Over 10 Hours With Bravely Default II

Illustration for article titled Over 10 Hours With Bravely Default II
Screenshot: Nintendo /Square Enix / Kotaku

Bravely Default II offers a return to a simpler time where heroes lined up on one side of the screen, fought monsters on the other side of the screen, and then rinsed and repeated until peace and tranquility were brought back to the land. I’ve spent over 10 hours with it, and while what I’ve played so far hasn’t surprised me nearly as much as I’d hoped, it’s also shown Bravely Default II for Switch to be yet another satisfying and bespoke take on the classic JRPG.

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It’s like a big heaping bowl of mac and cheese: a familiar yet delicious stack of carbs slathered in fatty and salty goodness where every bite tastes just like the one before it and yet you can’t stop eating until it’s gone. It’s comfort food, and like the best comfort food, it’s about giving you exactly what you already know you want: inspired by a time in your life when you felt safe, content and satisfied, at least for the length of a quick meal, or in this case, a grindy dungeon full of turn-based battles.

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Screenshot: Nintendo /Square Enix / Kotaku

I’ve played a bunch of Bravely Default II in the past week and I’ll be playing a bunch more for our review when the game comes out later this month. In the meantime here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • Bravely Default II is a lot like Bravely Second which was a lot like Bravely Default I which was a lot like The 4 Heroes Of Light which was a lot like Final Fantasy III. You visit towns; these towns have problems; you try to fix the problems by fighting battles, and inevitably end up leveling up, learning new abilities, and earning better gear in the process.
  • The game’s story and world are new and completely separate from the first two games. It’s a clean and refreshing break with the past.
  • Like its predecessors, the game revolves around a job system (classes) to augment your party’s fighting capabilities. Classic jobs like the DPS-heavy black mage and healer white mage return, but there are also new ones. Vanguards are like knights, but prefer axes to swords and come with a slew of abilities to debuff and aggro enemies.
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Screenshot: Nintendo /Square Enix / Kotaku
  • In general, I’ve found Bravely Default II’s make up of jobs and abilities to work even better at making use of its unique brave and default system. This system lets you bank turns to be used down the road, or take out a loan to take a bunch of turns early. Sometimes this is just about maximizing your balance of attacking and healing, but in the game’s tougher fights I’ve had to mastermind a spreadsheet of defense buffs, attack debuffs and status ailments to survive and outlast my opponents in drawn out wars of attrition.
  • Bravely Default II is the first game in the series on Switch, and not surprisingly the best looking and sounding one by far. While the 3DS allowed past games to make interesting use of stereoscopic 3D backgrounds, Bravely Default II makes up for that with sprawling dungeons and city designs. I’ve gone to desert temples, bandit hideouts, mineshafts, magic academies, and yes, even the dreaded JRPG sewer level, but each felt like a delightful new twist on some classic locale rather than simply another tedious homage.
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Screenshot: Nintendo /Square Enix / Kotaku
  • Random encounters are gone! You can now see the enemies out in the field before they attack. You can also strike them with your sword, or try to attack them from behind, in order to enter battles with the first chance to strike.
  • The first town I visited had a shipping company that let me send out a crew to hunt for treasure while my game was in rest mode. I’m not sure if it will get more in depth later on, but for now it’s been a nice treat coming back each day to see a new bundle of items waiting to get added to my inventory.
  • One thing I’m not digging are some of the new character designs. Bravely Default has always been cartoonish, but Bravely Default II occasionally mixes a chibi look with faces that look like they were pulled from a boardwalk caricature artist. Sometimes it fits the game’s whimsical sensibilities. Sometimes it verges on body horror.
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Screenshot: Nintendo /Square Enix / Kotaku
  • A lot of conversations among members of your party are relegated to side moments. You can choose to take part in by pressing the start button when a prompt pops up. I’ve rarely encountered anything interesting in them, which is fine since they aren’t mandatory. I’m mostly here for the combat and setting, not inane JRPG chitchat. So it’s a relief that dialogue which might otherwise drone on in cutscenes has been relegated to an optional side-menu. (I think the banter in the first game was better).
  • Bravely Default II is hard. This came up in the game’s most first demo as well, which developer Claytechworks took feedback from to help tune the finished game. I’m enjoying the challenge though. While I’ve had no trouble grinding through ordinary enemy mobs, boss fights have been kicking the shit out of me, and it makes all of that job training and mixing-and-matching of gear and abilities feel worthwhile.
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I’m excited to keep playing more, but the big test with any gargantuan JRPG is how well it maintains its momentum, and how it balances the late game. It needs to not be a cake walk for people adequately trained up, but not a death march either. To varying extents, the first two games both suffered from these issues, which turned fun and quixotic adventures into monotonous work. We’ll see if Bravely Default II can escape a similar fate.

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Correction - 1:57 p.m. ET, 2/10/21: a previous version of this article mixed up Bravely Default II’s first and second demos.

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

DISCUSSION

lufia2goat
Lufia 2 = GOAT

Moving beyond random battles is always a good move for a JRPG. I remember Chrono Trigger going with the “nearing the enemies on the screen initiates combat” model and finding it so much better than the SNES Final Fantasy games’ seemingly endless random battles. It creates a better and less frustrating flow to the game, allows you to avoid accidently grinding for levels if you’re unsure where to go and keep wandering around trying to find the next waypoint and generally encourages exploration, and adds an extra element to gameplay by giving the option to maneuver around the enemy encounter triggers. Even Dragon Quest, the most traditional of traditional JRPG franchise, moved to the “monsters on the screen” model with DQ11.