Platform: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Old-School JRPG with New School Graphics & Updates(?)
Technically the third game in the Bravely Default series (remember Bravely Second for the 3DS?), Bravely Default 2 fills in the niche of turn-based JRPGing most old-school gamers crave. Four heroes with distinct personalities working together towards a common goal of saving the world (usually involving crystals & its powers), fights against boss figures who hold “asterisks” that grant the party new powers, and old-school challenges. Oh, and a nifty Revo-composed soundtrack to mix the old and new-school music tropes associated with JRPGs.
The big question is whether that well has run its course, or if there’s any room to innovate from there to make the series not be a regurgitation of old tropes? Bravely Default 2’s answer is “not really”, but it keeps true to the spirit of 90s JRPGs, for good and ill.
Battling By Default
If you have too much free time in your life, Bravely Default 2 will straight up obliterate it like a well-timed Ultima spell. Everything from movement to turn-based combat initiating is purposely made methodical and slow. The turn-storing and multiple action sequence-enabling Brave and Default system let you plan ahead to conquer most fights. Defend to save up Brave Points (BP), then spend them in one shot to gain up to three maximum actions. You can also spend BP if you don’t have any store, but you’ll have to be inactive for a set amount of turns.
It’s a nice risk-reward system that pays off if you use it well, and can screw you over if you exert it at the wrong time. Do you use your BP to spend your attacks at the risk of not doing anything for the subsequent turns? Or do you keep defending and then unleashing hell at one go after enduring an enemy’s tireless assault? Figuring out how to turn this to your advantage while being offered a plethora of skills equals a lot of experimentation. There will be many battles where it’s all or nothing, or where patience in defending and enduring will leave a boss inactive and vulnerable.
While we’re on skills, your ragtag bunch of characters can switch between Jobs they acquire through magic artifacts called Asterisks. You get new ones by defeating the boss holding a specific Asterisks. Bravely Default 2’s refined Job system also lets you have a main and sub Job; basically you can equip two Jobs with all the perks. The caveat is that you cannot level up your sub Job with Job Points (which you need to farm to get new abilities) while you’re out adventuring; only your main job gets levelled up.
The range of Jobs you can acquire is vast and awesome; you’ll get 24 of them in the entire game, with two extra ones if you know where to look and one bonus one post-game. There’s a good amount of variety and playstyles among them, and most of them have a skill or two that you can mix and match. Want power attacks and defense? Go for the Swordmaster, Vanguard, and Dragoon alongside their respective support skills. Need defense? Just grind your Shieldmaster until he/she gets the skills you need to absorb damage & protect your party.
An ideal tactic is to take two Jobs, level one up to a substantial amount and value (ie: get the good skills), then switch it to a sub Job so that you can buff up the alternate Job while also not being defenceless with an under-leveled Job. You still need to do some fiddling around in the menu screen for this, but at least you can still hold two Jobs simultaneously with the perks and skills that can complement each other. Also, the game’s new weight system makes sure that only heavy Jobs like Vanguards and Shieldmasters benefit from heavier weapons, whereas Thieves will be encumbered by just wielding one heavy spear or sword alone. These kinds of limitations help create Job setups and choices so that you can make the most out of what you should buy from each town, instead of just mass-buying equipment and calling it a day.
Whether you want to master both Black and White magic to create a versatile spellcaster, or make a Shieldmaster/Bastion combo to be the ultimate one-person tank, Bravely Default 2 lets you customize and mix-match to your whim. Feel the need for speed? The Thief/Ranger combo is guaranteed to deal massive damage with their combination of skills. Want to have all the elements at your character’s fingertips? Then combine the Black Mage and Red Mage to cast hard-hitting spells from fire to earth, with a dash of healing and status effect-inducing perks.
Don’t worry about the main characters having different stats from one another; they’re all the same so you can mix and match Jobs instead of worrying about which of them is right for the role.
And you will need to figure out which Job to beef up first and also sort out the best combination for the situation, because the game will throw a lot of curveballs at you. The kind that curb-stomps you repeatedly unless you play by its rules, or if you think hard enough to get through certain battle-savvy conundrums.
Rinse & Repeat
Bravely Default 2 comes with the baggage of old-school JRPGs; the bad kind that’s purposely shoved in this game to give newbies a hard time. Every single boss in the game requires a set method of defeating them, and comes with their own tricks. From high hitpoints to absurd damage-dealing moves that target your entire party, to even those who pull off counters if you so much as use White Magic, Bravely Default 2 is unforgiving; the kind where your 80% success rate skill will miss while your opponent’s attacks seem to land at a suspiciously-high rate.
It’s very brutal with both its regular mobs, its insistence on you not saving unless you’re at its red-circle checkpoints, to the trial-and-error method of figuring out said bosses, that you are tempted to just play it on Casual mode. Sure, you will do a disservice to your gamer cred, but in this day and age where you want to spend your time wisely, Bravely Default 2 respects yours as much as a Soulsborne game. It demands all of it, your attention included.
Bravely Default 2 requires you to do the JRPG experience grind where the plot is short and the simple journey from point A to B is longer than it should be due to matching your levels with the seemingly-overpowered-on-purpose mobs.
And if you didn’t bother to stock up, well, the backtracking to get the stuff you need will take a lot more minutes than it should. There is no way in hell you will get through a long-as-hell dungeon with tough mobs, and its boss, without a few deaths & bouts of frustration, unless you have an FAQ done up by some JRPG sadist next to you. If you end up dialling the difficulty down to Casual just so your enemies have slightly less HP, Bravely Default 2 has beaten you.
And honestly, I don’t blame you for this purposefully-made design. In this regard, this kills the pacing of moving the game’s story forward, or even progressing because of these difficult high-level metaphorical brick walls.
Speaking of plot, is Bravely Default 2’s story worth all that aggravation and tireless buffing? Well, it has a charming cast, but you can see the resolution of its plot coming a mile away, albeit with a few twists and turns. It sure as hell isn’t worth 60 hours.
Unless you’re here for that particular niche experience where your turn-based combat gaming, it’s tough to recommend because games like Yakuza: Like A Dragon and Persona 5 Royal exists. They nail that fine line between difficulty and accessibility, not to mention better stories that are worth the hassle.
No School Like…
Bravely Default 2 is clearly for its old-school audience despite the cutesy art style, though it’s not without some addition that improves the quality of life bits. There are macro options to repeat commands when you’re in said grind. You can see enemies on the map and you can choose to avoid them (at your own underleveled peril). There are carriages that can ferry you from town to town. Every time you enter a section of a dungeon or new area, the game autosaves your progress, so even if your party gets wiped (which often happens), you can resume a few minutes of loss progress. And there’s an online-only quest where you sail a ship and get rewards if you leave your system in Sleep mode. Max those idle hours out, and you’ll get some items that will permanently boost your stats and give you free Job Points.
There’s even an excellent card minigame called B ‘n’ D that you can play and master if you want to take a break from the main story and its grinding. This diversion could be the Triple Triad of 2021; you’ve heard it here first!
If you put the time and effort into it, you may even break the game with an uber party; that’s a reward in itself. If you are one of those RPG enthusiasts who want another improved version of Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy Tactics’ Job system to mess around with in 2021, right down to its archaic trappings, Bravely Default 2’s got you sorted.
As far as Switch exclusives go, you’ll be having a blast with this love letter to the genre. Just remember that you’re entering a revved-up 90s JRPG that isn’t going to let up on its ever-insurmountable challenge. If this isn’t your thing, take out 10 points from the bottom score and try out the demos before deciding on another friendlier JRPG.
- Flexible and fun Job system & battle system.
- Brave and Default turn-eating/delaying mechanics are still a blast to use.
- Charming aesthetics.
- Fun card minigame to chill out with.
- Challenging boss fights…
- …that unfortunately requires trial and error to figure out.
- A few interface quirks.
- Long in the tooth, even for JRPG standards.
Final Score: 80/100