REVIEW: ‘Bravely Default II’ Defaults To What Worked Before (Switch)

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Bravely Default II

Bravely Default II marks the series’ jump onto a home console from the Nintendo DS onto the Switch. It also is the first in the series to be developed by Claytechworks while still being published by Square Enix in Japan and Nintendo everywhere else. Featuring an entirely new story and characters, Bravely Default II draws on the classic JRPGs of the PS1 era to create an all-new game with a nostalgic flavor. 

This approach to the game’s design is largely a positive one, but it does end up hurting the story. It is serviceable, but that is because it all has been done so many times before. The narrative follows a refugee princess named Gloria who lost her kingdom and has to track down four magic crystals to both save her kingdom and stop an elemental cataclysm. After teaming up with a crashed sailor (the player’s primary character), a traveling scholar, and a mercenary, the group embarks on a journey across the five countries of Excillant. Each country players travel through are stereotypical fantasy settings that we all have seen a dozen times. The story hits all of the plot points one expects from the setup, and while doing a serviceable job, it never transcends just serviceable. 

This familiarity also carries over into the characters themselves. The main antagonist, Adam, seems to be a villain just for the sake of it. A militaristic emperor, little explanation is given for his cartoonish levels of villainy that pop up whenever he appears to try and impede the party’s progress. There are other villains that cannot be discussed without crossing into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that while they are a tad more believable, they still feel like replicas of notable villains from the genre’s past. 

Even the party members that players will spend the majority of the game talking to and learning about are little more than cookie-cutter stereotypes. Gloria is a pure princess that must be protected by a stronger male (the player’s character who promises her guardian that he will protect her) despite possessing an immense power of her own. Elvis is a traveling scholar whose search for knowledge leads him to get involved in affairs he would rather avoid but can’t because of the friendships he has made along the way. Adelle is the slightly cold mercenary that cracks wise to hide her emotions and the dark past that motivates her. The player spends a large portion of the game talking with these characters, and while this is not a bad thing, it is unfortunate that the characters have little else to offer.

However, Bravely Default II does do a solid job of delivering its story. Cutscenes are effective with full voice acting that gives the characters more of a personality than they would otherwise have, although it does boil down to each character just having a different accent. The cutscenes are supplemented by the party chat feature that is brought back from the first game. These are optional dialogues that are triggered when the player performs certain actions or travels to specific locations. These party chats are great. They help make the party members feel more connected to the world and story. They feel as though they are traveling around with you, rather than just helping in battles and popping up when the story needs them. The party chats add a lot to the exploration of the world, and also serve to deliver context and lore about the world in a natural way. 

With the story being so underwhelming, the real standout of Bravely Default II is its combat. There are 24 total jobs that party members can take on, each one with its own set of abilities and costumes for whomever has it equipped. Party members can even have a sub job equipped that is best used for max level jobs, as it gives them access to the job’s abilities but all experience gained only goes towards the primary job. The job system here is great at giving the player a lot of options to toy around with and choose, but also at keeping the combat fresh, as there is a constant trickle of new jobs to level and switch around your party throughout the game.

The combat encounters themselves follow the traditional turn-based structure of most JRPGs, albeit with a twist. In combat, players can accrue up to three brave points, either by getting a free one by surprising enemies or by having a character take the “default” action which raises their defense but otherwise skips their turn. Brave points can then be used to perform extra actions on characters’ turns, allowing players to do large bursts of damage at opportune moments. If the character does not have any brave points, they can go negative, but then have to automatically spend turns defaulting to get their points back to zero before they can be used again.

The system does add a strategic layer on top of the combat, but it also makes many fights towards the beginning of the game trivial, as there is no punishment for the player to spam actions to clear the field in a single round. This problem disappears pretty quickly; however, as combat gets reasonably challenging after the prologue, especially as players have to memorize the monsters’s weaknesses to not waste turns examining them every combat.

The game’s visual design, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. Bravely Default II utilizes an isometric camera along with a tilt-shift effect whenever players are not in combat. The results are often beautiful. Backgrounds have a hand-painted aesthetic that is beautiful and full of character. The tilt-shift effect shrinks the scale of characters in the world down, making small environments feel larger and more opposing. Those same characters are also the sore spot of the game’s design. 

Seemingly as a callback to the PS1 era that Bravely Default II pulls so much inspiration from, the character models are low-poly, almost chibi designs that clash unceremoniously with the environments and each other. There is a cheap feel to them, especially when contrasted with the detailed backgrounds and environments. The models also often clash with one another. It was strange to me to have a party where one character looks like a pirate, another a belly dancer, a third a Russian elite complete with a tall white fur hat, and a fourth that has a leather trench coat topped off with a fedora. The party characters all clash with the outfits of those around them and each other, adding to the feeling that the character designs are more tossed together rather than created with a unifying theme. 

It is fortunate for Bravely Default II, that the strength of its combat and world designs outweigh its odd design choices and uninspired writing, if only barely. It is enough to keep the experience enjoyable, but it is unlikely that it is one that will stick with you for very long. 

Bravely Default II is available now on Nintendo Switch. 

Bravely Default II
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

It is fortunate for Bravely Default II, that the strength of its combat and world designs outweigh its odd design choices and uninspired writing, if only barely. It is enough to keep the experience enjoyable, but it is unlikely that it is one that will stick with you for very long.