Although I played a few different games this week, one sits at the forefront of my thoughts: Bravely Default. I’ve been on a big Final Fantasy kick lately, researching the series and thinking about the history of its development. I found the Bravely Default series to be an especially interesting tangent from the main series. The development team got started with the FF3 remake, then made a spiritual sequel with Final Fantasy: The Four Warriors of Light. Then they made Bravely Default as a spiritual sequel to Four Warriors. From my short time with the game, its apparent that it’s more of a Final Fantasy game than most games that carry the title. Despite its interesting background, I’m currently debating to continue playing it. More thoughts after the jump.
[Graphics and Character Design]
I love the way this game looks. It utilizes the ‘matte painting’ (3D characters on 2D background) effect of PS1 era Final Fantasy games. The backgrounds are beautiful, and create the experience of exploring detailed paintings. In addition, the character designs from Akihiko Yoshida*, most famous for FF: Tactics and FF:12 look great and deepen the connection between BD and FF.
*I also just found out he did some of the designs for Nier: Automata!!
[Classes and Combat]
The next strongest element of the game. It utilizes the excellent class system found in FF5, Tactics and XI. This system lets you level up individual classes, unlocking abilities over time. In addition, it allows you to cross over abilities from a second class. This system is great because it allows for a great degree of customization, without being overwhelming. Plus, its structures help prevents combos from being too overpowered.
While the class system utilizes a fantastic system from the past, its combat system is a fantastic twist on traditional turn based combat. This system of Brave and Default is so good they named the game after it. BD’s combat features the usual HP and MP, but introduces Brave Points (BP). BP is spent when you take an action, an attack or a spell will cost 1 BP. Each turn you regain 1, so under normal circumstances this acts like a normal 1 action per turn battle system.
Where it gets interesting is when you ‘default’. This replaces the guard command in most games, halving damage you take, but it doesn’t carry a BP cost. Essentially it lets you bank turns for later use. By utilizing the ‘Brave’ action, you can spend up to 4 BP to gain 4 additional actions in a turn.
With this system you could do a single attack each turn, and take full damage from enemies each round. Or you could default for 3 or 4 turns, taking half damage while waiting, then unleash an alpha strike to fell them in one turn. Managing your HP is very important because enemies hit HARD, so you will want to spend as few turns as possible taking full damage.
But it gets even more interesting because you can use the Brave function to go into negative BP. If you don’t have BP on a turn, you can’t act, letting the enemies wail on you for full damage for up to 4 whole turns. This adds a fantastic element of risk/reward to managing your turns. Can you finish off the enemy team with a full 4 strikes from each of your characters on the first turn? Taking no damage is much better than half damage. But, if you fail, you will be facing 4 whole turns of full damage, and almost certain death.
Enemies also utilize the BP system. Sometimes they will go all out and bring themselves into negative BP, allowing you to capitalize on their inactions. This system is also utilized for preemptive strikes by giving you, or the enemy team, additional BP at the start of battle.
I’m still early on, but this system obviously has a lot of potential. I know there is a Time Mage job, that I’d bet allows for manipulation of enemy and ally BP. I wouldn’t be surprised if especially powerful abilities come with a BP cost as well.
The excellent character development and combat systems gives Bravely Default one of the best mechanical bases I’ve seen in an RPG. If I continue playing it will be primarily to explore these systems further.
[Story and Characters]
That said the storyline is holding me back. This game is an intentional throwback to old school NES/SNES RPGs and therefore has a very simple storyline. Essentially the crystals that hold the world together are being threatened, and it’s up to your characters to save them. There are a few interesting wrinkles within this basic plot, but so far it hasn’t grabbed me.
Each of your characters falls into a pretty basic stereotype as well. You have the mystic woman, the young adventurer, the amnesiac man, and the enemy deserting royal. Again, nothing we haven’t seen before. I get that it’s a throwback, but I got started in the PS1 era, where I’m used to more diverse character types.
I think what really holds it back isn’t just that it’s simple, but that there is a lot of it. When playing something like FFV, the story is there, but there isn’t much of it. This game has quite a few cutscenes, in addition to optional party interaction scenes. These scenes so far have been fairly boring, but I’m afraid I may miss an important piece of plot by skipping them.
Many of the scenes are voice acted as well. The voices are well done, and I appreciate that they are present. But, because these are accompanied by text, I end up reading the lines before they are voiced and end up skipping* them.
*I do the same thing with the Persona series.
To be honest, I don’t think the story is that bad. It’s just a bit too simple. I’ve a hard time mustering up the interest to continue for the sake of the plot. That said, there are some interesting tid-bits of info that point towards more interesting twists ahead, so maybe it will improve.
Despite being an intentional throwback, there are many modern elements that stick out like a sore thumb to me. I don’t want to go to in depth on these, as they strike me as fairly optional. First there is a microtransaction element, which really blew my mind. Basically, you can spend some money to gain a minor boost in combat. It’s so optional and boring I’d be surprised if anyone bought it. There are also some real-time elements to recharge the boost, but also to rebuild your hometown. The hometown rebuild is kind of interesting as it unlocks shop items at saves, but honestly, I’d rather not mess with it. Finally, it really tries to shove down your throat some kind of friend/limit break system that I can’t really interact with because I don’t know anyone else playing this game. To be frank, even if I could, I probably wouldn’t mess with it. Many of these optional elements exist to make combat easier, but so far, I like the difficulty level. If the game does get too difficult, I’d rather solve the issue through the strategy and tactics its class and combat systems afford. These complicated and out of place elements seem to undermine the core gameplay.
I’m borrowing a 3DS and Bravely Default from a friend. Before writing this, I was considering returning them. But after doing some more reflection on the game, its systems and story potential have convinced me to give it another shot. Currently I’m