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Friday, 17 October 2014

Bravely Default.

I spent weeks playing this game, guys. Literally weeks.

Also, for some reason I can't add captions to this post. Vexing.

Bravely Default.

Which actually is a good thing, really. One of my gripes with video games lately is that they seem to take only six to twelve hours, and while that's fine for things like Portal, which if they're too long will outstay they're welcome, it's not fine for everything. I like my games with a bit of meat on their bones, especially if I'm enjoying them.

Bravely Default, a turn-based RPG in the style of Final Fantasy - and by 'in the style', I mean it is so unspeakably a Final Fantasy game that the prevailing theory over why it isn't just a Final Fantasy game is Square-Enix's overwhelming neurosis about turn-based combat - puts you in the world of Luxendarc, a high fantasy world with four magical crystals. When the crystals go dark and a town, Norende, is sucked into a massive chasm, Agnes, a vestal of the crystals; Tiz, a shepherd boy from Norende; Ringabel, an amnesiac; and Edea, a soldier of the anti-crystal nation of Eternia, team up to purify the crystals, under the guidance of friendly cryst-fairy Airy.

The simple plot gets a lot more tangled and complex as the game goes on, but that's all I want to say to avoid spoiling. As you can see, it's very Final Fantasy III, and the similarities don't end there, as your four warriors of light can equip different jobs each with their own outfit.

There are twenty-four different jobs in total - which makes sense, the job system is arguably the main gameplay gimmick of the game, just as it was in FF III, but some of those jobs are really scraping the barrel. Like the job that summons monsters purely for the purposes of buffing. Or the job that does damage according to specific status effects. I should note that towards the end of the game, I did end up using abilities from the more obscure job classes quite often.

It's not the game's only game mechanic, either, as there is also the brave and default system: Brave, where you use up brave points that recharge every turn in order to string together up to four different actions, and Default, where you guard and charge up brave points to use in the future.

The gameplay is, as a whole, a very balanced turn-based RPG. The wide variety of jobs, abilities, and monsters to face means it's always interesting, and since it is built on a lot of RPG staples, anyone who's played an RPG before will easily slip into it, like some manner of comfortable shoe. 

But RPGs live and die by their stories and characters, so how are they in Bravely Default? Well, pretty good. I noted early while playing that all four of your party members are interesting, likeable, and above all, relevant to the plot. None of them feel like they're there to fill out the numbers, they all have interesting character arcs, and their interactions are quite charming. Often you'll be prompted to view a conversation they're having, usually about mundane things like grocery shopping or organising their item bags, but always very entertaining, because they have colourful personalities that play well off each other. Since so much of the later storyline builds off the idea that these four have become very close friends, it's nice that they took pains to set it up. 

The areas you go through are varied and interesting, each with their own engaging subplots, and the major secondary cast of characters - which is composed mostly of the Twenty-Three Job Masters of Eternia, the quirky Gotei 13 style miniboss squad of the villains - are all pretty fun too. The Job Masters, especially, are portrayed as unremitting villains at first before becoming far more sympathetic and fleshed out later on. Or most of them do: Some, like Erutus Profiteur the Merchant and Fiore DeRosa the Red Mage, are just genuinely irredeemable villains. 

My biggest problem with this game would have to be that there is a point around Chapter 6 where it starts to outstay its welcome in a major way. While it's back on form with Chapter 7 and Chapter 8, Chapter 6 is a glaring weak point in an otherwise strong game, and the fact that everything else is so good makes it stand out as such. It's a very repetitive section that really doesn't add anything new compared to Chapter 5, and that's - certainly noticeable. 

Also, the penultimate boss is way too difficult. I struggled with it more than I struggled with the final boss. The final boss was a pushover after that penultimate boss. 

But it's a strong game, one that did well for Square-Enix (who desperately needs some more successes right now, what with their two major franchises languishing in development hell), and one that I remain baffled that they didn't want to release in the west initially. Square-Enix appears to have developed a fixation on the idea that western audiences can't stand turn-based combat, and that clearly isn't true. That this game sold absurdly well and continues to be a fan favourite rather proves that. 

Bravely Default comes with my strongest recommendation, and I'm overjoyed to be able to say that its sequel, Bravely Second, has been announced to be coming out in winter of 2014. I greatly look forward to renting it. 

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