Have you ever sat around with friends, talking about what elements you’d take from different games to create the ultimate experience? You know, “I’d take Grand Theft Auto’s humour and open world, with Sleeping Dogs’ combat mechanics, and Saints Row’s customisation options,” that sort of thing?
Well, if you’re a fan of Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs), and you’ve ever had a wishlist that included Final Fantasy V’s job system, aesthetics and plot reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX, and the sheer potential for overpowered characters that marked Final Fantasy Tactics, then you might be in luck. Bravely Default, created by 3D Dot Game Heroes developer Silicon Studio, checks all those boxes - and a bunch of others, to boot.
Like its spiritual predecessor Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Bravely Default harkens back to games of old, seeking to capture whatever it is that makes all those Super Nintendo- and PlayStation-era RPGs so fondly remembered by many a player. For the most part, it not only succeeds, but excels, capturing those classic experiences perfectly while abandoning all the less desirable elements.
But keep in mind that I said “for the most part” - for the first 30 odd hours, Bravely Default is easily one of the best games to grace the 3DS, and one of the best RPGs in many a generation. Sadly, all of this goes out the window in the last five or so hours, and it will take all of your self-control not to take what should be the 3DS’ killer app and toss it into the back of your sock drawer, never to be played again.
Bravely Default opens with the destruction of the small village of Norende, leaving a young Tiz Arrior as the only survivor. Amidst the chaos that follows, Tiz meets one Agnes Oblige, guardian of one of the world’s four elemental Crystals, who is investigating Norende’s fall and its connection to the Crystals mysteriously losing their power.
Nothing’s ever straightforward, of course, with the scientifically advanced Eternian Empire hunting down the Crystals’ guardians for reasons unclear. As Tiz and Agnes continue their mission, while evading the Eternian forces, they meet and join forces with Ringabel, an amnesiac stranger, and Edea Lee, the daughter of Eternia’s Grand Marshal, who has turned her back on her father’s evil plot.
It’s a story that wouldn’t be the least bit out of place in any SNES RPG, yet somehow never feels dated. The characters all fit neatly into genre cliches, but still manage to be interesting, engaging, and complex. What’s more, despite the game clocking in at around 35 hours, it’s not until the last five that the plot starts to feel like it’s overstayed its welcome (but I’ll get to that later.) When it’s rare even for your average ten hour action game to not feel like its been needlessly stretched out, for a game to reach 30 before losing steam is an impressive feat.
As for how that story plays out, it’s very much your standard RPG fare. You travel the world, visiting towns, exploring dungeons, and meeting new people, as you slowly unravel the plot around you. While traversing monster-infested areas, fights will randomly be triggered with a transition that takes you to a separate battle screen. Defeating enemies earns experience points, which in turn help your characters grow stronger, and increasingly powerful weapons and armor can be found in dungeons or bought from shops.
That’s not to say Bravely Default doesn’t innovate, though. While not exactly original, a “job” system gives you an incredible amount of control over your party of adventurers and their development. Over the course of your journey, you’ll obtain new jobs that allow you to alter the skills and aptitudes of your party. The Black Mage job, for example, is an offence-focused spellcaster with low physical defences but massive damage potential, while the Knight is a heavy-armored defensive powerhouse who can protect their allies.
Continue reading on page 2.