Sixty hours later I still love watching these numbers go up.
Like many other JRPGs, Bravely Default II is extremely long and extremely grindy, but the game is also full of small touches that occasionally punctuate the tedium with joy. One of those is the level up screen. After killing a mob of enemies you get to see the numerical bounties they left behind soaked up by your party, making them stronger and unlocking new abilities. The game illustrates this with XP and JP meters that fill up, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, depending on the haul. It’s good. I’m hooked on it. I couldn’t care less about my characters’ eventual cliched fates but I do care deeply about seeing them max out all their meters at this point.
In a lot of the old Final Fantasy games that inspired the Bravely Default series, progress can be slow and granular, but Bravely Default II has a number of tricks for “juicing” the level up screen. First of all you can equip passive abilities that boost the amount of JP (job points for leveling up classes) earned from fights. Then, similar to Bravely Second, you can stack enemy encounters by using bait. Beat several waves of enemies in a row and a multiplier will double your JP haul even further. Before you know it, you’re learning new abilities and mastering new jobs in no time at all, an accomplishment that feels even better when the results are elegantly visualized.
There’s a long history of JRPGs doing this, but some definitely commit to it more than others. XP screens were common in older Final Fantasy games, back when encounters were still random and turn-based. Final Fantasy VII’s was always a favorite of mine:
Unfortunately they scrapped it in the Remake, where instead the amount of experience, gil, and abilities points you earn in each fight just briefly flash on screen for a moment. Dragon Quest XI, in many ways the gold-standard for resurrecting the old turn-based JRPG formula, got a lot of things right, but a kick-ass level up screen was not one of them. It too just delivered the news via text with all the pomp and circumstance of an internal newsletter.
The Pokémon series has also used bars to measure XP after battles, beginning with a small pixelated bar in the Gold and Silver games:
By the most recent releases of Sword and Shield, you get to watch it happen after each fight for each Pokémon in your party. Now that’s progress:
Are these sorts of glorified results pages a cheap trick aimed at exploiting the more ancient parts of my lizard brian? Probably, but when you sign up to level up hundreds of times across dozens of hours this stuff becomes important, and Bravely Default II elevates them beyond a table-stakes formality. They way the camera pans, the way my Warriors of Light twirl and dance while patting themselves on the back, it all goes a long way toward giving me what I want from an otherwise sometimes archaic and overly familiar sort of old-school JRPG. Maybe that’s part of why a month later I’m still grinding out all of Bravely Default II’s end game.