Bravely Default review: a whole new fantasy

Bravely Default pays homage to classic turn-based JRPG's, but its innovative approach to combat and wonderfully expansive Job system put it in a whole new class of its own.

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While Final Fantasy explores new gameplay conventions, Square Enix still knows how to make a classic turn-based JRPG. Bravely Default may not be an entry in the company's storied franchise, but it's built in the same vein as classic turn-based RPGs, all while modernizing the genre to give players a lot more variety along the way.

The story is fairly by-the-numbers, following a merry band of four characters, each brought together by happenstance. Tiz is the last survivor of his village, which was swallowed up by darkness. Agnes, vestal of the wind, is the key to helping restore the world, but is hunted down by the Eternian Council of Six all throughout the story. They're soon joined by an amnesiac Cassanova named Ringabel (try not to groan too loudly over that pun) and a former Eternian warrior named Edea. They band together to restore the world by helping activate the four elemental crystals scattered about. It's a story that would resonate with just about any Final Fantasy fan, crystals and all.

Where Bravely Default begins to set itself apart from its contemporaries is through its unique battle system. Each character can use direct attacks, magic spells, and use items, as is the case in any game. However, there are also two new options: Brave and Default. The former allows characters to attack more than once in a phase at the cost of having to sit out the same number of turns, while the latter lets characters build Brave Points (BP) and raise their defense by abstaining for that phase.

This system creates a number of interesting possibilities, letting players attempt to finish a battle quickly by using up 16 moves in a single phase, but with a very high cost should those moves fail to end the battle. I found myself a sitting duck many times when I gambled with that method and lost, leaving me to defenselessly eat attacks for the next three phases. It also leads to intersting combo possibilities. For example, characters can buff themselves for their first turn and follow up with direct attacks that take advantage of increased stats. Combat in Bravely Default proved pleasingly cerebral, as I had to outwit several enemies that were more than willing to utilize these same types of tactics.

More fun is Bravely Default's Job system. Run-of-the-mill Jobs like White Mage and Knight could be found through natural progression, but the cooler jobs are hidden behind side quests. This adds some major incentives to completing the game's side stories, as these Jobs are not only among the most potent in the game, but also prove to be the most fun to use. One side quest, for example, rewards the party with the Spell Fencer Job, which allows characters to infuse their weaponry with the elements or with negative conditions. Bravely Default's main narrative is a long one, easily exceeding 30 hours, but the rewarding Job system makes experiencing the game's full story worthwhile.

A Job's application to combat is even more interesting, as characters can equip a secondary Job's abilities to add to their primary one. There was an instance in the game where I took equipped Ringabel with the Spell Fencer Job, but also equipped him with the Time Mage abilities to also give him control over spells like Stop. These combinations prove a lot of fun to play around with, though truly taking advantage of this system will mean increasing your grinding time. Secondary Job abilities are only granted once they're also leveled up. This means characters will be switching Jobs around a lot to earn the best spells, since only primary Jobs earn EXP in battle.

One major aspect of Bravely Default that I truly appreciated was that the inevitable grind could be set at my own pace. Players can hit the pause menu at any time to not only set the game's difficulty at any time, but also set the encounter rate. Those simply hoping to explore a dungeon can do so by turning encounters off completely. Likewise, those needing to level up quickly for the next boss can double the encounter rate. This proved incredibly helpful, especially when I got lost in a dungeon with almost no health remaining.

Of course, while I appreciate being able to set the grind to my own pace, at the end of the day, it's still a grind with no way to expedite the leveling up process. While I appreciate the idea of being able to set my own difficulty at will without penalty, I wish more had been done with this concept. I would have liked to be able to set the game to Hard and receive a greater EXP bonus, to give me some sort of incentive to push myself and my party, while also making the grind a little shorter in the process. As it is, leveling up can get a bit tiresome and can take quite a while.

Bravely Default is a refreshing infusion of modernity into what's otherwise a traditional old-school RPG. It adds some new spice to turn-based battles, while also adding an engaging story, an engrossing Job system, and much-needed customization. It even utilizes StreetPass in an effective way that helps move the story forward. Square Enix may be taking its signature Final Fantasy series to new places, but Bravely Default shows that they still know what makes a good, traditional JRPG. [8]


This review is based on retail 3DS code provided by the publisher. Bravely Default is now available at retail and for download on Nintendo eShop for $39.99. The game is rated T.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 10, 2014 3:15 PM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Bravely Default review: a whole new fantasy.

    Bravely Default pays homage to classic turn-based JRPG's, but its innovative approach to combat and wonderfully expansive Job system put it in a whole new class of its own.

    • reply
      February 10, 2014 4:07 PM

      Best remake of FF5 I have ever played.

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      February 10, 2014 5:04 PM

      Nice review, can't say I disagree with any points you made positive, or negative.

      Having a blast with it!

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      February 11, 2014 3:25 AM

      This is an early GOTY contender as far as I'm concerned. I haven't loved a game this much in a long time.

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      February 11, 2014 3:45 AM

      BD is one of the best games Square Enix has ever made. And I've been playing them since FF1. I love it so hard.

      Except the in-app buying of Bravely Second potions. WHAT THE EFFFFFFFFF

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        February 11, 2014 3:47 AM

        yeah thats terrible, also if you're close enough to beating an enemy that 1 extra turn at £1 a pop will help, you're probably gonna succeed next time.

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        February 11, 2014 5:11 AM

        explain more

        also i'm just going to buy it, fuck it :(

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          February 11, 2014 8:41 AM

          It's pretty much Final Fantasy 1 + properly scripted/written/voiced story + refined FF job system + 2014 turn based RPG mechanics system

          ie sex in the mouf

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            February 11, 2014 8:57 AM

            + a whole bunch of modern, optional conveniences that I demand exist in all JRPGs forever after. The encounter rate slider + 4x animation speed makes the times when you gotta grind go by so quickly and painlessly.

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              February 11, 2014 9:03 AM

              what is the bravely second thing is that such as phoenix down

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        February 11, 2014 8:08 AM

        Playing it seriously makes me feel like I did when I first got FF1. Both emotionally and (often) because of world/monster design, character classes, etc. It's like a love letter to FF fans, and if I were a kid today playing this as my first JRPG, I'd be so goddamn happy.

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      February 11, 2014 4:15 AM

      I usually don't like JRPGs but Bravely Default is great.

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        February 11, 2014 5:21 AM

        Ok Grolar, you tipped the scale for me. I'll by the damn thing. I've been trying not to because I still haven't finished Zelda. Now I can wait no longer!

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          February 11, 2014 7:29 AM

          It takes the classic JRPG formula and puts a new spin on it. It's a cool blend of old and new.

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      February 11, 2014 7:44 AM

      I'm about an hour or so in. My only complaint is the voice acting.

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        February 11, 2014 7:56 AM

        Is there a way to turn that off?

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          February 11, 2014 7:59 AM

          You can switch it to Japanese if you want.

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        February 11, 2014 7:58 AM

        I saw some of the QL on GiantBomb and rudds switched to a Japanese voice track, if that sounds better to you. I thought they were both bad, but not as bad as the dumb character design.

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          February 11, 2014 8:14 AM

          Its a DS game. You can only do so much with a 320x280 screen or whatever the fuck it is.

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          February 11, 2014 8:21 AM

          i think the character design is totes adorbs, or whatever the kids are saying these days.

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            February 11, 2014 8:35 AM

            yea i like it. turns of variety of art in this game but it feels relatively cohesive. unique costumers for each character and class combination + items showing up on your characters keeps things interesting.

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            February 11, 2014 8:41 AM

            yup. It's ok, RD is a horrible human so we can excuse him.

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      February 11, 2014 7:59 AM

      good stuff