Bravely Default on 3DS is one of the best JRPG games of the last decade, and its combination of a stellar combat system, great characters, chilling plot twists and a brilliant soundtrack made it a must-play for the system. Drawing clear inspiration from the Final Fantasy games of yore, Bravely Default was a game that showed itself as a unique blend of old and new, taking the elements of the genre that have stood the test of time and added some new ingredients to spice things up for a modern crowd and age.
After creating a direct sequel Bravely Second: End Layer - which was fun despite few innovations and a forgettable plot - and the gorgeous HD-2D Switch title Octopath Traveler which adopted some of the Bravely Default combat mechanics, the team is now ready to bring Bravely Default II to Switch. In case the name should confuse you, just think of mainline Final Fantasy games. Elements from previous titles may still be present, but Bravely Default II stars a completely new story and setting that requires no prior knowledge whatsoever (Bravely Second: End Layer, on the other hand, was a continuation of the events in Bravely Default).
Our story begins with the sailor Seth who washes ashore on the kingdom of Halcyonia after a terrible storm, where he is found and rescued by Gloria, the exiled princess of Musa, and her man-at-arms Sloan. Here Seth learns about the four elemental crystals, which keeps nature in check, but after Musa was attacked three years ago by the warmongering nation of Holograd the crystals of earth, water and fire were lost. Now it's only a matter of time before the calamity strikes the world, and Gloria sets out on her destined quest to retrieve the crystals. Along with Seth, Gloria is also joined by the mercenary Adelle, who searches for her sister, and the nonchalant scholar Elvis, who researches the mysterious stones called Asterisks.
The story centred around the restoration of four elemental crystals would be familiar in any Final Fantasy game from the 80s and early 90s, and the grand narrative in Bravely Default II is not exactly revolutionary. Furthermore, the main party of four is a mixed bag. Elvis and Adelle will give you a chuckle and a smile every now and again, while Seth and Gloria are rather stiff, dull, and forgettable characters. The character problems are even more present with the supporting cast, especially several of the bad guys who have no further motives for their actions beyond the fact that they are the bad guys. Thankfully, there are also some bright narrative lights shining upon this game as well. Some of the chapters are truly chilling and captivating thanks to their dark and complex storyline, and there are several fun and memorable characters you will encounter during your journey. Keeping up with tradition, the game also serves some interesting plot twists, which strengthen the narrative quality of the game. Though the narrative quality and character development in the game is somewhat lacklustre in a couple of areas, it still manages to land on its feet and keep the player amused along the way. In may not have the qualities of a true classic like its predecessor, but that doesn't mean it won't keep the players entertained.
The core of the game's entertainment value is found in its combat and class system. Veterans will feel right at home from the start, while newcomers will have to learn the structure of the series' characteristic Brave and Default system. All combat in Bravely Default II is turn-based, but during a character's turn they may use Brave to do more than one action per turn. All characters automatically gain one Brave per turn points during combat, and if you choose to Default, which is the game's term for defending, your Brave point will be saved for later use. When your character's turn is up you may use your accumulated Brave points, or you may simply choose to use more actions than Brave points available and be inoperable for the next couple of turns. The key to all combat in Bravely Default II is to figure out when to Default and defend against the strongest enemy attacks, and when to spam the Brave button like there's no tomorrow and rain attacks down on the vulnerable enemy hoping the attacks are enough to take them down.
Facing a boss will often reward you with a new Asterisk, which in turn opens a new Job, the game's term for character class. The game starts off slowly with standard classes such as Black Mage, White Mage and Monk, but it doesn't take long before you start unlocking some more unique and interesting classes. When a Job is set as main Job, your character will gain Job points in addition to the general experience points. New Job levels will give access to new skills and abilities, some of which are both powerful and useful and can easily make the difference between victory and defeat. The Job may also be set as the character's sub-Job, which gives you access to the acquired skills even if you no longer receive Job points for the Job.
The passive abilities may be set to the characters in the menus - you may equip up to five abilities - and can be mixed regardless of what main and sub-Job you have selected for the character. The constant access to new skills, abilities and Jobs made available to you are, along with the high-octane Brave and Default combat system, the true driving force behind Bravely Default II. You will find yourself constantly pushing forward to get the next Job, maximising your character's possibilities and balancing your party with the best possible combination for the upcoming challenge, which there will be plenty of along the way, mind you. Bravely Default II is not afraid of giving you a proper challenge, and inability to adapt to new enemies and their skillset will result in a quick death.
When not engaged in combat, you will be exploring exotic locations, deep dungeons and the overworld map. The latter, however, is terribly implemented with a horrible camera, making it near impossible to get a lay of the land and see all the monsters roaming there (the fact that monsters are visible on the map is a welcome change, though). To wander around the open world is a hassle, and you're better off getting to your next location as soon as possible. In the cities and dungeons, the camera will be static and at a distance, and the game is better off that way. Plus, here you can find new challengers for B 'n' D, a new card-based minigame, which simply put is Othello with stat-based cards. If you miss old-school minigames like Triple Triad or Tetra Master, this is for you.
The Bravely games have always had a distinct look and art style, and one of the advantages of getting the series on Switch is the enhanced visual capabilities when bringing the art style to life. The locations in the game are quite beautiful, especially the cities. Some may find the character design to be a little strange and off-putting, but if you like me and miss old-school character design before JRPGs turned into waifu-focused fan service (yes, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I'm looking at you!), this art style will be a welcome change of pace. It's simple yet rich and detailed at the same time, and the lighting and shadow effects added by the Switch brings the style to life even further. Still, the game struggles with its performance every now and again, with some visible framerate drops and late texture loading. Will it ruin the experience? Probably not, but you can't help but notice it.
Something you also will notice over the course of the game is its stellar soundtrack, which brings the unmistakable sound of Revo, most famous for his iconic Attack on Titan opening themes, back to the series. The feel and sound of the audio in the Bravely Default games are like no other JRPGs, and Bravely Default II continues this great streak. Though the music in the first game might be better overall, there are several great tracks here, which span over a wide range of genres and instruments. If you want a video game soundtrack with flamenco, folk tunes with flutes and acoustic guitar, or heavy prog rock with alternating rhythms, look no further (and being a skilled accordionist, Revo has of course included some great accordion tracks as well). The different themes and leitmotifs are implemented over the course of the game is truly fascinating, and there are some nice call-backs to the first game here as well, which veteran players will appreciate.
Bravely Default II is a nice blend, which feels both old and fresh at the same time. It's a call-back to the golden age of Final Fantasy, while at the same time creating something new and modern for players today. The game has some notable issues when it comes to performance, the grand narrative and some of the characters (especially the baddies), but its excellent combat and class system and presentation is more than enough to carry the experience. The Bravely games might not be every player's cup of tea, but Bravely Default II has more than enough qualities to appeal to fans of yesteryear's JRPGs.