BRAVELY DEFAULT 2
By Mark "Demius" Bronneberg on January 15, 2021
The Bravely Default series might not be Square Enix most well-known franchise, but to me it's a welcome one. After the Nintendo DS game: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, the first Bravely game was planned as a sequel. But somewhere along the line they abandoned a true sequel and made it the first game in the Bravely Default series on Nintendo 3DS (released in 2012). Shortly after, a sequel called Bravely Second released in 2015. And now, 6 years later, Bravely Default 2 is released on Nintendo Switch.
Now, this might sound confusing, so let me explain. Bravely Default 2 is not a sequel. It is an entirely new game but reuses many of the old game mechanics like the 'Brave' and 'Default' battle system. After playing the first demo and admitting some feedback to the developers (that demo was ruthlessly hard), I did not play the second demo, so I wasn't spoiled too much and my expectations for this game were somewhat neutral. The Nintendo Switch is growing into quite the RPG console, and with heavy hitters like Octopath Travelers, Xenoblade Chronicles and Dragon Quest, Bravely Default 2 has a lot of competition (even within the same developer studios from Square Enix). Let us see if Bravely Default 2 brings anything new to the table and how it holds up to these other games on our trusty Switch!
The story of Bravely Default 2 follows the four heroes of light in a 'coming of age' kind of way. Yeah, I guess they never really dropped this heroes of light thing that inspired the series. You start as Seth, a pirate harhar (I don't know if he is really a pirate, but this sounds cooler than his 'seafarer and shipwrecked' origin story). The oceans have grown reckless, you soon learn this is because the kingdom of Musa has been invaded and destroyed and their four crystals stolen (these crystals present the elements, Fire, Wind, Earth, Water). These offsets the balance in the world and the only surviving royal from Musa (Gloria) sets on a quest to restore her kingdom and retain the crystals. Somehow, she recruits Seth to her cause (which pirate wouldn't follow a princess into battle.). Soon they meet the rogue Adelle and mage Elvis, and the four heroes of light are complete. Well at start they are not true heroes, but they are set up like this. Unlike other JRPG's from Square Enix you don't have to make hard choices into choosing your main party, since these four heroes remain the same the entire game. You do find the occasional 'guest party member', depending on where you are in the story. These can't be controlled or attacked and are there for a bit of support. I will not spoil more of the story, but please take note that the story is the best part of this game. Yes, it starts cliché with the crystals and stuff. But how it progresses into finding these crystals and the mature themes it explored surprised and shocked me from time to time. Themes like death, manipulation, murder, betrayal all come around. So be sure to not grow too attached to the amazing supporting cast.
Bravely Default is a classic turn-based JRPG with a twist. This means it uses most of Final Fantasy's item names (phoenix down for resurrection, potions for healing) or spell and job types (white mage for healing spells or black mages for attack magic like Fire, Fira, Firara). The one thing that makes this series stand out is the Brave and Default twist. Once it is a character turn, he can choose an action, or he can Default to defend a turn and cash in an extra BP. BP are used to grant extra turns and everyone starts at 0. This means a character can take 3 extra turns if it has enough BP. A character can also take a debt up to -3 BP. This means every one of your four characters can take 4 turns from the start of each encounter. This will annihilate most low-level enemies. But this is also very risky, because every character will have to 'recharge' their BP until they are back to 0 before they can take another turn. If you don't kill every enemy in one go, you will have to prepare to take a serious beating. This is very dangerous at the many bosses or special enemy encounters. I always left my healer without debt to be able to heal and keep my squad alive. But sometimes you are forced to even take a debt for your healer, since multiple party members need to be healed and revived. This game is the 'dark souls' of JRPG's. This game is brutal, and you will see a lot of death screens, so please save often. I guess they didn't really listen to my feedback after playing that first demo, hahaha.
Another mechanic that Bravely Default uses to perfection is the 'jobs-system'. Final Fantasy 5 used this too per example. In Bravely Default you gain xp to level up and jp to gain job points. Each job you receive has 12 abilities to unlock and once mastered it unlocks a second special passive ability. Each character can equip 2 jobs. There are a ton of jobs to unlock, some from following the story but also quite a few from doing sidequests. You can switch freely outside of battles and all progression within each job is saved. It is important to plan and strategize how you want to build your characters. I build Seth like a tank, Gloria as a healer and buffer, Elvis as an attack mage and Adella as my DPS (damage dealer). This is probably the safest route, but you can mix it up as much as you like. A few tips from my experience are maxing out the Freelancer job (first one you start with) early. Because this one learns the ability to gain extra JP, this makes levelling other jobs much easier. Also do not underestimate the Beastmaster job (got to catch them all Pokémon/enemies), this one can make a lot of tough fights easy.
Like I already said this game is hard and brutal, it requires quite a bit of grinding. My advice is to not 'run' from the enemies you meet on the overworld map or in dungeons. If you keep beating everyone you find you will never be under levelled and only need a bit of grinding now and then if you find out, you need a certain job level to beat a boss. Enemies wander the overworld map or dungeons and battle only starts if you hit the enemy. You can swing your sword to hit an enemy before battle, this will enable you to start with an advantage in the fight (1 BP for every team member). On the overworld map enemies that are around your character level will chase you, once you level up a bit, weaker enemies will run away. If you find a stationary enemy that doesn't seem to do either of these things... SAVE YOUR GAME. These are difficult special boss encounters and will probably one-shot your entire squad if you are not careful. Since I have already spent more than 30 hours in this game, I returned to some of these early encounters and they still whooped my ass (cry face). After a bit of strategizing, I did finally manage to beat a few and the rewards they give are nice (strong weapons). Exploration and dungeon exploring is plenty in this game. There are treasure chests everywhere, luckily the Freelancer job gets a skill that shows how many unopened treasure chests are left in a certain area.
Now there is a certain exploring mechanic I just must boast about. CUTTING THE GRASS. Yes, they could have named this game Bravely Default 2: heroes of lawn mowing. There are bushes and grasses everywhere, and at first this felt like a stupid gimmick. Until it dropped a whopping mythril dagger when my character was only level 1. Now which doofus hero dropped their mythril dagger in this bush? After lawn mowing the entire first map, I had enough cash to buy out every store. And once I went to the store, every item I could buy was less than all the items that dropped from these grasses and bushes haha. So nowadays I am filthy rich and have every item a hero of light can dream about. If only there were some more ways to spend all this cash. Of course, this gets even better (yes, I like being a lawnmower), you soon meet a friendly orc that teaches you to cut trees!!!! Yes, climate change is not a problem in this world, so I went back after cutting all bushes and grasses to also cut down every tree muahahaha. I am so happy Dumeegamer gave me additional review time, so I was able to cut down all these trees and grasses. Sorry, there is more, there is even a tactical use for cutting grasses. Exploring Dungeons without a big map (there is only the minimap), can be quite hard and confusing, cutting grasses is a way to show you where you already explored. This helped me 100% all the dungeons (open all chests).
The game runs fine, during my 30-40 hours I only encountered one crash/bug, where after a battle on the overworld map my screen went black, music was playing but it never returned to the overworld map. So, I had to hard reset my game. Luckily, the game does have an auto save function, which saves if you change between areas. I have read that the game will require around 80-100 hours to see everything it has to offer. This might be correct since I feel I'm about halfway into the story. I try to 100% these games, find all chests and do every side quest. Side quests are plenty and sometimes these RPGs tend to have a lot of 'low quality fetch-quests'. Even though this game has those too. There are also side quests that flesh out the story nicely or even award you with totally new Asterisks. Asterisks are special tiny crystals that hold new jobs. Most of the times you earn these asterisks by beating bosses. If you find a new character that wears a fancy costume 99% of the time this will be the next asterisk, you'll be able to unlock. These costumes on the enemies always look amazing. Because it often takes quite a bit of time between the first appearance and actual beating and acquiring of the asterisk you get excited to play through the game to unlock that next cool job. Once you beat an Asterisk-bearer they don't always die, most of them drop the asterisk lose the cool costume but reappear in new fights or side quests. This adds to some nice world-building and makes sure side quests and NPCs are of high quality.
Graphics and sounds are not the best qualities of this game. Graphics are a win or loss depending on your tastes. The characters have 'big head mode' permanently on but look decent. Particle and magic effects are cool, environments are 2D paintings in which you walk around, mixed with 3D (this is my best explanation). It is not like the 2D-HD system Octopath Traveler uses. But often uses great artwork. The game is almost entirely voiced, the voices are all British, so don't expect an all-American voiceover cast. To me they were fine, quality was decent and some of these even amazing. Occasionally there was an annoying voice, but the main cast is all good, except maybe Elvis his Australian (?!) accent could get onto some people's nerves. Then again, the cast is where this game really shines. And the secondary cast is sometimes even more amazing. I loved Galahad; he is my spirit animal (shield master buffed as hell with glasses). He is overprotective and yells stuff like NO ENTRY BLLAAARGH. He would give Gandalf a run for his money in preventing a certain Balrog from passing a bridge. Tiny spoiler: the first time you meet him he prevents you from reaching the earth crystal in a tower. Its crazy funny when you start fighting him, notice you deal 2 damage against his 50k health and he slaps your ass. And your only choice is to run away. I love these kinds of things in RPGs. Where they set you up for a grand boss encounter later in the story section.
But wait, there is even more. There is a card mini-game called B n' D. After the second main village this will be unlocked. In this combination between a card- en board game both players start with 6 cards. These are used to occupy places on a grid like board. If you surround enemy tiles with your own and 'flank them' you can turn these tiles to your own colour. You can also place your cards over enemy ones to erase the tiles (the base tile of each card must be placed on a free tile). Since the winner is the one with the most tiles at the end its always better to flank than to erase. There are around 100 cards to collect and each of them have unique tile traits or special abilities or even passive abilities, like strengthening all beast cards or poisoning random tiles. It was quite rough to get into, but once I got the hang of it, I loved it. I am now trying to collect every card. Once you beat a card player you can select one of 6 cards as a reward. Rare cards cost more points, so you can't just 'pick a card' but first need to win enough points to pick the card. If you take all the cards from someone you can change the set of rules this person used. This is useful to practice without losing cards of your own. Some enemies will take away a random card if you lose, this can be a real pain if it's one of your most expensive cards. These cards are not lost entirely but returned to their original owner. This would mean backtracking to re win it. I always save after each win, so I can reload if I lose a card. The game is different from Gwent in the Witcher 3 but did remind me of how big mini games in roleplaying games can get. Of course, this is mostly optional, so if you don't like it you can skip it. But I highly recommend sticking with it.
So, there we have it, the sheer content in this game is intimidating. Bravely Default 2: Lawnmower of Evil, Card Shark and Asterisk Devourer of the Ages. Might have been a great subtitle. This game will not be for everyone. It will take a serious amount of time to beat, even more if you want to 100% it. It has a very high difficulty and requires a lot of planning, strategizing, and grinding. But once you accept those things for what they are. The game offers some amazing gameplay, fun side quests and mature and deep story. I will be one of those people that will try to see everything the game has to offer, even if it takes me another 100 hours.