I know a review of a demo is totally unconventional but this demo is also somewhat unconventional. Bravely Default is a new RPG developed by Square Enix and Silicon Studio, inspired strongly by the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series being developed for 3DS and just so happens a free demo was uploaded onto the Nintendo eShop, who am I to resist? Turns out I took on more than I bargained for.
So, as I said, Bravely Default is heavily influenced by games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest and instantly these influences become apparent. The narrative in the demo takes a Dragon Warrior-esque approach whilst the art style is ripped straight from Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light on the DS. It opens up with fairly colourful visuals and a stereotypical fantasy soundtrack, the king of this town asks you to help people out and gives you about 50 windows of text to read through as tutorial.
After a rather lengthy reading session I am ready to wander the town. Tutorials keep popping up during my play time, and as I dart in and out of conversation with the townsfolk I am asked to help out in ridding them of an intruder in their secret, treasure vault. Hurray I claimed as I ran to the place with all the gold, only to be slammed by a nearby snake/panther combo.
A little more prepared this time I set on out with a few new weapons and armour, battled my way to a decent level and attempted the cave. The combat system is entirely turn based, you select your attack from the menu and your character uses it. The attacks are queued up and launched from fastest character to slowest. It’s all very conventional until you figure out how the brave and default commands work. You see each of your characters gain 1 brave point (BP for short) each turn and use these BP to attack. The brave command lets you spend additional BP to perform an additional action in battle while the default command puts you on the defensive and gives your character an extra BP for skipping the turn. You seem to be able to save up to 3 BP giving you a maximum of 4 actions each turn but you can’t go underneath -1 BP unless you start using attacks that use additional points. If you have less than 0 BP at the start of your turn, that character cannot act and automatically passes, this leads for some far more strategic boss fights, especially when the bosses start braving and defaulting too.
The level up system however is ripped straight from Final Fantasy V. Each of your team can choose a job role, from Knight and Ninja to Black Mage and White Mage, you have probably seen all of these roles before. The only difference between Bravely Default’s job system and Final Fantasy V’s is that the Freelancer job is not able to take advantage of multiple job bonuses and is literally a class meant for the most banal of skills such as examine. One of my favourite parts of the job system the first time round is that you can instil job roles with support and job commands from other roles outside of the one currently equipped, this means you can have a White Mage with the Jump command or a Singer with Ninja skills, this returns and is just as fun today.
Outside of the combat and JRPG towns there’s more, the most interesting, exciting and also infuriating addition to the game. As it turns out there’s this town called Norende that was destroyed somehow and, similar to the fantastic Dark Cloud, you have to rebuild it. Where it differs from Dark Cloud though is that to rebuild the town you don’t have to trawl dungeons to find parts, you have to use street pass to gather more villagers to help rebuild. You start with one villager and the rest will appear to you via street pass as you pass people, who presumably, are also playing the game or have activated their street pass. While this is all very interesting, the biggest problem I found in the demo was that, the villagers build the town in real time while you play the game. As cool as that sounds, some things take around 10 hours to rebuild if you only have one villager and those of us not lucky enough to work in a game shop with a constant stream of 3DS players, will have a problem spending ten hours waiting for a shop to upgrade or a road to be built.
“Oh that’s no problem, it barely affects the game, right?”
No, in the demo there was only one town to explore and one shop in this town that sold only the basic weapons and armour. In order to defeat more powerful enemies in the game you would have to get hold of the best equipment and the only way to do that, is to rebuild all 3 equipment shops in your town and upgrade them to max level, of which it takes ten hours just to get from level 2 to level 3. I had 9 street pass hits and still had to put my 3DS down for an hour while I waited to rebuild the final shop. It’s a problem in the demo and could be even worse in the main game.
All in all Bravely Default is shaping up to be a very addictive, interesting hark back to olden RPGs. If you’ve been dying for a 3DS game you can play for hundreds of hours, there are plenty of games on the market and this may not be for you unless you live in a dense area of JRPG fans. If you have been looking for a Final Fantasy branded game that you can play for hundreds of hours, this is probably the closest you’re going to get.
Bravely Default is already out in Japan and is released on December 6th in Europe, America will have to wait until February 7th but I am cautiously on board for this interesting, if slightly flawed gem.