Bravely Default II is one of the best JRPGs that I have played in a while. Despite that though, there were a few hang-ups that I believe held it back a bit. Its beautiful watercolor art style was sometimes diminished by its underperforming graphics. And although I enjoyed every single battle in this game, I cannot say the same for its story.
The first thing I noticed about this game was the way it looked. Arguably it is the first thing many notice about any game, and Bravely Default II just looks like a Nintendo 3DS game. It eventually grew on me but I still often wonder why that happened.
Maybe it is because the series started there and they wanted to remain true to their origins. I can appreciate the animation style but I do think that there could have been improvement here. The game definitely looks better and cleaner in handheld mode, but on the big screen it looks significantly weaker.
There are some considerable lagging issues as well, particularly when a lot is happening on the screen at once or when I went to initiate the “Party Chat” option. These issue also seemed to happen less in handheld mode so I can only assume they prioritized that performance over docked performance because the series started as a handheld game.
Regardless, there were moments where the game’s watercolor art style really impressed me, particularly within the cities. Panoramic views of the cities are gorgeous even on the TV and the game shines here for sure. It is almost like navigating through a diagram, although in my opinion Octopath Traveler nailed that style better.
Bravely Default II’s Gameplay Makes Up For Poor Graphics
With the discussion of graphics and presentation out of the way, we can get into what makes this game wonderful. I am definitely not someone who needs the newest and latest graphics to enjoy a game, and Bravely Default II doesn’t need to outshine games graphically because it does so in its gameplay. It is proof that you don’t need to and shouldn’t rely on graphics to carry your game successfully.
Turn-Based Battle System
The game features a turn-based system with the Brave and Default commands present. Default puts your character into a defending position, uses their turn, and rewards them with 1 BP. A character can hold up to 3 BP unless you use an ability that allows for more, and you can spend them with the Brave command.
Using Brave will allow your character to use numerous actions equivalent to how many BP they use. So, essentially you get to increase the number of times your character can perform actions within a turn. This does not increase the power of those actions or lessen the amount of MP or HP it takes to perform them so plan accordingly.
As the story progresses, each of your part members well gain the power to perform special attacks. You main job will determine what that special attack is. Sometimes it is supportive and sometimes it is offensive, but either way it will yield certain stat boosts to your entire party for a while. If you want to extend those boosts, link another characters special attack before the first one wears off. That will ensure your buffs stay intact and even add new ones depending on your next character’s special.
Like classic JRPGs in the past, Bravely Default has you traverse the overworld on foot. Traveling from city to city, you’ll see enemies in the field you can approach for battle. Surprise them by pressing Y to hit them with your sword and gain the upper hand. Encounters like that will start your party with 1BP each and the ability to attack first.
If an enemy runs away from you before encountering it, it means your level surpasses theirs. This is a great way to tell if you need to move on to a stronger area to seek higher levels of EXP. The same remains true in the game’s many dungeons.
Treasure chests are scattered throughout the world and if one of you characters can sacrifice the passive ability slot, the Freelancer has an ability called “divining rod” that will show you how many chests remain in your current area. It is great for those who do not want to miss out on free stuff.
Jobs Jobs And More Jobs
Bravely Default II has a deep job system that you can sink endless hours into if you feel so inclined. It takes everything that makes a JRPG great and gives you the creative freedom to build a party however you want to. That can be overwhelming, especially at first, but this freedom is still really rare in most games.
The job system is the bulk of what sets this game apart, and I truly think they nailed it. You’ll be unlocking more jobs throughout the entire story as you complete boss battles. Each boss holds an Asterisk that both plays into the story and gives you the job that is attached to it. There are 24 jobs in total. Two are optional and one is only acquired after the games second ending.
Battling these Asterisk Holders is a great preview into what that job is capable of. It is good practice to see what you could do with that job, as well as plan around its weaknesses.
Since the job system carries so much weight in this game, there are many ways to level up your jobs. Each battle will yield JP as well as general EXP. You can use treats to lure certain monster families into consecutive battles which will sky rocket your JP gain. Combine that method with the Freelancer’s passive abilities “JP Up” and “JP Up and Up” and you’ll have JP flowing in.
Each job comes with both abilities that can be used in battle, and passive abilities. Those passive abilities can be equipped even without having their associated jobs equipped, so I had each character max out the Freelancer job to utilize its passives. There are plenty of other great combinations to encourage you to continuously level up jobs.
You can equip a main job and a sub job, but the main job will be the only one that gains JP. I usually made sure I had my sub jobs maxed out to help a bit in battle. Utilizing the game’s JP exploits made leveling up jobs so much easier so don’t get too overwhelmed with it.
This was probably my favorite thing about this game. It took me a while to settle on some combinations that I liked, especially since you keep unlocking jobs until the end of the game. Even when I did find character builds I enjoyed, I often explored other options anyways just so precious JP did not go to waste.
As a way to make things little easier on myself, I decided I wanted Gloria to be my main healer, Elvis my main caster, and Seth and Adelle were damage dealers. Each required their own passives to build their stats correctly and I really enjoyed figuring out what worked best for me.
The beauty of this game though is that you can do whatever you want. If for some reason you wanted all four characters to be White Mages, you could do that. Honestly, more than one White Mage came in handy on occasion but four might be overkill.
A Good But Not Great Story
Like the graphics, the story was a hit or miss for me. Generally I was interested enough to continue through it, but not impressed enough to remember it. JRPGs can do that sometimes but with games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, Bravely Default II can’t compete.
Not Much Character Development
It is not that the story was bad, just weak. There is not a whole lot of substance here or anything that makes you truly attach yourself to either of these characters. Apart from Gloria wanting to recover the stolen Crystals and restore her lost kingdom, the other characters are just along for the ride. There were a few memorable moments and good plot twists, but not a whole lot.
I definitely did not grow to love these characters like I did in other games, but that is not necessarily a bad thing either. There was enough here to make me push on and honestly the gameplay was good enough to make me want to play more anyway.
However, I was a bit disappointed by this. Even Octopath Traveler managed to make me care for it’s characters despite lacking a good overarching story the encompassed all of them as a whole. With Bravely Default II only featuring four playable characters, there could have been more done to make them more lovable.
Asterisk Holders For The Win
The boss battles are where the story shined for me. Learning about how these characters let the Asterisks alter their actions was intriguing. They each have differing personalities and accents (that I sometimes wished were just text) to separate them from each other. I ultimately ended up more interested in these villains than my main party at times.
This game did a great job at keeping me interested in hunting down these Asterisks, mostly due to the fact that you acquire their jobs after, but usually the holders were interesting too. All in all though, the story could use some improvement.
I really think they nailed this part of the game, even if it was at the expense of other aspects of the title. Battling is difficult which encourages level progression and finding good job combinations. You can change the difficulty too which is nice, but I kept mine at normal and it still offered a good amount of challenge.
The main selling point for this title is the job system though. There’s so much freedom with it that it is hard not to be intrigued by it. Try combinations, see what fits, and have fun with it.
Like other titles on the Switch, the graphics in Bravely Default II are just not what they could be. The art style and direction are commendable, but the execution is more on par with 3DS titles, not current gen consoles. I’m not sure if the hybrid aspect of the Switch gets in the way of some titles, but this game does look better handheld.
Performance wise I ran into a few lagging issues as well, but nothing that ruined my game or experience with it. Instead I just wondered why this game struggled to keep up at moments. If a battle has a lot going on, it’ll usually lag a bit or drop some FPS.
The music was beautiful but it did get in the way of some dialogue at times. On its own, it is a great soundtrack but I feel like it wasn’t balanced properly in the game. Even after adjusting it in the menu, I sometimes struggled with this.
I particularly enjoyed boss battle music as well as each character’s special attack music. Overworld and dungeon exploration also included great tracks. However the overworld track is the same throughout the game with slight variations depending on what area you are in. Overall it was a good soundtrack.
The story easily could use improvement but it is certainly not the worst story in video game history. I was interested enough to see it through the end, though there were times where gameplay was the only thing keeping me going. Regardless, I think this game did what it set out to do in making a creative and freedom-filled RPG adventure.
There’s much to do after Bravely Default II’s first ending and because of that I think it warrants a high replay score. After you do see the second and true ending, you’ll even be able to start a New Game Plus which can yield a few differing factors in the story as well. Although I’m not sure you’ll want to jump right into a New Game Plus, it is nice that it is an option.
Despite lacking in story elements and graphics, Bravely Default II still ends up being a JRPG worth your time. I think the job system is deep enough to keep anyone invested in this game, and its classic turn-based combat is certainly enticing as well. All in all, if you are interested in a JRPG with job freedom, this could be the game you are looking for.
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