Bravely Default II's Developers Don't Want It To Be Just Another RPG About Making The Numbers Go Up

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Screenshot: Nintendo

Final Fantasy I is a game about about four warriors of light collecting ancient and powerful crystals to restore peace and balance to the world. Over three decades later, Square Enix is still telling that story same story, and this time it’s Bravely Default II’s turn, an old-school-feeling JRPG tasked with walking the tightrope between player-nostalgia and fresh twists on pillars of the genre.

A good example of that is the Red Mage. Bravely Default II, like the games that inspired it, revolves around a class system where players train up their characters as fighters, healers, and other supporting roles, through a combination of overlapping abilities and trade-offs. As one of those classes, the Red Mage’s popularity comes from the fact that it can wield both a sword and magic, deploying attacking spells as well as ones that heal. It’s been around since the original Final Fantasy, and so Bravely Default II’s job is to both bring back a fan favorite while also making it feel new.

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“I really like the design of the Red Mage job this time around,” the game’s producer, Masashi Takahashi, told me through a translator in a recent interview. “It has this kind of really modern look to the clothing and the design. And I was really happy when our art director for the game, Mr. Ikushima, came up with that design. I thought it fit well with Red.” In addition to the sleek new robes, which feel more Matrix than medieval fantasy, this time the Red Mage’s spells are also unique. It has earth and wind-based attacks, as well as new healing spells, rather than simply mimicking the weaker versions of a Black or White Mage’s traditional arsenal.

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Screenshot: Nintendo

These are the types of granular differences that many people might roll their eyes at, or miss entirely. But for the JRPG fans who keep coming back to the Final Fantasy crystal well year after year, thirsty for more, these are the sorts of refinements that will convince them to invest dozens more hours into a new permutation of the same old adventure.

Others include a new weight system that places restrictions on how much heavy armor certain classes can equip. “[We] wanted players to need to think about what equipment they gave to a particular job,” said Shota Fukebaru, director of the studio developing Bravely Default II, Claytechworks. “So if you take a job like the White Mage and you know, they’re not as geared toward, you know, heavy combat and wearing heavy armor, so they have a lower threshold for the weight of equipment that they can carry and that players would need to think about that a little bit more.” You can still equip any class with any item you want, but if they go over their weight limit, their other stats will receive massive penalty.

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The standard turn system in battle is also gone. Rather than having the player choose all of their actions and than watch enemies respond, turn priority is now scattered across both sides, based on things like speed as well as an array of buffs and debuffs. It can make it hard to know exactly who will act next in a tough fight. Will you have a chance to heal a character before the enemy attacks again, or will your party be wiped out if you don’t protect them now? Complicating things is the series’ titular brave and default mechanics, which allow both players and enemies to take turns in advance, leading to massive swings in damage and hit points very quickly.

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Screenshot: Nintendo
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At first Bravely Default II had a normal turn list, alerting players to what was coming down the road, but Claytechworks ultimately decided to get rid of it. “[It] became clear to us that this would be something you would have to kind of be thinking ahead in and really making sort of complicated guesswork if you had this order of actions display in the game,” Takahashi said. “That would make things more complicated than we than we wanted them to be so we ended up removing that prior to releasing the first demo for the game.”

This is one of the changes the team made against many players’ wishes. “We were kind of expecting to hear that opinion from people that they would want this order of actions element to be in in the game,” Takahashi said. “We didn’t know how much feedback we would receive about it. We ended up receiving quite a bit, you know, and ended up deciding not to include it based on the reasons I mentioned.”

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One thing the team did decide to change based on player feedback to an early demo was battle difficulty. Having played through the first couple chapters of the finished game, however, I can tell you the boss fights remain brutal. So I had to ask, what gives?

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One takeaway we really had from [Bravely Second] that we wanted to make sure we brought into Bravely Default II was getting people to really engage with the brave and default commands as well as the job system and what equipment you bring into the boss battles, making the boss battles fights that you really kind of need to slow down and use every tool at your disposal,” Takahashi said. We...wanted to make sure the boss fights didn’t become similar to the regular battles, something that you could breeze through or get by without using those those things that I mentioned.”

I can confirm that on multiple occasions I’ve had to reduce the battle speed back down to one or two in order to carefully plot out my war of attrition in each boss battle. Part of that challenge is baked into how the class system has been tuned this time around. Many cater to a system of weapon and elemental weaknesses, as well as attacks that lower enemy speed and attack stats, making fights feel more like orchestrating a low-key MMO raid than the traditional attack, attack, heal cadence of many other turn-based JRPGs. This is part of making Bravely Default II different from, in Takahashi’s words, “the type of RPG where it’s clear that you need to just make the numbers go up when it comes to your characters,” and during my time with the game it’s one of the things that has made it stand out to me as more than just another reboot of the classic Final Fantasy formula.

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Screenshot: Nintendo

Here are a few other things I gleaned from my interview:

  • Bravely Default II is not really an environmental manifesto, despite being about a world thrown into climactic chaos by the mishandling of magic crystals. “I am happy if people make those connections or make a connection between what may be happening in the game or happening in the real world,” said Takahashi.” It’s not necessarily that when creating the story for games like Bravely Default to that we are that we are thinking that deeply about making that connection ourselves.”
  • Bravely Default II is the first game in the series on Switch. The improved graphical power has led to much more detail in the class outfits characters wear, but otherwise it’s still designed with same handheld portability in mind. “I really enjoy playing games in my bed before going to sleep and something I do with my Switch,” said Takahashi. “I think that’s probably true for a lot of people, but that’s a time and place that I really enjoy getting getting gaming time in, especially on RPGs.”
  • Final Fantasy VI’s sketch-artist Realm makes a special guest appearance, in spirit at least. “I think my favorite job this time around is the Pictomancer and if I were to say why it’s that I’m a fan of Final Fantasy VI,” said Fukebaru. “And so I wanted to give that job an opportunity to be recreated and bring the default mechanic to it and so I hope that some players around my age will maybe recognize that as a bit of a nod to Final Fantasy VI.”
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Bravely Default II comes out next week on February 25.

Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com

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DISCUSSION

To be honest, things like the weight system drive me crazy in games like this. “You can equip anything you want, but if you go outside the prescribed limits for the class, you’ll be massively penalized without a proportional benefit.”

Just limit what the classes can equip instead of trying to pretend to a customizability that doesn’t really exist. Freedom to choose between a horrible choice and a good choice isn't really freedom.