"For those of you in North America, hang in there, because the wait will be worth it."
It's not often that we see truly traditional RPGs anymore. World maps, job systems and even turn-based battles are few and far between in recent years. Not only does Bravely Default bring those mechanics back, it refines and updates them by implementing modern genre conventions. It's a long game too, so while editor Greig McCallum works hard at finishing the game in order to bring you the best review possible, I'm here to whet your appetite with a preview.
A Final Fantasy game in everything but name, those of you who are familiar with the iconic series will immediately find yourselves at home in Bravely Default. Magic spells include Cura, Esuna, Firaga and Blindna, and your item pouches will be filled with phoenix downs, echo herbs and hi-potions. The story even revolves around four huge, sparkly, magic crystals that need to be saved. Though the "travelling the world in search of crystals" plot is nothing new, I have it on good authority that the story takes a rather interesting twist a little over halfway through.
Like in many Final Fantasies, the job system is a primary aspect of gameplay. As you progress through the game and beat certain bosses, new jobs are unlocked that you can switch any of the four main characters in and out of. Winning battles gains you experience (which your party uses to level up) plus job points (which level up each class). No matter which job is currently "active", one set of supporting abilities from a different job can also be assigned. For example, I could have the hero, Tiz, with Knight as his active job, but by adding White Mage as his secondary job, he has access to all the healing spells he has learnt too. There's a classic selection of jobs to choose from such as Thief, Red Mage, Black Mage, Valkyrie and Hunter, along with trickier late-game jobs such as Swordmaster, Arcanist and Spiritmaster. Mixing and matching classes is important to overcome many battles, so levelling the right ones is important. I also enjoyed the stylish costume changes.
Aside from combining jobs, the new Brave and Default commands in battle must be mastered if you want to succeed against tougher encounters. Selecting the Brave command allows a character to perform an additional action on their turn by draining BP. You can take up to three additional actions this way, but it also means you'll have to sit the next three turns out. Default, which also functions as a guard, does the opposite: it stores up points so you can execute multiple actions on later turns without the downtime. There are a good number of bosses that are tough to beat without balancing Braving and Defaulting correctly, so it's sure to keep you on your toes.
On the field there are plenty of towns and dungeons to explore. While there are few locations not central to the main story, within them there are a number of side-quests that flesh out the world and other characters brilliantly. Most jobs are unlocked from side-quests too, so it's certainly worth spending time completing them. Through the menu, you can turn off random encounters too, so simply wandering around can be quite a peaceful experience.
From what I've seen so far, the characters are the backbone of the game. While the story is certainly interesting, it's the characters and the mysterious world that has kept me intrigued. Tiz is a typical JRPG male hero, though he has some genuine weaknesses that are dealt with in quite a nice way; Ringabel is a womaniser, but a well-meaning one and, though he may have the tired amnesia trope, he also carries a journal that has his future actions recorded in it; daughter of the villain Edea is an interesting change of pace with a fun personality; and only Agnés is a bit by-the-book boring. The secondary cast of characters are the real highlights though, and I was often left wanting more after beating them up and taking their jobs. Most of the game features quality voice acting, which helps to bring everything to life. This is not to mention the stunning graphics that make excellent use of 3D depth.
So far, I'm enjoying my time with Bravely Default immensely. It's fun to play, and there's plenty to collect and customise if you're so inclined. I'm about thirty hours in so far, and only about half-way through, though I have spent time exploring and unlocking jobs. Stay tuned, because our full review will be ready very soon! For those of you in North America, hang in there, because the wait will be worth it.