Written by: George Pierce
It is a gross understatement to say that Final Fantasy VII was a big deal. It was the harbinger of the age of the Japanese RPGs in America. It inspired hundreds of clones, and served as a blueprint for either how a JRPG could succeed, or what one needed to avoid in order to stand out. There are games even today, such as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, that are trying to ride its coattails to success. Before Final Fantasy VII, JRPGs were a niche genre, with a large hardcore fan base, but not much crossover appeal. It did have its fair share of classics, however. Games like Secrets of Mana, The Legend of Zelda and the first four Final Fantasies all counted amongst the best in console history, with timeless stories and inventive and innovative battle systems. FFVII-inspired modern JRPGs have taken a nosedive in terms of quality over the past couple years; consequently, there’s been a mounting push to return to the RPGs of old. Many sequels to those classic series’, including The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Might and Magic X – Legacy, have been released recently as a response to this demand, so it was only a matter of time before Final Fantasy got its own iteration. And while Bravely Default: Flying Fairies for the Nintendo 3DS may not carry the Final Fantasy name, it certainly carries its legacy on its shoulders, and does so with aplomb.
Bravely Default is a quasi-sequel to Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light,and takes influence from Super Nintendo-era RPGs. The story of Bravely Default is classic Final Fantasy…so classic that it is, on the whole, uninteresting: four teenagers from four different backgrounds must join together to save the world by awakening four divine elemental crystals, while also fighting against a group wishing to discredit the religion surrounding them. The four teenagers in question are also the only playable characters in the game (very much like the original Final Fantasy), and are standard Square Enix archetypes. There’s the arguable main character Agnés, the vestal (caretaker/avatar) to the Wind Crystal who is righteous and devoutly religious, though entirely naïve to the world outside of her temple; Tiz, the kind-hearted country boy whose town was destroyed in cataclysm, and who promised to protect Agnés in her journey to awaken the four crystals; Edea, the headstrong, outspoken young daughter of the leader of the anti-religious movement who has defected to the vestal’s side; and Ringabel, a quick-witted ladies-man who has forgotten everything about himself up until the start of the story. Your group forms quickly in the game, but while the changing relationships between party members helps keep things interesting, those looking for individual character development may be sorely disappointed.
Whatever deficiency the characters have is made up for by the gameplay. Like many traditional RPGs, you travel from city to city via an overworld map, fighting monsters in random encounters and leveling up your characters. Every so often you might fight a much tougher boss in order to progress the 70+ hour campaign. Unlike other RPGs, however, there are ways of getting around the more annoying aspects of the game. I’m not much a fan of random battles myself, so you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered that I could turn up the encounter rate (useful for grinding levels), or turn them completely off. You get no experience by doing the latter, of course, but it’s incredibly handy if you’re simply trying to run back to a save point or fully explore a dungeon without interruption. Almost every cut scene in the game can be skipped, and battle animations can be sped up to four times the regular speed. Mechanics like these are perfect for gamers like myself who have been off-put by the genre’s tedium in the past.
The game’s battle system has been much lauded, and rightfully so. takes its name from the signature battle mechanics, Brave and Default. Every action done in a fight uses what are known as Battle Points (BP), and encounters revolve around the strategic stockpiling and consumption of these points. You start with zero battle points, and gain one at the beginning of every turn. If you default for a turn, you raise your defenses and save a battle point for the next turn (you can have a maximum of 3 BP stockpiled). By braving, you can consume multiple battle points (even if you don’t have any reserve, down to a -4 deficit) and perform multiple actions in the same turn. Unless you begin your next turn with zero or more battle points however, you’ll be a sitting duck unable to perform any actions until you break even again. Knowing when to brave and default forms the crux of strategy in this game, and keeps the action engaging even when facing the same monsters over and over. Additional aspects of the battle system include summoning friends you meet using the Street Pass feature of the 3DS to perform pre-set attacks in your place (if you’re lucky, these attacks will be powerful ones that you don’t have access to yet), and the use of Sleep Points (SP), which can be used as a substitute for BP (especially handy if you’re at a BP deficit). These points can be gained either by putting your 3DS in sleep mode, or by purchasing them online.
The job system is equally as important in battle. There are 24 jobs in the game that are received by defeating a boss holding that job’s “asterisk”. Each job is just as viable as the next when it comes to battling. Jobs level up independent of character level based on the amount of Job Points (JP) that a character receives from battling, with a max level of 14. A character can take on a fixed job, which will affect their stats and weapon aptitude, as well as a secondary job that grants additional abilities. Mixing and matching jobs on each character to form a complimentary battle team is highly rewarding, especially when you find a combination that works. One of my favorite combos is pairing the Knight job, which has superb defense and is often used to sponge hits, with the Swordmaster job, which has skills that not only lower the damage of attacks received, but then counters with twice the power. In the same vein, the Valkyrie’s Special Move (’s version of ’s Limit Break) becomes available after hitting enemies’ elemental weaknesses a certain amount of times with your weapon, so the Spell Fencer, who imbues weapons with elements and other magic, would make a perfect complement if Special Moves are a big part of your strategy. Other series holdovers, such as summons and compounding, take the form of jobs that can be applied to characters.
The aesthetics of the game are all around some of the best I’ve seen on a handheld. The visuals are breathtaking—I spent ten solid minutes simply looking at the hand drawn background in the city of Caldisla the first time I laid eyes on it, and it’s not even the most impressive location. The battle animations, while lively, are fairly standard for the genre. The 3D in this game is more effective than any other game I’ve seen on the 3DS. The music is among the most memorable of any game I’ve played recently (handheld or otherwise), with themes and loops that will stick in your head for weeks; standouts include the asterisk-bosses’ theme, “He of the Name,” the overworld theme “Land of Beginnings,” and “Ship Upon the Open Skies,” which plays when flying an airship. The voice acting, sadly, is nowhere near as pleasant as the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not impressive, and can actually become distracting; there are a few times when characters hit a peak of emotion and plateau, resulting in vocals that are shrill and not-at-all easy on the ears. While it is nice that most of the game is fully voiced, it’s almost a burden to listen to, especially if you don’t care much for the story.
“HE OF THE NAME”
Minor complaints aside, though, Bravely Default is a deep and engaging game that combines the best elements of classic JRPGs and makes it accessible to modern audiences. Though the story is rehashed and the character development leaves a bit to be desired, the battle system, job variety, and visuals and music make this a game that deserves to be experienced. It certainly sells the notion that a return to the traditional-style RPGs of old can inject some much-needed innovation into the entire genre, but even on its own merit, it stands as a solid game worthy of a spot in anyone’s collection.