Bravely Default is the best final fantasy game in a long while. It says a great degree about Square Enix’s flagship franchise that this is the line most game reviewers have opened with, but it’s true; Bravely Default captures the spirit of Final Fantasy V and brings it into the modern era. But how does it hold up?
A game that has much in common with Skies of Arcadia and other role-playing games now considered classics, Bravely default feels both timely and antiquated; a strange mix of now-deprecated holdovers and some genuine prescience, the game immerses itself in SNES-era RPG tropes like a pig in mud. In layman’s terms, that means that Bravely Default is another turn based game with a job system and reams of stats, and it’s not ashamed of that. Indeed, the game proudly announces that it can be played entirely one-handed (although, at the risk of leaning into juvenile humour, I’m not too sure who that feature really benefits).
Where it differs from its other turn based peers is in the ‘brave’ system, which allows you to effectively spend turns in advance, or save actions up and bide your time (this is called ‘default’, hence the name of the game). For example, it’s possible (and sometimes advisable) to lead a blistering assault in the first turn and spend four turns worth of actions right off the bat – the tradeoff being that the party will be relegated to unguarded inaction for the next four turns. The same applies to enemies, and bosses will frequently save turns as a signal that they’re about to hit the party extraordinarily hard.
Bravely default happily borrows from both old and new. The painterly aesthetic of the game’s towns and cities is phenomenal, and the music manages to be both fresh and nostalgic. On top of a turn based battle system that does plenty different, Bravely Default will provide those with an RPG-itch that needs scratching incredible relief – for the first two thirds of the game, at least.
These initial two thirds can be described as a masterpiece, but the last third brings the game down like an anchor. Its roots in gameplay that fell out of fashion over a decade ago become all too clear as the game requires you to complete swathes of content for no apparent reason. its initially rote storyline – the protagonist’s town is destroyed, so there are no risks taken in terms of exposition – goes so far off the deep end that it’s difficult to summarise without sounding as though you’re telling an overly elaborate joke.
What begins as a Final Fantasy X style pilgrimage becomes a tale of holy wars and parallel universes so at odds with the initial setting that it’s almost as though the developers knocked over a box of anime stereotypes and refused to clean them up. The way the game explores its themes is unwelcome and almost laughable; certainly, mindless killing is something that needs to be examined and discussed, but not in a game that encourages you to kill swathes of enemies for experience and gold.
Despite these flaws, it remains that the first two thirds of the game are excellent, and should be enough to encourage purists to see it through to the end. The game’s real shame is its wasted potential – during the game’s middle chapter I really believed that Bravely Default might be the finest RPG released for this generation of handhelds. Unfortunately, what makes Bravely Default so appealing is what taints it: rose tinted glasses aside, ‘old’ Final Fantasy games had some real problems which have been unearthed to this game’s detriment. As a sign of things to come, it’s promising – but as a product, Bravely Default stops short of delivering a true homage to the golden-era of role playing games.
Quench Verdict: 3/5
What did you think to Bravely Default? A worthy addition to Square Enix’s flagship franchise? Let us know in the comments section below