Sometimes, there’s absolutely nothing rather so comforting as a great old JRPG. This is a convenience blanket of a category for gamers of a specific age, video games that gladly take in whole lazy afternoons snuggled on a couch as you gradually press numbers ever upwards. They do not come a lot more soothing than those manufacturer Tomoya Asano and his group have actually made an art of in the last few years; dipping into Square Enix’s exceptional history of expressive greats, they have actually offered us contemporary handles the timeless JRPG formula such as 2018’s Octopath Traveler and 2012’s Bravely Default.
Such was the success of the initial Bravely Default that it saw a little number of follow-ups, though this being the complicated world of JRPG entitling it’s just now we’re getting a Bravely Default 2 – that number representing a tidy break from previous video games in the very same method that each brand-new Final Fantasy provides a totally brand-new world, characters and story. It’s a brand-new studio operating in tandem with Asano and group at Square Enix too, with Clay Tech Studios having veterans of Bravely Default and Bravely Second designer Silicon Studio amongst its number.
Plenty recognizes, however, as you’d anticipate from a video game whose primary currency is fond memories. There’s your celebration that takes in the amnesiac hero, a banished princess, a roguish scholar and a stern mercenary all joined on a mission for 4 crystals that takes them throughout the kingdoms of Excillant, visiting on towns learnt in the overworld and getting associated with cutesy busywork.
It’s a less excitable thing than Bravely Second on the whole, I’m happy to state, the tone having actually been ratcheted down a notch or 2 till it’s more in keeping with the very first video game, though I can’t state I was ever especially hooked; it’s a swash of understanding cliches that left me unmoved, the English dub’s effort to catch a few of the differing local accents prevalent in Dragon Quest failing (the Japanese voice performing is fortunately constantly all set to hand). I ought to admit, however, that my own tourist attraction to JRPGs normally lies beyond the story and more in the systems, a location in which Bravely Default 2 excels.
Before we get to that, it deserves noting it’s a somewhat make over for Bravely Default this time round. Maybe it’s something to do with the lack of initial character artist Akihiko Yoshida, or perhaps it’s the visual being pressed beyond the more modest resolution of the 3DS screen, however Bravely Default 2 never ever rather summons the very same appeal as its predecessors. It’s still a world of leather and lace, the world of timeless dream dished out with a little gothic style, its hand-painted towns fancy pop-up watercolours that host all way of sidequests and diversions. For all that appeal, however, the overworlds are typically featureless and flat, the characters themselves rendered with an unfortunate dead-eyed plastic sheen.
It’s a small shame, and something that makes getting to the real meat of Bravely Default 2 that little bit harder. Part of that disappointment comes from how successfully Octopath Traveler merged the aesthetic of the 16-bit era with more modern sensibilities, and the recent arrival of Project Triangle Strategy demo – Octopath’s successor – only emphasises the gulf between the two approaches. Still, it’s unfair to dwell on what Bravely Default 2 isn’t when it comes to its art-style, because when it comes to its systems it’s typically exquisite.
This is a traditional turn-based JRPG battle system – and an important distinction to be made is that Bravely Default 2 isn’t round-based like its predecessors, a small but significant tweak – and when again the traditional Final Fantasy format is enlivened with a few of Bravely Default’s own flourishes. There’s the default system, by which you can effectively bank turns and then later unleash them in one mad flurry – a round of buffs for the party, perhaps, or the more primal thrill of unleashing attack after attack after attack on a single enemy. Encounters in Bravely Default 2 have a push and pull energy, and when it all chimes together in unison with Revo’s thumping theme it’s enough to convince me this belongs there up with the very best turn-based battle systems.
It’s certainly got the very best taste, cribbing from just the finest Final Fantasy games. Once again Final Fantasy 5 informs the job system, which here sees you taking on primary roles and levelling them up to unlock new abilities, with a secondary slot allowing you to then use those abilities at will as you mix and match classes. It’s a simple system that enables an incredible amount of complexity – Bravely Default 2 is a theorycrafter’s dream – with thousands of team builds on offer, the vast majority of them viable. Want to mix your black mage and white mage together, or get a bit more experimental and throw together a salve-maker and shield master? The stage is all yours.
Bravely Default 2 is quick to put your creations to the test, too, though, with a difficulty level that’s quick to bare its teeth. There are soon move counters and jammers to contend with, the juggling of buffs and debuffs intensifying after just a handful of hours while boss encounters are quick to put you on your arse as you reassess your strategy before dusting yourself down and heading back to the grind. And there is a lot of grind here, almost to the exclusion of much else.
The fight system’s merits are enough to carry Bravely Default 2 through, though after 20 hours I’d had more than my fill, making the back end of the campaign’s sprawl something to be tolerated rather than enjoyed – and by that point I was left wondering what this sequel had brought to the table. It jettisons some of the gimmicks of older games (while introducing a new online quest mode that’s slim enough to be mostly optional), and throws away some of the mod cons too – the options for play out in the field don’t extend far beyond a trio of difficulty settings, and even the lowest of those will prove off-putting for all however the most dedicated of players.
Perhaps that’s yourself, someone looking for 60 hours of hard-edged if predictable standard JRPG action, served by a fight system of considerable pep and intricacy. Perhaps, however, like me, you turn to something like Bravely Default 2 as a salve, and are looking to get lost in its rhythms. For all it does right, and for all it ignites the passion and nostalgia for the JRPG’s golden age, Bravely Default 2 offers up a comfort blanket that aggravates a mite too quickly.