Bravely Default II Review
Crystals, 4 heroes of light, jobs, & saving the world. All key elements of traditional Final Fantasy games, and all present in Bravely Default II. Square Enix uses its Bravely Default series as a “what if” scenario where Final Fantasy didn’t evolve into action JRPGs, but instead stayed as a traditional turned based JRPG. And Bravely Default II does an excellent job of modernizing the JRPGs of old.
Bravely Default II starts with a nameless hero washing up onto the shore of unknown land, not knowing how he got there. After befriending a princess, a scholar of a wizard school, and the bodyguard of said scholar, they venture on a quest to collect the four elemental crystals to save the world for inevitable destruction. Like I said, the most old school Final Fantasy story you could imagine. However, while the baseline of the story of Bravely Default II is exactly what you would expect, it’s the things that happen along the way that makes it a fun journey to be a part of. Betrayal, twists, turns, surprising friendships. All supported with decent voice acting, it’s easy to get invested in these characters' stories.
Seth, Gloria, Elvis (yes, Elvis), and Adelle are surprisingly well fleshed out characters. Through the game, often after cut scenes, you get an option to listen to “party chats” which are additional interactions between the main characters and sometimes other characters accompanying them. This is a nice little touch to the game that allows you to learn more about the characters backgrounds and motives, but without it being necessary to progress the game. Think of it like the extended cut of Lord of the Rings, if you're a fan of the world, there is all this bonus content for you to enjoy, but if you’d rather just have the main story, you can just watch the standard versions.
The game does make some weird choices at the end, though, that I’m still not sure if I’m for or against. Without trying to spoil it, I again will make a Lord of the Rings comparison. It feels like the end of Return of the King where there are several fake outs to the actual ending. The problem is though that the credits roll 3 different times, with the first one being at the end of chapter 5. The game doesn’t tell you that you can go back in and start chapter 6 to continue the story. It’s like the end of chapter 5 is a bad ending that you get no matter what you do throughout the game. Same thing happens at the end of chapter 6. It’s only after chapter 7 that the game truly ends. I feel like this could have been an interesting way to have multiple endings, but throwing in the credits without telling the player that the game actually continues feels like the wrong choice.
At the heart of the Bravely Default series is the job system which is one of my favorite JRPG systems I’ve ever used, and Bravely Default II adds a little bit to the system along with new, unique jobs, to make it the best of the series. If you are a fan of min-maxing stats, looking over different skills to make optimal combinations, and being rewarded for clever thinking by totally breaking the game, then you will absolutely love this game. You unlock new jobs at a regular pace through the game and any character can take on any job as a primary and any other job as a secondary. You have all the mastered abilities of your secondary job which you unlock as you level them up and get bonuses based on what your primary job is. On top of that, you can unlock passive abilities that can be attached regardless of what job you are using. This leaves so much room for mixing and maxing.
There are so many options available that there are thousands of different job combinations that there is a fun play style for anyone. One example from my playthrough that I am proud of is turning Gloria into a tank healer. By having my main job be shield master, and combining it with the white mage and a few other passive abilities from other jobs, she was able to block attacks meant for other characters, take little to no damage, and heal herself and party members in the meantime. I truly enjoyed spending time theory crafting different builds and compositions for my characters. It’s why I love JRPGs and this system is perfect for diving in and breaking it apart.
The battles themselves again use the brave and default system that the series is named after. Already proven in Bravely Default and Bravely Second, the system is all about storing or expanding multiple turns at once. If you choose to default on a turn, you gain a brave point and take a defensive stance. You can also brave on your turns, using a brave point to take two actions on one turn. You can store up to three brave points and expend a max of four on a given turn. This can allow you to make four actions on a turn. If you do so before defaulting, you can have up to negative three brave points, meaning you’ll have to wait three turns before you can move again. It hasn’t changed since its inception in the first Bravely Default, but it’s still a great system that rewards players who take the time to think out all their turns carefully.
I think the thing that Bravely Default II succeeds at the most is how it streamlines the often cumbersome and intuitive systems you find in JRPGs and turns it into a smooth and user friendly experience. When the older Final Fantasy’s were ported to the PC, they added a feature that allows you to speed the game up. They incorporated that into the battle system here in Bravely Default II. They range from speeds painfully slow so you can appreciate all of the animations to so fast that a battle can take mere seconds, which is essential when it comes to grinding (which you’ll probably need to do at some point). Shops are another example of streamlined design. You can see what weapon or armor you have equipped, what it’s stats are, how the weapon or armor you are thinking of buying will change your stats, and then if you do decide to buy it, you can immediately equip it from the shop menu. This has come a long way from the days where you had to go back and forth between various menus to compare and then hope you don’t forget to equip your new stuff after buying.
These are just a couple of examples, but the game is filled with quality of life mechanics like this. JRPGs have a long history of feeling clunky and like there are so many needless extra steps to things. But Bravely Default II learns from decades worth of JRPGs mistakes and puts it all together into an incredible package that never gets in its own way.
So here’s the thing. I love Bravely Default II. The characters ended up being very charming and I enjoyed seeing where their journey took them. I feel deeply in love with the job system, spending countless hours reading through different abilities to try to come up with cool combinations to make an overpowered team. That being said, Bravely Default II is not a game for everyone. In fact, there are a lot of people out there who would probably hate this game, and they would not be wrong for doing so. This game is the most condensed and refined form of a traditional turned based JRPG that exists. And some people really won’t like that. However, if you are a fan of JRPGs, then this is a must play in my opinion.