to frustrate both RPG purists and those hoping for a more modern experience.
The reason to question the existence of Bravely Default 2 is because of its inability to think for itself. The Brave and Default combat system strikes a near-perfect balance between two rival combat mechanics that have struggled to coexist over the decades, but that’s roughly the level of the game’s individuality.
On top of that, it features a weirdly overused premise, music that is easily adapted to your current locale, tons of dungeons that don’t offer any new experiences and just serve to replenish the game’s supposed worth, and a general gameplay loop that comes before the Worn out end of game is first chapter. Aside from looking a bit better on newer hardware, the reason this sequel existed isn’t clear.
Is there a better alternative out there?
World of Final Fantasy and Lost Sphear both come to mind as JRPGs who manage to strike a delicate balance between old and new values while playing. This game is intended for those nostalgic for the JRPGs of the past, but doesn’t offer much that these games haven’t had.
How long it will take?
Over 60 hours, which is frankly too long. In contrast to some shorter role-playing games, this one twists the most basic storylines and stretches it far beyond its predetermined breaking point.
You should buy it
No, although it might be a suitable entry point for young players wanting an introduction to the genre. If you’ve been around, there are far better options.