Bravely Default II

Bravely Default II Hands-On Preview – A Smart But Safe Beginning

Bravely Default II is an enigma. For one, it’s the third game in the Bravely Default series. It is named this way because the developers felt that 2016’s Bravely Second didn’t live up to fan expectation. In reality, Bravely Second was created with half the budget in half the amount of time, so Bravely Default II looks to right the wrongs of the past. I’ve spent a good chunk of time with the game thus far. While I think I’m enjoying it, I am still a bit up in the air as to whether it’s a full blown sequel or just a smart but safe iteration on the games that came before it.

Everything you remember from Bravely Default (and even Octopath Traveler) is here. The titular Brave and Default commands are what sets the game apart. Choosing to “Brave” in each battle allows you to stack up to four commands to take in turn. The catch? Using Brave is like borrowing time. You must pay it back instantly. If you Brave four times in one turn, you won’t be able to act with that character until four turns have passed. Default is the “safer” option, allowing your character to defend while accumulating Brave Points that enable you to to Brave without penalty. It sounds confusing, but it’s a perfect yet straightforward risk-reward system that honestly hasn’t aged a bit since the original game debuted back in 2014.

If you’re still lost on how Brave and Default works in battle, I highly recommend giving the demo a shot – you can queue it up here.

But enough about the past – just what’s new in Bravely Default II? It’s hard to say. I’m a keen proponent of the mantra that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But I’m also always eager to be surprised by a game and its mechanics. Bravely Default II, at this early stage of the game, hasn’t surprised me so much. It feels just like the first two games, but with a new coat of paint.

When the demo for the game first releases ten months ago, fans were understandably upset. Strange button configurations, pacing issues, and a general lack of understanding of what made the original two games great all kept Bravely Default II from exceeding expectations. The game just wasn’t that fun to play. Thankfully, most of those concerns are addressed in Bravely Default II. It only has a flow to it that makes battles enjoyable, and even though there were times where I’d have to grind, it was never actually a grind.

There’s so much I could talk about with Bravely Default II, but I’ll save that for a full review. For now, there’s one aspect that sticks out best about the game. Boss battles are a notable spike in difficulty, but they also test your mettle remarkably well. You can go at them like regular battles, but it’s clear they’re designed with the Job system in mind. You’ll rarely “wing” one of the boss battles in Bravely Default II. Instead, you’ll have to work out the right combination of Jobs to assign to your party to come out victorious. I’ve enjoyed working those out as the story progresses.

But I have a few concerns about Bravely Default II that could be addressed by the time the credits roll. For one, I feel like the dungeons are very much the same kind of affair with hardly anything to them. Too often, I’ve found myself in one, and it’s merely a maze of corridors with a switch or two. There’s not too much to them, and it all feels rather simplistic.

Perhaps more controversially, I think the art direction is bound to divide the fanbase. I like the more simplistic look the characters have – they look like modernised versions of the characters from the first three Final Fantasy games. On the other hand, during some of the game’s cinematics, any characters not actively speaking have a bit of a dead soulless look to them. Overall, I’m not too fussed, I like it, but I can see it rubbing people the wrong way.

On the plus side, taking a little bit of inspiration from both Octopath Traveler and the other Bravely Default games, the towns, and cities you’ll visit are absolutely gorgeous. Sporting a beautiful hand-painted style, the backdrops in Bravely Default II are nothing short of breathtaking. Seeing your character run around the sprawling locations and seeing the camera rotate around them gives the game a bit of a pop-up book vibe, better building the game’s sense of fantasy and wonder. I can’t wait to see what other ones I’ll be able to explore as I continue my journey.

All in all, Bravely Default II has set the scene for a fun little journey. Many RPGs have grinding, but Bravely Default II finds a way to embrace it and make it a little less tedious for those looking for more from their party. I have some concerns – namely that the dungeon design at the moment is pretty basic and the art direction is a bit flat – but I’m excited to see where the story takes me.