Playing Bravely Default II feels like coloring with my niece.
The task at hand is always easy, even when the occasional strange creature means I need to rethink my strategy and pull out a new resource (or colored pencil). I’m always doing a great job, even when I mess up on the harder stuff.
Bravely Default II may be a lush RPG with brilliantly realized diorama towns and an intriguing Job system, but it’s marred by lame characters, a derivative story, and outdated graphics that feel trapped in the past.
This would have been an excellent Nintendo 3DS game. Despite the visual and narrative shortcomings, hardcore JRPG fans will still find a lot to love here, even if there’s nothing revelatory. Consider it worthwhile, but unmemorable.
Silly theatrics and colorful jobs
The story is as old-school Final Fantasy as you can get: Four random Heroes of Light are brought together by circumstances to find and protect some magical crystals. There’s a displaced monarch (Gloria), a generic protagonist (Seth), a tavern-loving mage (Elvis), and an affable mercenary (Adelle). Everything from their boilerplate personalities to their cute, round chibi faces are as kid-friendly as the goofy monsters they fight.
Along this journey, the heroes claim a series of magical Asterisk gems that transform a person into one of 20 different “Jobs.” Each has unique abilities that trigger a flourishing wardrobe change. Jobs include JRPG staples like White, Red, and Black Mage alongside more novel surprises, like the Salve-Maker who whips up lotions and potions to just sort of make everything better.
You equip a Main and Sub Job for each character and unlockable passive abilities, so experimenting with the vast array of builds across your characters is half the fun. Even though the game defaults to certain Jobs for your party members, everybody has the same stats and can do anything — one of several ways Bravely Default II defies expectations.
Mini story arcs introduce gaudily dressed villains, each with their own Asterisk and Job to claim when you inevitably beat them up. Like a playable anime, these episodes introduce flashy characters as a short-term punching bag for the protagonist, and then it’s on to the next one. This programs you to be on the lookout for suspiciously colorful characters. I was licking my lips when my party encountered a spoony Bard brainwashing a rowdy crowd of protestors. “I can’t wait to beat this guy up,” I thought.
With these silly theatrics, Bravely Default II incentivizes focusing on the core story rather than getting distracted by the side-quests and exploration typical of JRPGs. Unlocking a new Job is one of the best rewards you can get in any game, and the brisk pace at which Bravely Default II doles them out as the story unfolds is one of the game’s biggest strengths.
Many Job-based games take the opposite approach: Forcing you to grind multiple classes to unlock others. Here, the grind comes after encountering a new enemy — perhaps one of those Asterisk bosses — where your squad can’t keep up. You can’t just form a balanced party and stick with it for the whole game.
You have to stay nimble with a diverse set of skills for everyone. Elvis is a powerhouse as a pure Black Mage … until he’s not. You need to experiment and invest in different Jobs for every character. The overall mechanics and strategies are always easy, which can make these more grindy sections feel like a chore. But hey, that’s the JRPG lifestyle, isn’t it?
Infrequent cinematic cutscenes are entertaining, but the vast majority of scenes with dialogue unfold like crude, low-budget stage plays.
Chibis waltz into a cramped frame with a blurred background and chatter loudly at one another, oftentimes mere feet away from their mortal enemies. In more lighthearted scenes, this effect is almost charming. When things get more serious, the whole charade is laughable — especially when Job changes for your characters also means ludicrous costume alterations.
The generic protagonist Seth is a kindhearted swashbuckler who, like everyone else, starts with the Freelancer job in plainclothes. Once he unlocks the Vanguard Job following an epic story battle, he walks around in resplendent heavy armor. With his juvenile voice and teenage frame, it looks like somebody playing dress-up. The White Mage costume sticks out in particular, like a rich person dropped thousands of dollars on pure white designer clothing, including a fuzzy hat. They always look like they’re about to hit the Swiss Alps instead of cast Cure.
These and other simplistic limitations make the bland story hard to care about. I eventually came to love how silly it is, but does that make it good — or bad?
Love it for what it is
The prologue lasts several hours, bringing the characters together before sending them off on the main adventure to save the world. Things don’t get interesting or all that fun until you’re already five hours into the game, which could put off all but the most devoted RPG fans. At this point, your party has a handful of Jobs, and there’s a chunk of the world to explore and do side quests in.
That slower pace pairs really well with an interesting exploration mechanic, which is one of the strongest aspects of the game. A sweet old lady loans you her boat to explore the seas offscreen for 12-hour chunks, during which you can set it and forget it whether or not you’re playing during this period. You’ll gain a steady stream of valuable rewards that can help with upgrading stats and gaining experience for characters and Jobs. It behooves the player to check in with the game roughly every 12 hours to ensure you’re getting these rewards. It’s a simple feature that incentivizes a consistent, casual relationship with the game.
Bravely Default II doesn’t merit a huge time commitment all at once, so it’s best to play it slowly and casually. When airplane travel is more prominent, it’ll be the perfect game to kill some time. Due to its colorful, laid-back nature, it can even be a great bedtime game to chill out for a few minutes before falling asleep. But unless you happen to already adore the franchise, it won’t be your main squeeze during primetime gaming hours. For anyone looking for a more serious JRPG worth the 50+ hour investment, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
With an edgier script and more mature art style, Bravely Default II could be a revelation.
At its best, Bravely Default II makes me feel like a kid again for reasons that also make it a perfect JRPG entry point for young gamers. At its worst, it’s unmemorable and generic. Formulas exist because they work, and BD2 has many flourishes that make it fun at times, yet it is too formulaic to be a must-play for anybody. 6/10.
Bravely Default II is available now for the Nintendo Switch.
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