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Thursday, 10 March 2016

Bravely Second: End Layer

Bravely Second: 
End Layer

I've been waiting for this game for a long time - or, to be entirely truthful, for about one and a half years, but it felt longer. I adored Bravely Default, seeing it as in many ways a perfectly pitched game, with its only major flaw being the slightly tiresome 'traverse alternate worlds' gimmick in the final third, and I saw it as not just a high quality game on its own, but also an object lesson in how Square's obsession with moving away entirely from turn-based traditional JRPGs was folly.

I was delighted when Bravely Second finally had an EU release date announced and, admittedly, I was also somewhat pleased we were getting it so long before America, because watching Americans flip tables and fly into rages over not getting special treatment is always delightful (and they've not disappointed, with loads of people saying that they won't buy the game at all because they didn't get it first).

Set a few years after the close of Bravely Default, Bravely Second puts you in the shoes of Yew Geneolgia, a young scholar and swordsman who is the head of the Three Cavaliers, the personal bodyguard of Pope Agnes Oblige within the Crystalguard. When Kaiser Oblivion, a mysterious masked man accompanied by a fairy, kidnaps Agnes, Yew must team up with Edea and Tiz from Bravely Default, and with Magnolia, a young woman sent from the Moon to track and kill a fearsome Ba'al, a reality-distorting monster. Meanwhile, Kaiser Oblivion, with Yew's former Cavaliers Nikolai and Janne at his side, sets into motion his own plans, which revolve around stealing the Compass of Time and Space.

Robots appear in this game.

In terms of gameplay, Bravely Second is almost identical to Bravely Default, which is fine: Bravely Default's gameplay didn't really need much changing, being almost perfectly pitched, combining tried and true traditional turn-based RPG gameplay features with an interesting twist in the form of the brave point system, that would essentially let you take up to four turns at once with any character, while sacrificing future turns. 

One thing I did notice though is that from the very beginning, Bravely Second demanded that I play strategically in a way that Bravely Default didn't. In Default, I could very easily get through the whole game playing with no strategy at all, just using up all my brave points whenever I could and hammering an opponent with attacks. Bravely Second, meanwhile, forced me to use the default system, forced me to think carefully about what ability set-up I wanted to give my characters, and forced me to conserve my brave points to use at opportune times. 

It never felt unfair or over-difficult or un-fun - instead, I was just being forced to actually use my brain, and to play the game the way it was meant to be played, taking advantage of all of its unique and interesting features. If anything that made it more fun, as the game was actually presenting challenges for me.

Al-Khampis, a university city in Ancheim's deserts, appears.

The game also throws a dozen new job classes at you, with several showing up early on and the rest being spread out over the course of the first five chapters. Some of those jobs are clear replacements for ones from Default - the Wizard and Bishop are functionally just 'black mage with a mix-and-match gimmick' and 'white mage with more buffs', and I fully expect to see them replace the black mage and white mage in future Bravely games (although both those jobs do still exist in the game, a little oddly), and the Catmancer and Yokai jobs functionally replace the Vampire and Conjurer jobs (both of which don't show up in the game at all). Most of those jobs are great, and my party was predominantly specced out as them, with only one character, Tiz, being given a job from a previous game.

While you can get most of the jobs from Bravely Default, as well (with the exceptions being the Vampire, Conjurer, Spell Fencer, and Salve-Maker), you get them through sidequests in which you are usually presented with a political, economic, or moral choice, with the choice you pick determining which job you get. It's an interesting idea - and one that has prompted a degree of controversy, which I'll cover in a future editorial.

In terms of story, the storyline is more convoluted and a little less coherent than Bravely Default's. There are a lot of moving parts, with Kaiser Oblivion's machinations, the threat of the Ba'als (which you get to fight depressingly few of in the main story - only three, in fact, which is startlingly few for a long game, especially when they all have such unique designs. Part of this seems to be to encourage people to play the Fort-Lune building minigame, where you end up fighting more, which is a shame, since I had zero interest in doing that), and Anne's own plots all tangled up in each other, along with a running sideplot about the Sword of the Brave and a mysterious demon.

On the overworld, you become a happy giant.

It's never impossible to keep track of the plot, or even difficult, but compared to the relative simplicity of Bravely Default's plot, it feels a lot more complicated, and I wasn't sure I was so keen on that.

(They also upped the meta elements, with the game at one point requiring you to go and start a New Game + in order to progress to the next chapter, so that's a thing.)

All in all, this is a very strong game, and an excellent sequel to what remains one of my favourite games of all time. Now, I will be needing Square to immediately announce Bravely Third, complete with release date and trailer. Chop chop, get on it, guys. 

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