Bravely Default is traditional JRPG with innovative combat system and engaging story.
Recommendation SCORE - 7.5 / 10
Things done right
Brave on combat system
This is the biggest thing about this game, basically you can borrow moves from future turns, and make several moves in one turn and do nothing in the next following turns. It builds a risk-reward model into the traditional turn based RPG battle. Now players need to think about a few turns ahead instead of focusing current situation. Also it creates a lot of opportunities to do burst damage while enemies show their cracks; or save your team from the edge by casting multiple healing spells in one turn. It brings more depth into the tactic of JRPG combat.
This innovation also gives designers more freedom to design interesting boss fight like boss will only show his weakness for certain turns or boss will hold until he sees fit to strike, too. Well it is also a double sided sword, it does require designers to think more since boss can also be Brave to make a few moves in one turn and creates some hard situations for players.
Narrative is cliche but super engaging
It is not a sandbox game, traditional JRPG is never meant to be sandbox game, which to many players is a point-deducting thing. However, the elegance about non-sandbox is game that you simply follow the line and you will have the designer’s well crafted game experience, which may doesn’t give you freedom to explore, but it guarantees the high quality story experience. That's how Bravely Default works.
The story starts with several intriguing questions and conflicts, like what happened on Tiz’s village with that big chasm; what’s the unspeakable conspiracy behind Crystals Orthodoxy and Agnes; what’s the past of mysterious Ringabel and why he has a strange book that can predict future; as the Eternian’s high commander’s daughter, what’s the fate waiting for Edea’s betrayal. The narrative starts with a fantasy world setting and implants full anticipation into players’ head. Besides, its characters own very clear and different personalities, and the narrative doesn’t feel shy to show the chemistry and conflicts between heroes.
As the story goes, it also gives a few big twists in the game. It doesn’t try to catch players off guard, it hinted several times in the early narrative. When the twists revealed, all the hints given before complete the story and everything makes much sense. It is a very modern and hard technique to master, but Bravely Default successfully nails it.
Job system broadens the ways of combat
If the Brave system gives the game tactic depth, the job system introduces broadness for combat. One of the drivers that keeps me playing is to see what skills I will get by leveling up different job levels, it feels great whenever you learn a new skill for your job. It is like you reshuffle all the cards and now you rethink about your hand cards. For those who enjoy turn based combat, it is an awesome exercise for your brain.
Gorgeous stylish art
When it comes to RPG games, the appearance is a very compelling reason for players to play. Ultimately, RPG games try to create a world and build connections between the heroes and players, the liking of the art much smoother the process. I personally like the illustration art style for different environment. Its heavy black stroke gives very cool cartoonish feeling, and it fits the 3D models very well. It feels a little bit oriental, which surprisingly fits the fantasy world.
Things could have done better
Force players to repeat the same boss fight over and over
The title is pretty self-explanatory. In the late game, although the story manages to explain the reasons why players need to repeatedly fight the same boss, I still think this is a cheap trick to extend the hours of play. Even if the story dictates so, designers can be smarter to avoid such boredom. For example, players don’t need to play 4 times to realize the trap, it can happen during the second time of repeating. Given that I don’t see effort to relieve player’s burden on wasting time traveling around the game world and kill the same bosses for 4 times, i consider this as a cheap way to give players more grinding time to level up their characters. It mars the engagement of the story, and it almost lost me while grinding for the third time.
Random party chat is good, but it breaks immersion
Other than its engaging story, it introduces party chat. It is not part of the main plot, but it helps establish personalities of the four main characters, like Tiz rarely speaks and is always serious, while Ringabel flirts with girls especially Edea all the time. It strengthens the bond between players and characters, make player feel that all the heroes are real and they live as how players live, it creates resonance in player’s heart.
However, the downside of party chat is that it breaks the immersion by talking about something totally random at inappropriate timing, like right after Edea discovers that her mom will die if she frees the crystal, and then party chat kicks in, Edea starts talk about all kinds of sweets in her hometown with joyful face. It brutally breaks the immersion created by all the previous dialogues and soundtrack, makes players realize that it is just a game, with flaws. It can definitely do better with more checks on timing for party chat.
Some jobs are introduced too late and require too much grinding
For every job, you have to start from level 1, which means in the late game with your level 1 newly gained job, you have to grind tons of exp before advancing the main plot. It also gives a very cheap feeling about how badly the game wants to extend your hours of play. I think designers can argue that they want to make sure you will not be overwhelmed by the sheer number of jobs, however, this could have been done like players can transfer their job levels between different jobs with certain cost. My design philosophy is that every minute players spend on the game should be meaningful, quality is better than quantity.
Bravely Default does almost all the crucial elements for JRPG right. Excellent story, innovative and interesting job & combat system, and appealing art style all make the game one of the highest quality JRPG games in the past decade. It has some small flaws(although i think the repeated boss fighting is a big design flaw, it may suit some people who like grinding to achieve all the max levels for all jobs), but in general, it serves as a textbook teaching how and why JRPG succeeds in the video game industry.