Bravely Default Review

Final Fantasy in all but name - but really, really hard

Bravely Default Review
16th January, 2014 By Ian Morris
Game Info // Bravely Default
Bravely Default Boxart
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Players: 1
Subtitles: Full
Available On: 3DS
Genre: Role Playing Game (Turn Based Battles)

Bravely Default is one of those games that ticks almost every single box we could ask of it. It's a game that, on paper, seems to have been tailor made for us. A role-playing game? Check. A bit like Final Fantasy? Check. Androgynous characters, and a good story, with a twisting, traditionally weird JRPG plot? Check. A brilliant, sweeping Nobuo Umatseu style sound track? Check. Turn-based battles? Check. It seems to get everything right. But under the surface, Bravely Default holds a terrible secret - one that it doesn't let on until it's sucked you in with its enticing hand-drawn backgrounds and wide-eyed anime characters.

It's actually incredibly hard. 

Bravely Default Screenshot

You'll find yourself healing your team a lot...

For a while, it wasn't even clear whether Bravely Default would be seeing a Western release at all. Originally announced for Japan not too long after the 3DS launched, there was total radio silence on the prospect of a localisation, as the game seemed destined to be one of those mysterious games that looks amazing, yet never leave the Eastern shores. Telling the tale of a young sage known as Agnes, whose job is to watch over the crystals that keep the world in order, there's a traditional "ordinary person has to save the world by defeating a supremely evil bad-guy" plot at work here, but clichés aside, it all looked so appealing. Eventually hitting shelves in Japan at the end of 2012, much campaigning followed, as 3DS buyers, hungry for new games, started to let the publisher Square Enix know that they wanted some Bravely Default action. And, eventually, they relented.

What we have here, then, is a game that has a few tweaks from the Japanese version. There are more save slots, so up to three people can play using the same cartridge, without having to overwrite each other's saves, and there's an option to choose a difficulty level, even if it is hidden away where you wouldn't expect to find it (in the Pause menu under Tactics, believe it or not). Other than that, we're lucky enough to have been graced with the addition of microtransactions, too, where you can pay to stock up on some coins that let you pause a battle, mid fight, in order to have an extra turn of your own. It's a pretty pointless feature, and you can get the coins by putting your 3DS into sleep mode for eight hours at a time anyway (if your battery will last that long), but still, it's an entirely unwelcome addition. Microtransactions - go away.

Bravely Default Screenshot

There's a jobs system at work here too, letting you choose a specialisation for each of your characters.

Even if most of the new additions aren't worth writing home about, though, there's a lot that Bravely Default gets right, as almost everything it does, it does incredibly well. You'll explore gorgeous, hand-drawn towns and cities, each of which has its own individual look and style, whether it's a town built around a giant clock, with huge gears swinging in the background, or a riverside city where everything seems to be made of flowers - and the inhabitants are all women, striving to outdo each other in the beauty stakes. While the main plot may be unremarkable, it's the characterisation that gives the game its charm, with a cast of main characters that are all genuinely likeable - even if they don't always get on with each other! Whether it's Ringabell the amnesiac (he can't remember his name, but his face rings a bell), who, along with having a magical book that seems to have been written about the future, is a massive womaniser, who'll chase after anyone and anything in a skirt; the firey, stubborn Edea, who's often at loggerheads with Ringabell, but has a kind heart; or the innocent Agnes, who suddenly finds herself under a lot of pressure, it's the characters that make the game - and they're all well voice acted, too.

Where the problem comes, unfortunately, is from the battles. Which is a pity, because there's so many of them.

Bravely Default uses a turn-based battle system that draws inspiration from the game's name. In an attempt to mix things up a bit, rather than just choosing moves for your team, attacking, and then waiting for the enemy team to do the same, you can now stack attacks "from the future". When it's your turn, if you press Brave three times, you can take four turns in a row (three Braves, plus the turn you're on now), letting you attack, use an item, or perform some magic, as you would normally - but in return, you won't be able to attack for the next four turns. The enemies you face can choose to stack moves like this, too, so if you stack four turns up, and don't manage to beat them, they can attack you for three turns, then stack another four up, to get seven in a row without letting you attack back. As it turns out, the enemies don't often do this - which is a good thing, as they're already hard enough as it is.

Bravely Default Screenshot

Don't let its looks deceive you - this is a fiendishly hard game.

The other option you have on each turn is to "default", which is a guard move that "stacks" moves from the future. By choosing default, you'll (usually) take less damage, and will gain a turn in hand, letting you eventually pull off four brave moves in a row, and then carry straight on attacking next turn, without having to wait for anything to catch up. It's a confusing system to explain on paper, but one that you get the hang of pretty quickly, even if it doesn't seem to add any real extra strategy to the proceedings.

But there's a reason we opened the review by moping about how hard Bravely Default is, and that's the boss fights. The boss fights here are some of the most one sided conflicts you'll ever face, and defeating the mega monsters more often than not is less about how good you are, how well levelled your team is, and what strategies you deploy so much as it is a) luck, and b) how many Pheonix Downs you own (potions that revive your party).

While the first boss has 1800 HP, the three characters on your team have no more than 260 each. Even if you block, he can do 75 damage to you, so four turns is all it takes to wipe one of your characters out. From there on in, you're basically lambs to the slaughter. Annoyingly, this boss is also a dab hand at status affecting magic, that can be used to blind you (so you can't attack him) or put you to sleep. Somewhat brilliantly, you don't actually have access to any magic that clears blindness at this point, either, so you have to rely on expensive items that you can barely afford. Oh, and you can't buy Phoenix Downs from the shop before the boss, either. Which also helps.

The next boss, oddly, was fairly easy, but almost every one after that has been hard as nails. One boss has 5000 HP to your 500. That's fine if you can deal out plenty of damage, but when you do 20-40 damage each turn, and they do over 100 to you, what chance do you stand? Just using basic maths, it'll take a minimum of 125 turns for you to kill it, while they can wipe out your entire party in just 20. Hope you packed some Phoenix Downs! The next boss gets even more ridiculous. Apparently having 10x your HP (some 6000 this time) wasn't enough, as the boss also has an attack that does 300 damage. Even if you block. Even if you turn the difficulty down to easy (which begs the question - what's the point?). Doing that much damage lets him kill you in the space of two turns. If he stacks four attacks up, he can wipe out half your team without breaking a sweat. And this is fair?

Bravely Default Screenshot

Oddly, the game's hidden a lot of the story in optional, "Press Y if you want to listen to this" sections, that pop up on screen from time to time. Why would you not want to listen?

Of course, there is a workaround for the game's ridiculous difficulty spikes, but it's one you won't have all that much fun doing. Grinding - the process of running around, getting into battles and beating up monsters for no reason other than to level your team up. But on Bravely Default, even the grinding's difficult, as the bog standard enemies you come across can give you a whooping too. Never mind the fact the game has an awkward tendency to put you against enemies you aren't really equipped to beat yet. Facing off against enemies that can poison you isn't all that fair when you don't learn a spell that can cure poison until you've beaten the next boss. It kind of puts you in an awkward catch 22, where you'll be haemorrhaging potions, Phoenix Downs, and the ridiculously expensive Elixirs (potions that restore MP, or magic points), just to gain those extra levels you need. It doesn't help that specialist magic characters don't actually have that many magic points, either, so you'll often find yourself running out, mid-levelling, rendering the characters almost totally useless, as they barely do any damage when attacking.

In fact, the problem here seems to be that the game almost expects you to rely on a kind-of cheating feeling system that lets you summon other players you've Streetpassed, and put them to use in the battles. Should you come across a Level 70 player while you're out and about around town (in real life), you'll get one of his attacks to use in a battle, which can make the boss fights a lot simpler. If you don't happen to have anyone nearby that also plays Bravely Default, then connecting to the internet will let you download the characters of three strangers from around the world, but it's decidedly hit and miss whether they'll be of any use. Of course, if you don't connect your 3DS to the internet that often (and you have to choose a specific option in the menu - it isn't automatic), then you won't be able to take advantage of a system that can often be the difference maker.And all of this is a shame, because there's so much Bravely Default gets right. The only problem is, one of the most important parts of the game, it gets terribly wrong, with regular, horrible difficulty spikes that turn the game from a fantastic role player into the spawn of Satan in the space of a few minutes. Why no other review seems to have picked up on this is beyond us, but it's a problem that almost single handedly turns Bravely Default from a must buy into a bit of a mixed bag.

Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS

StarStarStarEmpty starEmpty star
You'll need to be brave to see what this has to offer.
  • +
    Great characters
  • +
    Goregous graphics
  • +
    Amazing soundtrack, and almost everything else
  • -
    Random difficulty spikes
  • -
    Bravely/Default system doesn't add much to the game.
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