The contemporary reimagining of classic Final Fantasy returns in this solid sequel.
A wide swath of RPG fans still longs for the 8 and 16-bit, top-down experiences that found a home during the NES and SNES eras. In Square Enix’s case, almost every Final Fantasy game since FFVII has moved further and further away from the turn-based classic style of the original six entries in the series, leaving lovers of these games largely in the lurch. Fear not, Switch owners! The Bravely Default series has made its debut on your console after two previous games on the 3DS. It carries forward a beautiful art style, mesmerizing soundtrack, and top-notch job system. While not quite everything lands with the bang of a Dragoon’s jump attack, there’s more than enough quality JRPG goodness to while away a few dozen happy hours.
The story begins with a sailor, Seth, who washes upon the shores of an unknown land after a storm separates him from his ship. Players can change Seth’s name if they wish, but not the other characters. It isn’t long before Seth meets the rest of his travelling companions: Gloria, a princess from a kingdom in ruins; Elvis, a mage with a mysterious tome; and Adelle, a mercenary accompanying Elvis on his journey. Over the course of the game, the interactions between the party members and the party as a whole make them endearing, adding tension and emotional weight to the narrative. The voice acting is generally quite good and really grew on me by the time I rolled the “final” credits (more on that later). All characters except for generic townspeople are voiced as well, which was a welcome surprise for such a lengthy title. Unfortunately, the character models themselves have a hollow, doll-like appearance that worked much better on the less powerful 3DS than it does here. Thankfully, the visual aspects I’ll mention later are much more palatable.
Seth’s motivation involves assisting Gloria with the recovery of the four elemental crystals, a timeworn trope to be sure, but it works well enough. Elvis, on the other hand, is seeking Asterisks that reveal pages from the book in his possession, and so the two pairs combine forces to work towards both objectives. As it turns out, Asterisks are held by certain individuals, mostly unfriendly to your cause, and bestow new job classes, such as Beastmaster, Monk, and Oracle. Each Asterisk holder has a unique personality and fights against them are no joke; grinding for experience, gold, and job points to level up, purchase new equipment, and unlock new abilities, respectively, is an integral part of the experience. These boss fights are set up well, sometimes against two Asterisk holders at once, with save points provided just before stepping into combat. It’s not uncommon for these battles to take a few tries before you figure out the right strategies and party combination for success.
Combat has changed slightly since Bravely Default and Bravely Second. The series staple mechanic of using the Default command to defend and acquire BP or Battle Points returns, as does the matching Brave command, whereby you can expend accumulated BP or even go into a BP deficit to unleash up to four attacks or moves in a row. However, rather than choosing all four party member’s commands and then letting them go back and forth with the enemy over a single turn, characters’ turns come up periodically according to their speed stat, with the same being true for enemies. A bar underneath each character gives an approximation for when their turn will come up, and exclamation points underneath enemies do the same. Unfortunately, it’s less of an exact science than in the other Bravely games or a simple turn-order meter like in Final Fantasy X. The change seems to increase randomness at the cost of strategy. Early on I definitely lamented the change from what had come before, but I got a little more used to it by the end of the game.
Although it’s seldom referred to by name, the continent of Excillant both succeeds and fails at living up to its title. Because there are only a handful of areas in the game, with each connected by land, the world can feel small. You return to previously visited kingdoms frequently, which would be a sore point if not for how striking the towns are visually. They retain the pop-up fantasy book style of Bravely Default and Second, and the added power of the Switch really breathes life into them, the icy mountain locale of Rimedhal in particular. New side quests, of which there are 100 in total, pop up frequently during your backtracking, so these visits aren’t without additional purpose.
Another change to the formula is the removal of the random encounter slider. In the first two games, players could adjust the random encounter rate from 0 to 50 to 100, and topping out at 200, with the lower numbers meaning less combat. In Bravely Default 2, enemies appear on the overworld map and in dungeons, but can be avoided fairly easily. If you walk within their line of sight, enemies will chase you, but an item can be cheaply acquired from the shop to prevent them from noticing you. You can also gain an advantage by swinging your sword and connecting with an enemy or approaching them from behind. There’s also the option to equip Link’s Asterisk and slice down grass and bushes to occasionally find items or gold. Mowing the lawn isn’t just popular in Hyrule, apparently.
Revo returns as composer from Bravely Default, and the soundtrack for Bravely Default 2 is another standout. There’s clear nostalgia baked into the music that calls to mind classic Final Fantasy, the first game in particular. Overall, the sound feels more sorrowful and melancholy, but it fits the darker tone of the game perfectly. Like Octopath Traveller before it, there’s an epic musical introduction to the boss fights that truly dials up the intensity before any punches are thrown or spells cast.
The mid-game story beats had me genuinely surprised as they seemed to air much less on the whimsical and more on the mature and downright grim. There’s a section that clearly harkens back to the Salem witch trials, and I simply wasn’t prepared for such a serious and dour turn in the plot. The cavalcade of villains definitely runs the gamut from cooky to power-hungry, but others are just evil incarnate. Fair warning to anyone hoping for a joyful romp of bashing baddies, traipsing around the game world, and watching Elvis take one too many a dram from local watering holes: there’s more to this story than one might expect. In that vein, the game’s finale introduces some interesting wrinkles that players of Bravely Default and Bravely Second might see coming, but both the payoff and process of earning it aren’t quite as exhausting.
With more than 20 job classes each with over 12 abilities to learn, there are countless ways to customize your party, and that’s one of Bravely Default 2’s best characteristics. The characters are largely interesting, and their voiced interactions are both memorable and charming. Having to return to the same locales over and over is a wee bit of a drag, but the sublime art style certainly helps to ease that pain. A new game plus mode is available after earning the true ending, and it allows you to carry over nearly everything from your clear data, including job levels, equipment, play time, and more. There’s also a playable card game called B ‘n D that you can collect cards for to battle against NPCs, in addition to a cute nod to the 3DS’s Streetpass feature with a boat that can be sent to explore and bring back treasures while the Switch is in Sleep Mode. Ultimately, Bravely Default 2 is a solid RPG that harkens back to Square Enix’s first steps in the genre. Fans and newcomers alike are quite sure to discover a hearty and satisfying offering of exploration, questing, turn-based combat, and endearing story beats. Now, I get to move on to the real post game: guessing what the next game in the series will be called.