The Bravely Default series harkens back to more traditional JRPGs, particularly the older turn-based Final Fantasy titles.
Starting on the 3DS, the first game introduced the Heroes of Light and their journey to gather the four elemental crystals, a tale that’s told in many JRPGs, and now Bravely Default 2 looks to recreate the same kind of charm that its predecessors did.
Retreading Familiar Ground
Some of the game's locations are stunning
Bravely Default 2’s events are entirely separate from the previous two games and follow a new group of Heroes of Light. Seth, Gloria, Elvis, and Adelle go on their journeys to find the four elemental crystals. Along the way, the group will collect Asterisks, which are stones that grant them incredible skills and job classes to utilize in battle. I understand that the franchise is trying to draw from its traditional JRPG roots, this is still a story that players have experienced a dozen times over. The setup and story structure are so similar to the first Bravely Default game that it’s a bit tired at this point.
While I didn’t care all that much about the game’s overall plot, I did enjoy the smaller storylines that dealt with each elemental crystal in the cities you visit. The events that unfold are noticeably darker in tone compared to the previous games and it’s interesting to see how the events connect with each member of the cast.
The main cast members do interact with each other in cutscenes, but many of the most substantial dialogues and occur in Party Chats. These are just optional side conversations that you can activate between the cast about story events that just occurred. They function almost the exact same way as the Skits in the Tales Of franchise. Unfortunately, the character portraits aren’t as expressive as those Skits in that franchise, and they are also completely devoid of any voice acting. The lack of any voice acting in Party Chats hampers many of these exchanges and makes it hard to stay engaged.
One story aspect I appreciate in Bravely Default 2 is that this time around, most of the Asterisks are automatically collected through story bosses, with only a few coming from optional boss fights. In the previous games, many Asterisks were relegated to side quests, so this new straightforward approach is nice. There are still side quests, but now a vast majority of them are simple fetch quests where you just collect or deliver materials and items for NPCs. However, there are a few of these side quests involving important story characters, and those usually have more substance, providing character development and better rewards.
The Gameplay Foundation is Still Great
Combat remains similar to the last game
Speaking of Asterisks, your characters can switch between different Jobs outside of the battle, and levelling up your Jobs nets you new battle skills and passive abilities. For each character, you can set one Job as your main, and one as your sub. A sub Job won’t grant you the same stats as it would if it was a main, but you’ll still have access to its battle skills. Once learned, passive abilities can be equipped freely, regardless of what the main Job is.
The customization here is unmatched. It’s incredibly fun to mix and match all the different skills and abilities to experiment on what the most optimal combinations are to take on the game’s tough bosses. Additionally, each character has a slight variation in their Job outfits. For example, even if you set them all to become White Mages, their outfits all have a unique form. It’s a nice aesthetic touch.
Bravely Default 2’s battle system foundation remains largely unchanged, but it’s still as addictive as ever. Essentially, characters have two actions, Brave or Default. The former lets you act multiple turns in a row, and the latter puts you in guard mode, granting you 1 Brave Point, or BP.
You can still act multiple turns in a row without accumulating BP, but then you end up with a negative count, which means you have to wait much longer before your character can act again. You can normally stack up to 3 BP, and it’s really satisfying to see enemies take huge amounts of damage at once during a single turn. The BP system is a fun one as balancing when to use Default or Brave adds quite a bit of strategy to the battles.
The music is great, as expected from the Bravely series. The battle themes are high energy and exciting. In fact, that entire soundtrack is very good. Each of the towns’ themes fit nicely, such as the desert one, which sounds like something out of Aladdin. The storybook graphics of these towns are incredibly gorgeous as well, and the overworld and dungeons look much improved from its 3DS counterparts.
However, I’m not entirely fond of the new character models. The ones on the 3DS exuded some charm due to the graphical limitations of the system, but with the Switch’s improved hardware, the attempt at a similar style results in them looking a bit creepy. This, as well as the lack of voice acting in Party Chats, makes the game feel budgeted in some aspects of its presentation.
One Step Forward, One Step Back
My biggest problem with Bravely Default 2 is the weird mix of quality of life features. On the 3DS games, the bottom screen always had a map that you could use to navigate around towns, dungeons, and the overworld. On Switch, maps are only present in the overworld between areas. Bizarrely enough, there are no maps in dungeons. There were some instances where I actually got lost in dungeons.
One of the most noticeable changes in this game is that random enemy encounters were done away with and are replaced with overworld monsters. This is a welcome change as now I can pick and choose whether I want to fight by either avoiding them or touching them. However, in the previous 3DS games, there was also an option where you can toggle the random encounter rate down to 0% or crank it to 100% if you were really itching for a fight. Here, there’s no such thing.
While you can use a consumable item to avoid monsters, it’s an inconvenience since the item only lasts for a limited amount of time and there’s still a small chance that enemies could chase after you anyway. Exploring dungeons can be a pain because monsters also respawn at an alarmingly fast rate.
Normally in JRPGs, monsters only respawn when you move off-screen to a different area. But here, they seemingly respawn in a matter of seconds, even if you haven’t left yet. I’ll defeat a monster to reach a treasure chest at a dead end, and then when I immediately turn around to go back, chances are the monster has respawned there again already.
Between the enemy encounters and maps, it seems like, for every step forward Bravely Default 2 takes with a new quality of life feature, it takes another step back to where it was before. I don’t see why either getting rid of the map in dungeons or eliminating the enemy encounter toggle was necessary at all. Both could have definitely been implemented along with the new features.
Bravely Default 2 is more of the same from the series. The game still keeps what it’s great at, namely its battle system, Job customization, and music.
Fans of JRPGs will find familiarity here, but with the transition over to Nintendo Switch, I was hoping that there’d be more sizable improvements. Its tepid story as well as the puzzling omission of quality of life features that were present in previous games left me feeling a bit underwhelmed overall. Bravely Default 2 is a good game, but there are aspects that keep it from being a great one.
Review copy provided by the publisher.Reviewed on Nintendo Switch