I can’t remember the last great RPG (Role Playing Game) I’ve played this generation, in fact, I’d have to go back all the way to the PS2 for a RPG I truly found amazing. Final Fantasy for better or worse has left the old grindy/min-maxing ways for a more streamlined approach, and the niche JRPGs (Japanese Role Play Games) like Disgaea and the Tales series don’t quite recreate the feeling of the old greats. Bravely Default is a game that goes back to RPGs of yore, remembering where the old games shined and failed, using both modern and old game design to craft an experience that pulls at your nostalgia string but still manages to be a great game in its own right.
The place Bravely Default shines is in the gameplay. Using a job system, characters are blank slates in terms of classes. Any hero can be any type of character you want them to be, which leads to very fun and creative party combinations, especially when you start using sub-jobs and complementing skills from outside jobs. I had most of my fun in the early game just customizing characters, seeing which jobs compliment each other and the classes of my other heroes. It was also treat talking to other people, seeing how differently one can play the game, discussing combinations you wouldn’t have thought of.
The game also takes a unique spin on typical turn based battles, by allowing you to store turns by using Default on your turn, or spend turns in advance to dish out more damage at one time by using Brave. I really enjoyed this system because it allowed me to play to enemies weaknesses and also never made a boss battle boring since they all have their own strategies for when they Brave and Default.
Unfortunately the game has some weaknesses. Enter the obligatory party of four, the four warriors who will journey and grow together, awaken the ancient crystals and eventually save the land. This is a story told over and over again in Square games, and just because the style of Bravely Default is of an old school RPG doesn’t make it any less mundane. Story is the only place I feel this game falls short, the story of awakening the four crystals is still very mundane and even though there are some amazing twists in the story they don’t make up for the monotony in between those parts.
Though traveling with the cast of characters does a lot to deal with the plodding of the main story. Tis, Anges, Ringabell, and Edea really together to really pull you into their lives, they all bring their own personalities to the story and interact well and humorously with each other, while the same could be said for the side characters of the game as well. It feels like such a waste to be using these colourful characters on such a boring repetitive plot.
The modernizations and social aspects of Bravely Default also were both super helpful and fun. Rebuilding the town of Norende actually had me opening my DS for street passes for the first time in a while. Also being able to change difficult and encounter rate on the fly was such a big help when grinding and navigating through old dungeons. Just being able to turn random battles off made my time with the game so much more enjoyable after I maxed out my levels.
Even despite the bland story, Bravely Default manages to put together a great experience by mixing the old with the new, by being able to move forward with a genre while not forgetting its roots. It strikes a perfect balance in an JRPG and is a great way to start off 2014 in games.