The Switch has been a haven for JRPGs, and Square Enix has recognized that with timed exclusivity for games like Dragon Quest XI S and the SmashPad favorite Octopath Traveler. Now they’re back with Bravely Default II, the confusingly third entry in a superb series derived from Final Fantasy and while it suffers from being a little too old-school in its approach to gameplay, it’s another great title on the Switch that any RPG fan can easily spend hours playing if they have the patience.
What Is It?
While not a direct sequel to the original Bravely Default on 3DS (that was Bravely Second: End Layer), Bravely Default II got its name when Tomoya Asano decided to revive the series after seeing the success of Octopath Traveler, claiming that Bravely Second‘s failure to meet both critical and sales expectations burned his team out.
With a new cast of characters in a new world, Bravely Default II is serves as a fresh start for the series. You play as Seth, who ends up washed ashore near the castle town of Halcyonia where he meets Gloria, the princess of a distant kingdom that was taken over. He also comes across the scholar Elvis and the mercenary Adelle, and they all set out on a quest to assist Gloria and seek out the asterisks, stones that allow the holders to wield different powers.
For those familiar with Final Fantasy V, this is essentially what it is. Bravely Default II is a lengthy JRPG where you’ll explore the world and fight enemies in turn-based battles strongly reliant on its Job system powered by the aforementioned asterisks. The result is one of the most difficult, yet enjoyable RPGs in recent memory.
Why Should I Care?
The biggest reason why this review is so late is because it was difficult to get through. It wasn’t because of the story, its characters, or its setting either–in fact, all of these factors are fantastic. It took me a while because the game was hard. Almost every boss in the game whupped my ass before I finally figured things out, and it was mostly my fault because all these years of playing modern JRPGs has softened me. Now let’s get into why the game was as difficult as it was for me despite playing on the “easy” difficulty setting.
What sets the Bravely series apart from any other JRPG is its battle system. At first glance, it’s just Final Fantasy‘s turn-based active time battle system, and in all honesty, it is, except for the Brave and Default options. When you select the Brave command for any of your characters in battle, you spend Brave Points (BP) to take another turn. In addition to that, you can even act a few more times by spending BP you don’t have — the caveat here is that you have to wait even longer for your turn to arrive. So for example, you typically have 0 BP when a battle begins. So when it’s your turn, if you choose to just attack and not Brave, it stays at 0 and you can take your next turn as normal. If you choose to Brave with 0, you’ll be at -1 BP and won’t be able to attack during your next turn. You can spend up to 3 BP at once even if you don’t have the BP, meaning your selected party member can act up to four times. Just know that if you don’t defeat the enemy, it’ll be a lifetime before that character can act again.
In addition to the Brave command, you have the Default command, which puts your character in a defensive position, and your BP will rise. So with the aforementioned example, if you Default first, you’ll have 1BP, so when your next turn rolls around, if you decide to Brave, you’ll get back to 0, and during your next turn, you’ll still be able to attack. You can bank up to 3 BP, which means once you reached the 3 BP max, you can unleash your attack four times, and it’ll get back to your turn and you can still act–making this a good strategy against typical enemies.
The game does a good job explaining that at first when you get some fights in, but once you get to the bosses, you’re on your own. As stated, Bravely Default II‘s system is very reliant on its Jobs system. At first, you start off with the Freelancer job, and as you progress through the game, you’ll gain access to Black Mage, White Mage, Vanguard, Dragoon, Swordmaster, and a slew of other jobs, and it’s up to you to find the proper job for whichever character you want to put them on. Remember, each job has different abilities that you’ll learn by leveling up with each character, but everytime you assign a character to a new job, they start at base stats. So at the end of the day, you have to level up both your characters and their jobs, and even though the characters level up on their own, when they have low-leveled jobs, they won’t perform to their potential.
Another key thing to take note of with the Job system is the ability to have Main jobs and Sub-jobs. Main jobs are leveled up as your character progresses, while sub-jobs are not, so a good strategy here is once you max out a main job at level 12, you can make that job your sub-job so you can maintain their abilities in battle while learning to grind to learn the abilities of a completely new job.
This is where all its depth comes in, and it wasn’t until I figured out how to use each of my character’s jobs and sub-jobs in such a way where the game finally clicked. It got increasingly more fun when I made my main character a Berserker and unlocked the ability to have every attack hit every enemy on the board. It was just a different game by then.
The thing is in order to achieve all that, you need to have the patience to figure it all out, and even when you do, the game can still be pretty frustrating. With the amount of places there are to explore in Bravely Default II, it’s easy to come up on a place where you’re underleveled, and when you see enemies glowing red, you know you’re either in the wrong place or have to grind some more, and sometimes it’s just not the best way to utilize your time. But when you finally figure out how to kill the boss that are giving you trouble, the sense of accomplishment is just more meaningful.
As fun (and frustrating) as it was to figure out the job system though, there’s a huge lack of a feature that makes the game more unapproachable. Obviously, in a game like this, there are dungeons or labyrinths where you have to get from point A to point B, which usually leads to a big boss fight. Bravely Default II‘s dungeons are so excruciatingly long that it feels like every dungeon would be the final dungeon in just about any other JRPG. There seems to be no formula here, as a lot of the dungeons earlier in the game are just as hard if not even more difficult than the ones you’ll encounter later.
Part of the reason it feels this way is because there’s no map function. Given how basic a gameplay element this is, it’s obviously a choice made on purpose, perhaps to give the dungeons greater scale and exploratory factor, but as someone that likes to discover every chest in every nook and cranny, it was annoying especially when places get samey. The worst part is that previous games in the series had maps, so I don’t see why this wasn’t so much as even a job ability in the game. It just seemed like a missed opportunity.
Another missed opportunity in the game is in its sidequest system. For one, the sidequests just aren’t very good. They’re often just fetch quests that have no respect for your time, and there are only a select few of them which actually impact the plot in a meaningful way. On top of that, since you can accept pretty much an infinite amount of them, they get rather hard to track because you can only actively follow up to three quests, including your main campaign’s quest, at the same time. So if you don’t know what quests are color-coded, you could be walking around aimlessly.
All this said, don’t let the flaws make you think this game isn’t good. It’s far from that. With patience, and I’m surprised I even had it to begin with, Bravely Default II is easily one of the Switch’s best exclusive JRPG experiences (and it obviously has plenty of great ones). The game rewards you for the time you put into it (just not in sidequests), but if you disrespect the game, it’ll throw the disrespect back at you tenfold, and I can’t say I’ve experienced a game that does this in my time as a gamer.
That brings us to the most interesting factor in the game, which is something the series has had since its inception. After a certain point, you’ll unlock the ability to go on sailing “expeditions” which reward you with both currency and orbs that’ll up both your experience level and your job levels, and the best part is you don’t actually have to do anything (as long as you have Nintendo Switch Online). When going on an expedition, all you have to do is put your Switch on sleep mode with Bravely Default II running, and you’ll be able to come back and get notifications of items that your party found on the sail. The only caveat is that once you’ve been on the expedition for 12 hours, you have to manually stop and do it again. It’s a weird feature, but it’s better than manually grinding levels. Again, though, it only works if you have Nintendo Switch Online and you keep Bravely Default II running. If you play some other game on your Switch, the hours won’t count. That definitely made things annoying for me when playing Animal Crossing and Monster Hunter Rise, but I digress…
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Bravely Default II is a good game, but it’s not one that’s wholly approachable. In an era where games are continually competing for our time, if you want to really enjoy Bravely Default II to the utmost, you need make sure this is the only game you’re playing. The difficulty is a lot, but if you put the time in, there’s plenty to like about it. Even when you think you beat it, you probably didn’t, and this phenomenon happens more than once.
If you are someone used to JRPGs, you’ll likely admit that we’re seeing quite a modern renaissance. Last year alone featured three titles in Persona 5 Royal, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV, and Yakuza: Like A Dragon that could all be considered world class, must-play entries in the genre for a variety of reasons. I wouldn’t say Bravely Default II is quite to the level of those games, but it definitely holds its own compared to other JRPGs on the Switch, and it’s become a goldmine for the genre.
JRPG fans should know what to expect here. JRPGs are typically a slow-moving grinds, and Bravely Default II is no different. If you’ve never been a fan of the genre, it’s tough to envision this game changing your mind.