Bravely Default is a classic Japanese role-playing game with a modern flair. Developed by Square Enix and Silicon Studio, it is reminiscent of the Final Fantasy series yet offers an updated experience that sets Bravely Default apart from the rest.
The setting and narrative are typical of the JRPG genre: four young heroes are tasked with saving the steam-punk fantasy world of Luxendarc from certain doom by re-ingniting elemental crystals. However stereotypical they may seem, the characters are well rounded and their backstories are finely woven into the game's story. Bravely Default tackles deep themes such as duty, grief, betrayal and opposing ideals such as faith versus secularism, tradition versus progress and community versus individual. It makes for a engaging and heartfelt story.
Maybe it's the designer in me talking but I absolutely love the game's art style. The backgrounds are hand-drawn then rendered in 3D, bringing the world Luxendarc to life with vivid colours and precise brush strokes. The characters' design is typical for the genre but their seamless integration into the game's overall look is brilliantly done. Each inhabitant look like they belong on the lively canvas that is Luxendarc.
As for gameplay, the core of Bravely Default's mechanics are RPG staples: turn based combat, skill and item management, random encounters with enemies and characters progressing through a levelling job system. However, the brave-default risk system from which the game takes its bizarre name adds a new layer to combat. You can either choose 'Brave' to take extra actions within a turn but sacrifice future ones, or select 'Default' to raise your defence and save your current action for a future turn. You can stack up to three of these extra actions enabling you take a maximum of four actions per turn. At first, this system seemed superfluous to me and put in for the sake of adding something new. Why would I want to skip a turn now and use it later? I quickly saw the strategic aspect of it. Stacking extra actions with my healer often saved my party from certain death. As I advanced through the game, Brave and Default quickly became the foundation of my combat strategy.
Character progression and strength are at the core of the genre. Bravely Default's levelling and job system is pretty standard. Most of the jobs are JRPG quintessencials (Knight, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage, Summoner, etc) and each features a certain ability set and skill progression. Each must be unlocked by defeating a boss, some of which you will encounter through the main story, others, through optional side quests. There are a whopping 24 jobs in Bravely Default which can seem overwhelming but makes for great character customization. As more jobs are unlocked, more powerful pairings can be explored. For example, you can combined combine White Mage and Time Mage to create the ultimate support character.
Although there is no multiplayer mode, there is still a community aspect to Bravely Default through the Street Pass system or an internet connection. One of the game's side objective is to rebuild the village of Norende. Early in the game, a giant chasm swallows one of your heroes' hometown. Each player you exchange profiles with either via Street Pass, the Internet or by linking your consoles will wield a new villager which can then be put to work. Each new building will generate spoils (gear, items, special moves, etc.) to help you in your main quest. These players will also transfer one of their character's profile to your party. Once per battle, you can summon that character to perform their ability whether it be a special attack or a support ability like healing. I must admit I haven't made much use of the Player Summon feature. I do recommend rebuilding and upgrading Norende since the rewards are quite useful.
Bravely Default has renewed my love for the genre. It's a great blend of classic and modern while keeping true what makes RPGs great: character progression and combat strategy yet it lets players craft their own experience through the varied job system and the side-objectives. This game features beautiful hand drawn graphics, a balanced game play and a captivating epic storyline. You don't have to take my word for it: download free demo through the Nintendo eStore so you may experience it for yourself. If you do end up getting the full version, you'll be able to transfer the demo's data to your game.
Bravely Default, available for the Nintendo 3DS on February 7th.