Ryan Smythe ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Square Enix has been desperate to make a game as good as Final Fantasy VII ever since Final Fantasy VIII, and all it took was seventeen years and a different name.
Bravely Default isn’t just one of the best JRPGs of all time, it’s one of the very best games ever released for a Nintendo system. Combining with some of the most visually stunning environments with a fantastic story that belongs in a big-budget movie, the game play should feel overshadowed. Yet the game play is not only a fantastic part of the game as a whole but the icing on the cake.
Turn-based combat is what Square Enix does best, and this game adds another title to the long list of games that knock it out of the park. Utilizing the Brave/Default system, where Brave allows for an extra attack at the cost of waiting an extra turn after attacking and Default puts the character into a defensive stance and stores up an extra attack for the future, the combat feels wonderful. Default gets capped at three additional moves, and a mistimed Brave means crippling injury or death. But time it right, and a flurry of Brave attacks rip apart even the sturdiest of foes.
Final Fantasy’s job system has been ported over, and executed better than in any game prior. Each new job is attained by defeating a specific boss using that job, and receiving a brand new toy to play with after a tough battle is one of the most rewarding things since evolving a Charmander all the way to a Charizard.
Each class has its own unique abilities, so leveling each up to find the best combination of powers will consume most of the playing time. This grinding has been an integral part of any JRPG, and may have been finally perfected. Battles can be sped up 4x, and a fantastic auto-battle option executes whatever commands input during the previous turn, even if that turn was in a different battle. This, plus the option to double the encounter rate makes grinding absolutely fly by and almost, ALMOST become enjoyable. And that’s more than any other JRPG can claim.
Art style has always been something Square Enix excels at. Even Final Fantasy XIII, with all of its faults, was a visual masterpiece. But Bravely Default…just, wow. No game comes close to utilizing the 3D capabilities of the 3DS better. The depth it appears to have makes playing the game feel more like looking through a window into a gorgeous world than an intricate system of lit up pixels.
By making it so that the camera pulls back and shows the entire landscape when no button has been pressed for a few seconds, the visuals become awe-inspiring. For quite possibly the first time, a handheld system’s visuals simply cannot be matched by a console. Once televisions begin to reliably include 3D options, that may change, but for right now the 3DS has yanked the crown away from all other contenders.
Now the music, while great, is overshadowed by everything else. In an average game it might be the highlight, but with no mind-blowing tracks it has little to compete with. That being said, the battle theme adds to the intensity of a battle, and the shattering sound effect before a boss battle makes it very clear that something special is coming. The open-world theme is just begging to be played on a long car ride, and each city’s music adds to the feel the developers are striving for. It’s not so much the weakest part of the game as much as it’s the least jaw-dropping aspect.
These characters are special. Whether it is the amnesiac philanderer Ringabel, the idealistic Edea Lee, the unwaveringly brave Tiz Arrior, or the honor-bound Agnés Oblige, each character has a rich backstory that makes every twist and turn that much more important.
The game opens with the catastrophic destruction of Tiz’s village, and refuses to let up from there until the very end. Edea’s tale of rebellion against her former allies and family is probably the best of the four stories, but the other three support her with character development of the highest caliber. 30 hours into the game, none of the cast is even remotely like they were at the beginning. As underwhelming as some of their most recent games may have been, Square Enix knows how to deliver a top-notch tale.
Final Verdict: A+
When the weakest link is great (but not awe-inspiring) music, it’s impossible to fault this game. Square Enix, take a break from Final Fantasy and make more of this series. Please.