Bravely Default was a Final Fantasy game that wasn't. It took many of the classic tropes of the series--job classes, airships, even specific item and spell names--and updated them for the modern handheld era. It was a satifying answer on how to make a Final-Fantasy-styled game competitive in today's mobile market. Bravely Second: End Layer continues that core philosophy, but one of its sole differentiators from the Final Fantasy series proves to be its only real shortcoming. This is an actual sequel, and with that comes some baggage.
Just a Sec
Being a real sequel means Bravely Second at times feels like a remix of the first game. I found myself exploring familiar areas and revisiting towns. Reused dungeons are particularly odd. Their layouts remain mostly unchanged from the first game, though without fail our heroes will almost always discover a hidden path or staircase tucked just behind the original area. It's as if every dungeon has its own small supplemental section. It's the DVD 'extra features' of stage design.
Also making their return are several of the original job classes. These are presented as side-quests, anthology stories in which you meet with characters from the first game and some petty confrontation forces you to fight, earning their asterix and access to their job. These are always presented in a binary fashion, with you ultimately serving as the arbiter of a dispute between two characters, forcing you to choose between jobs. You can ultimately get every job through the New Game + feature, but some of the stories make you choose between your desired job and which character's plight you actually side with.
The real joy in the Bravely games tends to come from discovering new classes, and Bravely Second is excellent in that regard. Though some of the legacy jobs are singular in their focus--you can't steal unless you have a Thief--most of the new jobs fill any gaps left by the first game and then some. In fact, these new job classes are more inventive on the whole. Some, like Bishop, are more flexible versions of existing classes like White Mage. Others are so singularly creative that they don't have any clear analogue.
A personal favorite was Fencer, a job that shifts its stances as it performs attacks. It can riposte and jab from defensive to offensive postures with ease, adding an extra layer of strategy if you intend to stack several attacks using your Brave ability. It's ultimately best to finish in a defensive pose, which may well impact how many attacks you stack at once. Another standout, the Exorcist, reverts character states, letting you undo entire enemy attack phases with some careful planning.
Time for a Break
It's here that Bravely Second really shines. Like its predecessor, it takes joy in letting you abuse combinations of abilities. Through secondary job skills and passive traits, you can create some truly unfair combos, and Square Enix is clearly aware of that. Entire climactic boss battles can be handled with ease if you simply recognize an exploit. Special end-game challenges await for those who come up with the cleverest way to cheese the system. It's a game that harkens back to Final Fantasy 7, when I patted myself on the back for coming up with a particularly effective Materia combo. It felt like I was getting one over on the developers then, and the Bravely series has successfully replicated and capitalized on that sensation now.
Its spirit is maintained throughout the story as well. Bravely Default was self-consciously meta, with a cyclical story structure that went a little too far. Repeating the same game three more times, even in fast-forward, outlived its welcome. Bravely Second has a similar twist that sidesteps a repeat of the entire game, letting Square have its cake and eat it too. That said, the twist isn't quite as gripping as the villain reveal from the first game.
In fact, the story as a whole is a little less engrossing this time around. Possibly because we're returning to an existing setting and seeing a continuation of familiar characters, the plot often feels under-explained. Especially as I barrelled towards the finish line, new elements were introduced at such a regular pace that I stopped trying to make sense of it. It's not why I come to this series at any rate.
Braving the Depths
What makes the Bravely series special, and why I always feel a connection to it, is that it feels like it was made for me. It's engineered to recapture and encapsulate the satisfaction of completing an old-school JRPG, while also respecting my time as a working adult. It's present all throughout the craftwork, from the way auto-battling and setting encounter rates make it easy to explore a dungeon or get in some quick grinding, to new elements like the ability to save specific team builds or actions. I ended my game clock at a substantial 40 hours, but none of that time felt wasted or padded.
This is Final Fantasy as properly modernized--not through flashy cutscenes and ludicrous budgets, but by understanding why we ever played those games in the first place, and letting us fit those moments into our modern lives.
This review is based on a 3DS cartridge provided by the publisher. Bravely Second: End Layer available in retail stores now, for $39.99. The game is rated T.
Bravely Second End Layer
- Extremely inventive new job classes
- Combining abilities feels rewarding
- Respects your time while delivering that old-school JRPG feeling
- Some reused areas and enemies from first game
- Story likely baffling for newcomers