Bringing something new to the JRPG genre.
There is a certain amount of laziness that has become apparent in JRPGs of late. Their popularity has waned and the games that make their way out of Japan seem intent on simply reliving the successes of the past, rather than trying anything new. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seems to be the mentality, and maybe it is just that no one has told the developers that it is broke.
However, Square Enix’s Bravely Default, which is available for the 3DS, doesn’t seem to be afraid to throw out some new ideas, perhaps in an attempt to appeal to more than just the JRPG hardcore who spend their time playing the same games over and over again, but with different names. Don’t get me wrong, there are many ways in which Bravely Default conforms to the standards of those that have gone before. But a few small changes make all of the difference.
One way in which the game doesn’t break the mold is with the plot. It has all of the typical “save the world” mentality that you would expect in a JRPG, and it even involves crystals! The quest revolves around Agnès Oblige trying to restore balance to the world of Luxendarc by awakening elemental crystals. Along the way, companions will join the team, each bringing their own story, bosses will be battled and, adding some mind-bending twist to the story, parallel worlds are involved. It’s all fairly standard stuff, but as a vessel to keep the game moving forward for many, many hours, it works.
The combat in the game is turn-based, which is also fairly standard. But things get more interesting with the inclusion of the titular Brave/Default system. This mechanic is explained fully in the game, which does a great job of introducing players to potentially difficult mechanics, but basically it gives the player the chance to skip or have extra turns. Players can Default which puts them in a defensive state, but leaves them doing nothing else. This accrues Brave points, which can then be used to add an extra action, up to four times, by using Brave. Also, the player can use Brave without having any Brave points, effectively making them owe Brave points which will result in the player being unable to do anything after. The cunning player will defeat enemies using Brave without any retaliation. The less cunning player will find themselves unable to do anything while their enemy pounds upon them.
The Brave/Default mechanic is a great addition to the game, and one which is explained far better by the game than I have managed here. It is almost like informed gambling, tempting the player to take the risk for a greater reward. While there are times in Bravely Default where grinding is a necessity, the Brave/Default mechanic does go a little way to making the encounters more palatable.
Sleep Points are another addition that freshens up the turn-based combat. While the 3DS is in sleep mode, sleep points are gained which can then be used to basically pause the action and throw in an extra move. Sleep Points can be purchased through microtransactions, taking the game into a more “mobile” area, but paying cash is simply not needed to get the most from Bravely Default.
Another way that Bravely Default makes a change from the norm is with the job system. Players begin with a fairly generic “freelance” job which gives them basic skills and general choices when it comes to equipment. New jobs can be taken from defeated bosses through the game, allowing them to take on these new jobs and all of the skills and stat changes that comes with them. Jobs level up and give access to new skills, but there is no limitation to who can use which job. It is a refreshing way of dealing with classes and gives the player plenty of customisation options.
Going back to the influence that Bravely Default has taken from mobile games is the side game of reconstructing the town of Norende. Taking cues from classic city building mobile titles, the player will have to wait in real time for buildings to be constructed as the town grows. This mode adds in some StreetPass functionality by populating the town, and thus speeding up the process, depending on how many people you encounter out and about. It’s a nice little distraction from the main game.
Adding new, or slightly different, ideas to Bravely Default makes the game stand out. Hell, there is even limited AR functionality that bring special cut scenes to life. But beneath all of this is a massive game that brings with it all of the usual trappings that you would find in a JRPG – a twisty plot, side quests, dungeons, boss battles and grinding for levels, although the grinding will be kept to a minimum for the more experienced JRPG players.
Even the visuals seem classically JRPG. Bravely Default doesn’t break any records for good looks, with the majority of the visuals being merely adequate. But the backdrops deserve a special mention, simply because they are absolutely gorgeously hand painted, and the 3D effect can be quite special at times.
Bravely Default bravely tries some new ideas before defaulting to a classic JRPG formula. But the few changes that it introduces makes the game stand out in the genre and will undoubtedly be a firm hit with the JRPG crowd. Newcomers will find the game easily accessible, but may be intimidated by the sheer quantity of content here. Overall, a damn good JRPG.