‘Bravely Default II’ game review: a surprisingly innovative JRPG

  • Japanese role-playing games are known for sticking to the rules, but this changes things up
  • Despite its cutesy aesthetic, the Square Enix release is a shockingly dark tale
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The awesome foursome of (from left) Seth, Gloria, Elvis and Adelle team up to gather stolen elemental crystals. Photo: Nintendo

Innovation is hard to come by with Japanese role-playing games. It’s a genre that remains stubbornly fixed with its turn-based battles and class systems. Developers have tried to add action elements to gameplay or introduced new progression systems with mixed success.

So when a studio comes across a wrinkle that nudges the genre forward, it becomes a feature to celebrate. With the Bravely Default series, the innovation was so important that it’s in the title. The series came up with the Brave and Default systems, which is a gambit mechanic for turn-based combat.

Players can be “brave” and use up future actions to front-load an attack, or they can “default”, which allows them to defend and bank a turn for later.

The concept was a hit, and it did so well that Square Enix turned it into a series. Bravely Default II, helmed by Claytechworks, carries over the hallmark battle system but introduces a new cast and story. It mostly takes place on a continent with five kingdoms – Halcyonia, Savalon, Wiswald, Rimedhal and Holograd. A sixth kingdom called Musa was destroyed and its elemental crystals were stolen.

The story so far …

The campaign focuses on Musa’s Princess Gloria, who is trying to recover the lost treasures. She meets the male lead, whom you can name yourself, and two others: Adelle and Elvis. Together the foursome embark on an adventure to gather the Wind, Water, Earth and Fire Crystals, which are at the heart of internal conflicts inside several kingdoms.

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In traditional JRPG style, the squad travels to each kingdom and solves problems there while also uncovering the backstory behind each of the heroes.

Despite its cutesy character design and bright colours, Bravely Default II is a dark tale. You will come across piles of dead bodies, religious fanaticism and political murder. It’s a strange contrast for a game that looks like it stars living clay figurines.

Engrossing opportunities

Bravely Default II gives players who love to theorycraft plenty to work with. The game creates engrossing opportunities to create parties that synergise the different abilities, and you can test them out against rare bosses or tougher foes.

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With the characters being equal blank slates, it’s up to you to figure out the roles for each member of the party. With 20 jobs to choose from, there are plenty of combinations to experiment with and master. Bravely Default II will test players’ mastery and knowledge of these vocations because the final bosses are tough.

The only problem is that the game forces you to do a fair amount of grinding to reach these lofty goals.

Bravely Default II is a 60-plus-hour JRPG that requires more strategy than its peers and one that manages to keep players engaged with its darker story. It also shows that the genre still has ways to surprise you when it offers systems of effortless depth and appealing complexity.

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