ESRB – T for Teen
Reviewed on 3DS
Bravely Default is the latest handheld game released by Square Enix and it represents a true return to form. It features turn based combat that left me reminiscing about the days of my youth playing Final Fantasy VI on my SNES. What’s better is that Bravely Default is able to bring back those fond memories through solid turn based combat while still leaving room for innovation and modern sensibilities.
We’re talking about a 3DS game here so you aren’t going to be seeing high end visuals, but I thought that Bravely Default had a beautiful look to it. The character models are adorable and the different cities each look distinct. I never felt like I was trudging through the same place repeatedly as often happens in other role playing games.
The story itself is not an area where the game sets itself apart. Each of the four main characters represents one of the standard role playing game tropes: a young farm boy, an innocent priestess, the traitorous daughter of the enemy general, and an amnesiac. These four are swept into a world hopping quest to awaken four crystals to help save the world against impossible odds. I’ll admit I groaned a bit as I discovered this, but it wasn’t jarring enough to make me put my 3DS down. In fact, I found the strict adherence to the standard RPG formula charming. It was like watching a high school performance of MacBeth. It wasn’t original. It lacked any real depth and true artistic merit. But, it was full of spirit and honesty. How can you complain about that? (Also, the amnesiac is named Ringabel. I found that brilliant enough to wash away all of my problems.)
Bravely Default may falter when it comes to its unoriginal story and characters, but it earns its praise through its innovative combat system. One the surface it appears to be standard turn based combat where characters line up on opposite sides of the screen, step forward, and swing at the air to hit each other. Things are made more interesting when you start to use the ”Brave” and “Default” options during combat. Using Brave mode allows you to borrow turns from the future and use them immediately. The Default option allows you to hold for a turn and store up points to be spent on powerful attacks. These two options have a huge impact on play. There is never a “wasted turn” since you can always simple play in Default to prepare for later. The ability to have your heavy damage characters attack four times in a row is huge since it means you can reach to potentially kill enemies more quickly. The ability to use Brave to easily handle random encounters is a godsend for people looking to build up experience points.
Beyond all that, what I loved the most about Bravely Default was that it respected my time. It gave me the ability to complete quests in small chunks, and gave me the ability to TURN OFF random encounters through a menu screen if all I wanted to do was travel somewhere. I used that option constantly throughout my playthrough.
The short answer: I am not sure I will play a better RPG this year.
Family Gaming Assessment:
There are three potential areas for concern regarding content here.
First, the violence is mild. This is a turn based role playing game where both hero and monster line up on opposite sides of the screen and take turns stepping forward to swing at each other. The damage dealt is represented by flashes of light and bouncing numbers. There are some story sequences where small amount of blood can be seen on weapons or staining someone’s shirt, but these are rare.
Second, the story takes place in a fantasy world where each town has a tavern or an inn. One can safely assume that any self respecting town in a fantasy story will have more than apple juice on the menu. As a result, there are some references to alcohol and drunkenness.
Third, the ESRB tells us that this game contains “Mild Suggestive Themes.” What they mean here is that several of the characters throughout the game make advances of a sexual nature towards other characters. None of this dialogue is vulgar. They do not talk about sex directly, but the idea of bringing someone into a bed, spending time in a bed, or other such comments is common. I am a grown man in my 30s and even I was left blushing at a few points. The language in some scenes borders on lecherous and it betrays the adorable aesthetic. Keep that in mind when deciding if the game is right for your child.
Younger players who are not skilled readers will have a lot of difficulty. Most of the story sequences contain voiceovers, but the rest of the game is stuffed with text based menus. Players can, generally, take their time when making decisions so they don’t necessarily need to be fast, but they will need to be experienced readers.
Bravely Default is a very complex game. There are a number of systems and mechanics that players have to work with throughout the game to overcome challenges. The biggest, and arguably most complex, among these systems are the games “Jobs.” Each of the four main characters can change their job at any time and give themselves access to a different suite of powers. This provides a lot of options and versatility, but it takes a great deal of thought to balance development correctly. (Pro-tip: Make sure you have a White Mage to help with healing. I know that would probably go without saying, but my son tried to go without one and it wasn’t pretty.)
Bravely Default is the Final Fantasy game that we have been waiting YEARS for. If you are a fan of old school SNES RPGs, but are looking for something with a more modern look, then this is a must buy.