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Old-school meets new-school in modern take on the traditional JRPG

Submitted by Caleb Mitchell on February 21, 2014 – 3:50 pmOne Comment

Disclaimer: This review is based on the demo version of the game, which differs slightly from the final product. Because of this, some elements of the game were not able to be reviewed.

Japanese role-playing games have been around since what seems like the dawn of time – and while they once reigned supreme, as the years have passed the genre has become muddled with a bevy of games ranging from mediocre to downright terrible, with only infrequent releases from series juggernauts like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest to tide gamers over. Now developer Silicon Studio is hoping to change that with the brave new combat system that is the highlight of its latest game, Bravely Default, available for the Nintendo 3DS.

Heralded as the spiritual successor to Matrix Software’s 2010 Nintendo DS game Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light, Bravely Default is a fairly standard JRPG; players control four characters, Agnès, Tiz, Ringabel, and Edea, and utilize a job system that allows characters to switch between 24 different customizable classes. As the game is published by Square-Enix, the same company that publishes Final Fantasy, Bravely Default shares many similarities with games in the series past, including jobs. Characters can become everything from series staples like White, Black, and Red Mages, in addition to newer jobs, such as the health-draining Vampire and the stat-reducing Pirate.

All of this is good and well, but by far the biggest draw to Bravely Default, and the system from which the game derives its title, are the new gameplay mechanics Brave and Default. This system is what differentiates the game from other JRPGs and makes combat so enjoyable. Each time a character takes a turn, they use up a Battle Point from a stock system; different commands use up different amounts of BP, and characters can only use up so much BP per turn. However, players can choose to stockpile BP with the Default option, and then unleash a string of commands all in one turn with Brave. The system adds a much-welcome element of strategy to combat, as some method of mixing Brave and Default is usually necessary to win battles – especially against the game’s brutally difficult bosses.

Players should also note that, while the combat shines, Bravely Default is a game where grinding is pretty much a necessity; this may be a turn-off for some, but Silicon Studio was at least kind enough to include an option to speed up battle animations, which can help quicken the process of combat. Another nice touch is the ability to adjust the frequency of the game’s random enemy encounters, allowing players to encounter enemies at nearly every step or not at all.

Sadly, other features included in Bravely Default are highly questionable; in addition to a set of side missions that require the use of AR cards – the majority of which must be purchased separately – a variety of micro-transactions appear in the game, which is more than a little off-putting. Granted, none of this necessary to complete the main storyline, but for a game that will already set you back $40, it’s a shame any of this was included at all.

Other elements of the game also don’t hold up quite as well as the gameplay. While the graphics are very good (character models in particular are adorable and well-detailed), the voice acting is rather questionable, with performances ranging from passable to laughably bad. Also, for a game made for a system with an analog stick, it’s a bit baffling why so many commands in Bravely Default require the use of the D-pad, which isn’t quite as smooth as its counterpart.

At the end of the day, if you’re not already a fan of traditional turn-based JRPGs, Bravely Default probably isn’t going to change things for you. While the developers at Silicon were hoping to reinvent the wheel with the new combat mechanics in the game, they really just made it shinier and more fun to roll down the hill. Still, for those fans of the genre who’ve yearned for something reminiscent to the old-school games of yore, or those needing something new to pop into their 3DS, Bravely Default may be just the thing you’ve been looking for.

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