Bravely Default II Review (Switch)
Release Date: February 26, 2021
File Size: 14.6GB
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Nearly a decade ago, someone referred me to the first Bravely Default after I had expressed my disappointment in the “modern” direction of Final Fantasy games. World of Warcraft was both a demanding and cruel mistress at the time, so I wasn’t well versed on all the RPGs available on consoles. I absolutely missed out on some gems (fingers crossed for more Switch ports) but did manage to secure a copy of Bravely Default. Itching for a modernized take on classic JRPG gameplay, however, I dove in without hesitation.
While it certainly looked the part – medieval vibes, crystal-based narrative, and jobs aplenty – Bravely Default’s disappointing turn in the back half ultimately soured my taste for the franchise for good – or so I thought. The debut of Bravely Default II piqued my interest once again but I knew to temper my expectations. Would lightning strike in the same spot twice, or would this new entry actually win me over?
The narrative in Bravely Default II should be a very familiar affair in that it follows four individuals blessed by the world’s elemental crystals – otherwise known as Four Heroes of Light – in their attempt to collect the lost stones. One Hero of Light, Gloria, is the princess of the now-defunct Musa; a kingdom responsible for the safekeeping of the crystals for generations.
With her kingdom in ruin – crystals scattered to the winds as a result – she set off to fulfill the duty of her people. The longstanding Musan tradition was essential to the peace and prosperity of the world at large as the crystals serve as a seal for the Night’s Nexus; a great evil that can be imprisoned, but never destroyed.
Disturbing this delicate balance between the Night’s Nexus and the crystals can also unleash unspeakable calamities across the land – floods in deserts, intense heat in arctic regions, and so on. It was clear that something had to be done. And as fate would have it, the chosen Four Heroes of Light – Seth, Gloria, Elvis, and Adelle – would set off together in hopes of bringing balance back to the world.
Although there is a base level of comfort provided by just how traditional of a tale Bravely Default II tells, it also exposes some of its weakest links. The overarching plot and cast members can feel painfully sterile at first, stirring up very little excitement in the first few hours. Things do start to feel better with time, as layers are peeled back to reveal some interesting – sometimes downright horrifying – subplots, but it never really shakes that initial feeling of “been there, done that” by way of its clear inspirations.
Truthfully, if it wasn’t for the aforementioned shocking subplots and numerous Party Chats – optional banter between the party members that is crucial to character development – the cast would feel rather hollow for the majority of the adventure. Even at its best, Bravely Default II puts its gameplay before storytelling, which may hinder the prospect of achieving its multiple endings when the base campaign is so underwhelming (from a narrative perspective).
I achieved the “bad ending” in roughly 35 hours, and there are a few more than can be discovered after that. This bad ending is, well, pretty bad and provides little closure. While I have no doubt that the other endings fare better, there’s little incentive to see those come to fruition when the narrative payoff (so far) hasn’t been remotely up to snuff. Gameplay alone can only take you so far in these kinds of games.
Bravely Default II unsurprisingly plays quite closely to that of its predecessors, including Octopath Traveler. The series staple turn-based combat highlighted by the brave and default commands has returned, allowing the player to build up brave points (or BP) by defaulting (or defending). Conversely, individual party members can double, triple, or even quadruple their turns at the expense of BP. Spend too many Brave points at once, however, and you’ll have to wait progressively longer to act UNLESS you have a stock of BP to draw from.
This battle system is designed to encourage more strategic play – keep a few BP handy on each character so that you can react appropriately when and if the tide turns against you in combat. This flexibility is immensely useful in many of the game’s boss encounters, as going up against certain ones underleveled and/or with suboptimal job compositions can prove quite difficult.
However, trivial encounters can run longer than they should simply because the game is designed around abusing this system. While this isn’t a big issue once you have unlocked a few overpowered multi-target abilities, it can be bothersome in the early hours of play.
As a result, the 4x speed option in combat is more of a requirement rather than an optional toggle unless you just really enjoy those animations at normal speed. While I’m thankful that speed toggles have become a thing for older games that are being repackaged for a new era, it draws attention to some potential design flaws here when it exists in a brand-new adventure. Having said that, the toggle is something I’m sure that even Octopath Traveler could have benefitted from, but I digress.
Bravely Default II may come across as difficult for those unfamiliar with traditional job-based JRPGs. Those accustomed to grinding and experimenting with a palette of unique jobs will have little pushback during the main campaign, as it ultimately boils down to ensuring you have the proper tools to combat some of the bosses’ rigid counters. Brute force is rarely an option since some offensive fronts can even heal the opposition depending on their resistances. Each of the four party members can be assigned a main-job and a sub-job, with the former granting various perks and leveling up alongside traditional character levels (via JP) while the latter primarily opens up additional commands.
In other words, you can assign a Black Mage the White Mage sub-job and be able to use both sets of abilities…but only if you have unlocked abilities to begin with! Each job also has an assortment of passives that can be mixed and matched once unlocked. Additionally, main-jobs eventually provide a unique ability for use in combat, as well as a variety of useful passives in the form of specialties. With 20+ jobs to choose from by the end of the journey, the player has a lot of options and customization in just how they want to build out their own party.
With as traditional as Bravely Default II can be, its equipment system is anything but – in fact, it is arguably even more deep than its job system. However, much of its depth is rather deceptive rather than being meaningful. Each job has their own weapon proficiency – a Vanguard, for example, favors axes over everything, while the Dragoon naturally prefers spears. That isn’t stopping you from equipping an axe, bow, or even a staff on either job, though. They just won’t use them as efficiently. This can lead to scenarios where suboptimal weapon types can still be useful in certain scenarios, vastly expanding the possibilities for individual character customization.
Any RPG built around a diverse job system will have its share of grinding, and Bravely Default II is no different. Every job requires JP to level up, and the only efficient way of doing this is through good old-fashioned grinding. Fortunately, Bravely Default II respects the player’s time through its battle-chaining system. Basically, players can chain multiple encounters together in order to multiply the amount of JP rewarded upon victory, vastly reducing the amount of grinding necessary to experience all jobs at their peak potential.
Enemies in close proximity out in the field will naturally chain together, but items also exist to bring consistency to the feature. Using these items will increase your chances of chaining together certain monster types and ultimately go a long way in making a potentially boring grind into something that actually feels pretty dang satisfying (and relatively pain-free) to execute.
Furthermore, many pieces of equipment have on-use effects that can be quite useful in many situations. There’s one particular knife that I picked up prior to accessing the Thief job that allowed me to use the Mug command on any character. Awesome! These bits of flavor have become somewhat of an anomaly in today’s market, so it’s nice to see them put front and center in Bravely Default II. Similarly, remember when treasure chests could bite back? Lots of those here and I love it.
For as surprisingly flexible as the equipment system is, fitting the job system like a glove, it does have one glaring flaw. Bravely Default II utilizes a weight system that will severely impact the stats of any character that goes over their own weight limit. Each character’s threshold will slowly increase with their level, but is primarily governed by their main-job.
Naturally, more battle-hardened jobs like the Berserker and Vanguard can carry more equipment, while casters are far more limited in that respect. A balance had to be struck somewhere, of course, otherwise you could have all characters regardless of job decked out in the bulkiest equipment available. This means that while there is still some level of flexibility in terms of what gear to equip each character with, it isn’t quite as robust as it appears on the surface.
On top of that, deciding between any two pieces of equipment that will put you over or under the weight cap can be problematic, as the stat comparison includes the penalty for going over character’s weight limit, making it near impossible to compare certain items without unequipping other gear slots beforehand. While I don’t think that the weight system should be thrown out entirely, I do feel like its current form has some serious issues. Regardless, there is a lot of meaningful customization between the job and equipment systems.
Outside of the main campaign, Bravely Default II features plenty of side quests. Many of these are underwhelming in terms of storytelling and rewards, but others make use of interesting subplots and compensate the player handsomely. At its worst, the game may have you going between two NPCs multiple times to complete a quest with little substance (the famished husband in the desert area comes to mind here).
Others, however, may have you entering the dreams of a comatose NPC to find out the truth behind his affliction, or encourage you to become proficient in the game’s card-based minigame in order to unlock the Gambler job. Either way, it is safe to ignore most of these if they aren’t your thing. One thing you SHOULDN’T ignore, though, is boat exploration, which is a feature that will generate useful rewards as your Switch is in suspend mode.
Bravely Default II’s presentation represents some of the best and worst that the game has to offer. The expert usage of 3D watercolor-esque visuals, primarily in towns, bring various locations to life in and in breathtaking detail. Dungeons and other locations default to a less-than-exciting, zoomed-out 3D perspective that, while not particularly bad, can’t hold a candle to the aforementioned design.
Somewhere in between lies the character and enemy assets that range from average to impressive in terms of both design and quality. The chibi art style may not be for everyone, but it is certainly some of the best I’ve ever seen and the detail of the individual pieces of fabric and materials used in clothing is impressive.
Revo returns to the podium to compose the soundtrack for Bravely Default II. The end result is a score that is every bit as good, if not better than the original game, with emotionally-stirring, thematically appropriate tunes throughout the adventure. Bravely Default II also features a fully-voiced main cast that I, unfortunately, found hard to appreciate due to in-combat voice effects.
Because the voice volume is tied to both event and combat sounds, I spent most of the adventure with silent protagonists because I couldn’t bear the repetitive battle grunts for more than five minutes. This is exacerbated by the 4x combat speed option that, you guessed it, is four times the fun. Thankfully, the overall epicness of the soundtrack helps make up for this shortcoming.
Bravely Default II is a bit all over the place when it comes to performance. Load screens are brief, but frequent, menu selections and field actions can feel slightly behind their inputs, and many scripted scenes and events are prone to stuttering in general (on the dock – handheld may fare a little better).
My biggest gripe with the presentation is with the theatre-style cutscenes that were also present in the first game. Instead of having the characters play out a scene using the environment itself, it is usually viewed on top of a blurry background via a very dramatic, zoomed-in presentation that comes off as overly theatrical, even comical, at times. From this view, there is rarely any perspective given beyond the camera just facing the front of the characters involved – many of the more important scenes would have been more impactful with better use of perspective.
While this style may have originally been implemented to circumvent hardware constraints in the first game, its recurrence here is less appealing and, in my opinion, does more to draw you out of the world than to actually keep you in it. Regardless, Bravely Default II can still impress on multiple fronts.
While Bravely Default II lacks vital components necessary to make it a must-have experience, it still provides an engaging loop for fans of traditional JRPGs. In order to make the most of a traditional JRPG backbone, a game must have some combination of compelling narrative, outstanding characters, and a solid gameplay loop (in a perfect world, all of the above).
Ultimately, the story here has been done to death and the cast does little to earn attention, especially right out of the chute. And I honestly can’t stress how tired I am of seeing silver-haired swordsmen as bad guys, no matter how big of a role they end up playing. Yes, I did not achieve the true ending, but the game did little (from a narrative perspective) to encourage me to obtain it.
If it wasn’t for the strong gameplay loop that encourages grinding, experimentation, and customization, Bravely Default II would really be in a pickle. However, the loop will only truly appeal to those that enjoy getting lost in the grind even with the aforementioned chaining system in place. None of this will even matter if you can’t get past the game’s greatest hurdle: selling itself in the opening hours when its strongest points (gameplay) are still very much in their infancy.
Regardless, I feel that Bravely Default II was worth the time and as the furthest from being a fan of the series, that should carry some weight. Its traditional approach to everything, including key story components, means that singling out individual aspects may reveal striking flaws, but collectively it all flows well together. It is old-school JRPG comfort food sans the compelling story/characters often found in classics of similar flavor…but it is comfort food nonetheless.