I vividly remember watching the Nintendo press conference right before the Tokyo Game Show in 2011 where they announced Bravely Default: Flying Fairy. I remember because I could not stop laughing for a good ten minutes after I saw the nonsensical title pop across my screen. I dismissed the game based on its name alone and categorized it in my own mind as nothing but a derivative, throw-away Square Enix RPG. That was foolish of me because over the course of my time with Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, I have come to see it is not only the latest of Square Enix's insanely named titles but also the spiritual successor to the Final Fantasy games of the 16 and 32-bit eras.
Much of BD:FF is comprised of gameplay and features from the classic Final Fantasy games. The battle system is your standard turn-based battle system where you choose your party's attacks before each turn and then the order which they—and the enemies—go is based on their individual speed ratings.
To level up, the game uses a job system much like in Final Fantasies III and V. All the classic jobs are available as well as a few you might not have seen before.
The visual style of the characters is a throwback as well. The entire cast of the game is rendered in a "super deformed" or "chibi" art style resembling the character style of the 16-bit era—though now made with polygons instead of sprites.
The characters for BD:FF have all been designed by Akihiko Yoshida, character designer for Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light.
The character models manage to capture his designs perfectly; but even these characters, while great looking, don't hold a candle to the painted watercolor backgrounds of the game.
The backgrounds in the game are beautiful, whether they be dungeons, towns, or castles. Moreover, the 3D effects do a great job of making you feel as if you are moving through a watercolor painting. It's the art as much as the story that keeps you wanting to progress through the game.
While BD:FF is indeed a call back, it is not a retro-designed game. There are many little features that really add to the game. The first, and most obvious of these, is the voice acting. Main story conversations are always voiced and the Japanese voice actors really carry the story. If you're one of those people who wants to dive into the world in more detail, BD:FF also comes with Tales-series optional four-box conversations interspersed between the main events.
The game also dabbles in augmented reality to fairly good effect—especially in the games opening sequence where you get a "help me Obi-Wan Kenobi" speech from one of the game's protagonists before your own room is torn apart by dimensional magics trying to get her back.
The best little additions, though, are in the gameplay. I've already detailed the "brave" and "default" system—which basically allows you to save turns for later use—but perhaps the best thing in the game is being able to fast forward (at double normal speed) during battles. This feature was desperately needed, because in BD:FF…
While the "brave" system does add complexity and additional strategy to battles, it also has the side effect of making every boss battle painfully long—something even the fast forward button can't completely eliminate. This is because most boss battles revolve around you "defaulting" (read: blocking) until you have three turns saved up and then blitzing your opponent (or healing your party) with four turns in one. You then repeat this ad infinitum until the boss is dead.
Normal random encounters often face the opposite problem. You enter battle, everyone "braves" three times and you blitz the unfortunate bastard before he even knows what's going on. The majority of these fights take less than thirty seconds and only a few rare times did this strategy fail to work for me in random battles.
The double-edged sword of being a spiritual successor is that while everything can feel nostalgic and familiar, everything can also feel cliché and unoriginal. This includes the plot and setting. The world could be from any old-school Final Fantasy, with its castles, airships, and magic. The plot of the game even follows four characters striving to protect the four magical crystals that are each tied to one of the four elements—earth, fire, wind, and water—of the world.
For those longing for the "good old days" of JRPGs, Bravely Default: Flying Fairy is no doubt the game you've been waiting for. It brings back the old-school feel of the classic Final Fantasy games while still updating the formula with things like voice acting and a fast forward button. However, those not interested in a nostalgic trip into gaming history may end up finding Bravely Default: Flying Fairy to be nothing but yet another, run-of-the-mill, turn-based JRPG.
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy was released for the Nintendo 3DS on October 11, 2012, in Japan. There is currently no word on an international release.