Bravely Default II
Developer: Square Enix
Genre(s): Action, Adventure, RPG
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: 12+
Release Date: 26.02.21
A code was provided for review purposes
Heart and soul
Square Enix are the best at what they do, aren’t they? Mastering a genre and providing hit after hit takes years of experience, and Square Enix have that in abundance. Be it Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or the Saga series, they continue to invent and reinvent whilst keeping the heart and soul of these games at the forefront of all they do. Bravely Default II, the sequel to the 3DS original from 2012, is the latest game by Square Enix to be given the same treatment.
Whilst development For Bravely Default II was handled by Claytechworks, Square Enix have played a pivotal role in bringing it to audiences – particularly in Japan. Multiple demos and a whole host of fan feedback have led to the end result we have today. With series producer, Tomoya Asand, declaring Bravely Second an under-performer, we were keen to see if the ambition to deliver an experience worthy of the Bravely moniker has been realised – especially given that fantastic reveal in late 2019.
Staying true to the Rapid Review philosophy, and also to ensure you dedicate enough time to your inevitable playthrough of this lengthy JRPG, we are going to cut straight to it: Bravely Default II is an absolute banger. It builds and builds over the course of its 40, 50-, 60-, 70- or 80-hour campaign, providing almost everything you could want from a classic turn-based RPG in the modern era. It certainly won’t be for everyone – the JRPG genre can be quite divisive like that – but for those it’s for, they’re going to love it.
The game begins with a showcase of that beautiful art style that captured the imagination during The Game Awards reveal. It feels imperative now that RPGs do just that, especially with the likes of Octopath Traveler and Dragon Quest providing a signature style that has become the staple of those franchises. Thankfully, Bravely Default II’s delightful diorama-like design and wonderful watercolour aesthetic hit all the right notes. Its charm and character hold up in handheld mode too; it isn’t quite as good looking, naturally, but it definitely delivers.
Delving deeper, it becomes apparent that any concerns that Bravely Default II could be style without substance are unfounded. There’s so much to this game. Intricate and innovative systems, meticulous menu management, and tactical turn-based battles await. It’s all very ‘old school RPG’, including the persistent need to grind in order to ‘git gud’. Fans of the genre will feel right at home here, and the development team have done enough to acquaint newcomers with its many gameplay facets. With that being said, it’s difficult to imagine Bravely Default II being someone’s first RPG rodeo. It feels as though the developers know this too. It sticks to its mission with an unwavering commitment, and the game is all the better for it.
Brave by default
The most significant element of turn-based gameplay are the battles, and those present in Bravely Default II work very well. It utilises the terms ‘brave’ and ‘default’ to provide a risk versus reward system of combat. If you chose to ‘default’ on your turns i.e. not attack, you can store ‘brave’ points which can be spent all at once in a subsequent turn. This could be used to create a flurry of attacks to rain down on enemies in quick succession, or to heal multiple party members at once.
Mechanics alone aren’t enough to satiate a JRPG fanatics appetite; a storyline worth investing in is what will keep players coming back time and again. A 60-hour campaign is a permanent reminder of this. Emphasis has been placed on the curation of cast and plot, just as it has the art style and combat. It’s as dark and deep as it is hearty and humorous. The ability to prompt additional conversation between your party members mid-game is an excellent way to advance the story that little bit more organically too, and with voice acting to boot? Well played!
Both the voice acting and the soundtrack are top-notch, with music accompanying the on-screen action well and the emotion of the story being captured by the actors well too. There’s the occasional off-beat voice, but nothing that impacts the message or meaning of the events taking place. At times, I’d read the subtitles faster than the spoken word, and when skipping, it didn’t stop the voiceover. This was a minor frustration but did little to quell my love for this fantastic JRPG.
Confined to the classics
Far less innovative are the side quests. Fetching items has never been a firm fan favourite, and Bravely Default II isn’t the game to change all that. It does, however, make them much more serviceable with different coloured map icons which are also displayed on-screen at all times too. This feels at odds with the idea but demonstrates the desire to keep within the confines of set JRPG tropes.
Similarly, the battles are challenging and lengthy, yet the game provides four different speeds to quicken the pace of battles. Bravely Default II is oddly respectful of your time in spite of its playtime. That same courtesy hasn’t extended to the game’s difficulty though, as the ‘Casual’ mode is far from it. It still remains a challenging affair that relies heavily on grinding, and it certainly could have been made easier. Boss battles are where many will feel it most. I can’t begin to explain how many hours were lost to these but it was all worth it in the end. There’s a sense of satisfaction to tactically outwitting the enemy and these are moments to be savoured.
And that’s really the sword that Bravely Default II lives and dies by. Yes it includes a fancy system whereby you can ship your party members out on sea expeditions whilst you send your Switch to sleep, and yes it has a rather fancy job system that offers an additional level of complexity, but these are welcome additions rather than ground-breaking innovations. It’s a serious grind, it’s a time sink, and it’s little you haven’t seen before. But, what it does, it does very, very well and I had a blast.
Bravely Default II is a fantastic addition to any Switch owner’s library. It’s a coup to have exclusives like this, and it would be a travesty for it not to get the attention it deserves. Square Enix know this doesn’t represent the first foray into an RPG for players, and nor should it. What it is is a game for seasoned veterans of the genre who are looking for classic JRPG action on a modern platform, and it comes highly recommended!
In short, it never feels like the game to make you fall in love with classic JRPGs, it feels more like the game to remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4.5 out of 5
You can purchase Bravely Default II by clicking here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.