Bravely Default Demo Impressions

(Please note: This is just a review of the demo. The release will allow more jobs, more skills and more customization.)

Square Enix has been a little bit busy lately with an MMO re-launch (Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn), a new MMO unveiling (Dragon Quest X), completing a gaming trilogy (Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII), and three HD remixes (Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD and Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix). While these titles are making the most of the hardware on which they will be released, not too much love has been given to the 3DS. Luckily, that has all changed with the announcement of Bravely Default. Bravely Default is going to garner attention as being another Final Fantasy clone, which, in some ways, it is. While four heroes saving the world by harnessing the diminished power of four crystals sounds familiar, the enhancement in gameplay and character customization sets this title apart from its predecessors. Bravely Default has already been released in Japan and Europe, and here in North America, we’re going to have to wait until February to get our copies. Until then, we have the demo to keep us entertained. I know what you might be thinking, “Why even bother with the demo?” Trust me; even though it is a demo, there are reasons to give it a spin.

Bravely Default takes place in Luxendarc, a realm thrust into darkness by a mysterious corruption of the four crystals that support all life. Four heroes – Agnes, a priestess; Edea, a warrior; Tiz, witness to the destruction of his hometown of Norende and finally Ringabel, a mysterious character that is struck with amnesia are given the task to restore peace and harmony throughout the world. The familiarity of such a legend is not wasted on the storytellers. These RPG tropes are the subject of character interactions with each other and villagers, making light of the typical nature of such a tale.

At first glance, this game could easily be another entry in the Final Fantasy library. It is a spiritual, not actual, sequel to the DS title, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. The character models in Bravely Default are done by Akihiko Yoshida, who was responsible for the character design for 4 Heroes, and the DS remake of Final Fantasy III. The title makes the most of the 3DS stereoscopic capability providing profound views of the overworld and dungeons, battle scenes and when the perspective shifts to a side scrolling view when entering the town of Ancheim, the only town in the Demo.

Bravely Default incorporates the job aspect of character progression that was introduced in Final Fantasy V and made famous in Final Fantasy Tactics. While there will be 24 jobs available in the release, in the demo, we are only provided with access to 9 of them. There are the archetypes of magic users (Red, White and Black), the melee jobs (Ninja, Swordmaster and Valkyrie) and support jobs (Knight and Performer).

Character progression comes in two flavors: Character Level and Job Level. As is standard in any RPG, battling monsters will award experience points which level the character up. The characters also earn Job Experience that increases the level of their current job. In the demo, the player can gain a maximum Character Level 20 and a Job Level of 4. In the release, the maximum Character Level is 99 and the Job Level is 14.

Each Job Level increase unlocks abilities that enhance the current job and may also lend support for another job. A character dishing out physical damage could benefit from levelling up Knight to unlock “Two-Handed” which increases physical damage. This same character, however, may not be as aided by the ability from the Red Mage that increases MP by 20%. The Synergy of these unlocked abilities will be amazing. I am looking forward to experimenting with a build of Ninja/White Mage/Black Mage/Templar and discussing with my friends what they choose to use.

With each new Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest title, Square Enix has evolved the gameplay aspect of the Role Playing Game. With Bravely Default, they take the concept of “High Risk, High Reward” to a whole new level. In battle, each combatant (player and enemy) begins with 0 Battle Points (BP). Each round, the player is granted one BP. The player can use that 1 BP to attack, to use a skill, to cast a spell or to use an item. Where it gets fascinating is the Brave/Default concept. The player may choose “Default” to store the BP gained in that round to be used in a later turn and gaining a defensive bonus. The player may also choose “Brave” to spend both earned and yet unearned BP. Using “Brave” can drop a player’s BP to a negative state, at which point they are unable to perform any other action until they have accumulated enough BP to make up the deficit.  A useful strategy is to have a White Mage select “Default”, so they may have two actions readily available to revive a fallen party member then heal them in the same round. Another approach, if granted the first attack, a Ninja can use an ability to increase the number of attacks in that round, then “Brave” to attack multiple times. The player is rewarded for defeating an enemy with style. If no character takes any damage, a bonus is granted. If the encounter is handled in one turn, another bonus. And if the encounter ends with all creatures dying at once, another bonus is awarded. These bonuses stack and lend a benefit when taking into consideration how to direct combat.

The demo provides the player just a taste of a side quest to rebuild Norende, the village Tiz calls home, lying in ruin after the events from the introduction of the story. This plays much like construction games familiar to Facebook users or mobile gamers. The player selects a part of the town upon which to develop. After a specified amount of real time, the improvement is complete. This development can either be to open up a new area of the village for a new building to be constructed or to increase the level of an existing structure. It is up to the player to decide how to shape Norende and is another layer of personification that Bravely Default provides.

These buildings being built are shops that will provide useful items and equipment to the player. Increasing a shop level will offer stronger and more powerful items to the player, most likely unattainable in the game. To decrease the time needed to convert unused land or enhance a shop, the 3DS Street Pass provides the player with the ability to welcome villagers to Norende. These villagers and can be assigned to assist with the current project. While the demo restricts the maximum number of villagers to 20, the number of villagers gained in the demo will transfer to the full version.

The demo provides a side story separate from the main story available when the title is available for purchase/download. By achieving certain milestones, the player will be awarded useful items in the release version. While these items will be useful, I found that the reward was secondary to playing the demo to the fullest.

Ups

  • For veterans of JRPGs, the Brave/Default is a fascinating new twist to a battle system
  • Norende provides a fun diversion and useful awards through the shops and gifts
  • The story presented through the demo answers some questions and poses new questions

Downs

  • New players not taking time to grind out job levels may be put off by the level of difficulty
  • Character customization has the capacity to cause underpowered parties

Bottom Line

  • If you are considering purchasing this title, the rewards that are granted for taking the time to play the demo will really come in handy
  • Players put off by the recent Final Fantasy titles will be pleased with this release