Do you remember the scene from the opening of The Incredibles where Mr. Incredible says that he feels like the maid and just wants the world to stay saved for a little while? That’s how I feel about the Crystals in the world of the Bravely franchise, and Bravely Default II doesn’t buck the trend. Beginning with throwing together your rag tag band of misfits, led by Seth, you venture into the world to save the Crystals.
Exploring the world is much the same as in other JRPGs, on a surface level at least, seeing you run around towns, dungeons and the world map with your little party. However, several things have changed with this iteration that significantly alter the overall experience. First, and possibly the biggest change is that the enemies now roam in the actual world instead of being found in random encounters.
This means that there are now visual indicators on the enemies as to their difficulty, with red-hued enemies being challenging, purple ones being powerful encounters, and enemies even running away from the player when they are outmatched by your party. Related to this, the second change is a sword you can use to swipe at enemies and grass in the field to start battles with advantage or uncover items hidden in area respectively, both of which are awesome little additions.
You can still be caught out, though. Enemies will run directly at you if they see you and you don’t out-level them, and if you don’t time that sword swipe exactly right, you’re at a disadvantage in a battle you likely didn’t want. You can use a Ward of Light to avoid encounters, but then you miss out on earning experience, so use these sparingly.
Third are the little party chats that appear from time-to-time. These are completely optional, but watching them gives a little additional commentary on current or recent events and really work to flesh out the characters more. The fourth addition – and our personal favourite of the smaller changes to the game – is the little ship you can send out on excursions across the seas for you.
Acting as this iteration’s “connection to other players” feature, like the Ba’al Busting in Bravely Second, this ship goes out on journeys that play out while the Switch is in sleep mode for up to 12 hours at a time. When the ship returns, it runs through the events in text form, giving the player valuable items like boosters to EXP or Job Points, as well as permanent boosters for your character’s stats. Both are utterly endearing and useful to boot.
In fact, the amount of progress we could have made through the game was hindered by continually returning to nearby towns to see what the boat brought back.
Finally, the side quests have been altered to make them a far smoother experience. Not only do people in towns have a blue speech bubble if they have a quest, but different coloured arrows appear on the edge of the screen (along with the main story objective arrow) so you don’t lose the quest objective and the side quests appear on your world map in the Travelogue too. In fact, the way side content is handled here we would love to see adopted by more JRPGs.
The combat behaves very similarly to the previous games in the series, with the ability to Default the characters abilities, raising their defence for the turn and granting them BP (Brave Points) to spend on extra actions in subsequent turns by using the Brave command. Jobs return too, giving you access to unique abilities and attacks, as well as letting each character access both a Main and Sub job for extensive party customisation.
Also returning is the focus on manipulating and exploiting the weaknesses of enemies, resulting in the liberal use of the Examine command from the Freelancer Job or the Magnifying Glass item. This information remains for any future time you face these particular foes and can be brought up at any time during a battle too, so it’s always worth doing so as soon as possible.
However, the weaknesses are where the biggest issue with the combat rears its ugly head – the “counter” mechanic. This gives almost every enemy in the game and every single boss the ability to counter particular attacks made against them. In principle, this could give great tactical depth to the battles, and lead to thrilling a back-and-forth with your foes. In reality, it just means the battle designers nullified the appeal of targeting weaknesses with a counter from an enemy, doing so with frustrating regularity. This is then further layered with “f- you” energy by the fact that the Examine command doesn’t show counter criteria, resulting in painful guesswork.
Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. Their counter criteria will appear briefly on screen when activated by player action, or on other disparate moments in combat. This still means that you have to either remember the counter criteria of every enemy, or just attack without remorse and hope that the counter ability of the foe isn’t something too powerful. (Spoiler alert: it often is)
As frustrating as this sounds, its made more frustrating by the moment-to-moment being so enjoyable. The back and forth with the Brave/Default system, paired with the flexibility of the Job system creates a satisfying gameplay loop that makes most combat encounters on the right side of challenging. It’s just a shame that the bosses tend to fall on the wrong side of this balance..
Visually, my problem with Bravely Default II from the preview persists. In handheld mode, this game shines and all the little artistic quirks using the new engine really look great. However, the roughness of the art style shows when played on a bigger screen. Compared to games like Octopath Traveler, where their unique style can jump between the two, Bravely Default II just doesn’t hit the mark outside of handheld mode.
What does continue to hit the mark, and it might be a silly thing to love about these games, but let us have this one, is the Job designs. They’re all either daft or endearing, especially the Beastmaster or White Mage, and there’s the option to stay in the character’s original guises should you prefer those too. The only thing we would have wanted would be a touch more flexibility than original outfit or current Job attire, but that’s a very minor (and personal) gripe.
The music accompanying all of this absolutely exquisite, as you would expect with the return of Revo as the composer. Each track brims with the enormity of the quest with some beautiful and grand compositions. Also, the fact that there isn’t just one Asterisk Theme, but different ones depending on the power of the enemy, speaks volumes (hehe) about the care put into the soundtrack.
Honestly, it’s hard to settle on where this game lands. On one hand you have a great story and characters with a soundtrack to absolutely die for and some excellently twee additional features to explore. On the other, one of the largest aspects of the game as a whole – the combat – has regular dips into mind-numbing frustration. Bravely Default II is great, but doesn’t reach the greatness of its predecessors.