It’s been a hot minute since I last enjoyed a good ol’ fashioned turn-based JRPG. With Final Fantasy seemingly now leading the action combat charge, it seems like menu-based battles are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Then Bravely Default II comes gleefully along to say “I’m here and I know what you like.” And boy does it have the goods. Even though it still leans on its tried-and-true Brave/Default system and familiar storylines, this next chapter of Square-Enix’s smaller JRPG franchise is still a warm and fuzzy meal in a vast storm of change and innovation.
One of the things I expect to get when I pick up a nostalgia-driven JRPG is copious amounts of story. Bravely Default II checks this box in more than a few ways. The adventure kicks off when protagonist sailor Seth (or whatever name you choose to give him) washes up on the beach of Halcyonia. He’s found by Princess Gloria and her trusty old knight Sir Sloan. With no memory of how he ended up washed ashore, he learns that Gloria’s kingdom has fallen and she has no homeland to return to. So she embarks on a mission to find the four Crystals and keep them out of the wrong hands lest calamity befall upon the world. Hunting for the Crystals has been a big part of the Bravely Default series’s narratives. Despite it feeling somewhat unoriginal this time around, the storytelling still manages to hold up primarily thanks to the four party members. Seth’s journey to find out where he came from and his connection to the Warriors of Light is a good vessel for carrying us forward through the story. Gloria’s sad backstory and her ongoing quest build her up towards a strong female lead who in many ways could easily be seen as the game’s main protagonist. Then, we have the last two party members, Adelle and Elvis. Their banter as a sellsword accompanying a travelling scholar is easily one of the most entertaining parts of Bravely Default II. Elvis’s storyline also serves as the JRPG’s secondary plotline involving the secrets of the Asterisks, the small gems that grant their users power. Overall, the game offers a nice enough story that kept me engaged. There’s nothing mind-blowing or paradigm shifting here. Emotions do run high towards the tail end of the game with some solid moments that make the journey well-worth it.
Speaking of Asterisks, they also make a triumphant return and are every bit as fun to mix and max as ever. As in previous games, each Asterisk you unlock in Bravely Default II opens up a new job you can assign to your party members. Most of the classic jobs, like the healing-focused White Mage and the high-risk high-reward Monk, are back, along with some new ones. The Bastion is a melee class that balances both offense and defense to give you a well-rounded set of abilities. On the other hand, Hellblade is a job that utilizes your health as a resource to generate big damage numbers.
A few classic jobs have also been revamped and given new flair. For instance, the Swordmaster trades the samurai theme for a more Celtic warrior look and focuses on dealing high damage through critical strikes. Needless to say, you’ve got plenty of toys to noodle around with and experimentation is thankfully as satisfying as it was in the past Bravely Default games. What’s new to the table is the Special. Depending on the job Seth has equipped, he can activate a powerful ability once a few conditions are met. On top of that, the Special leaves a lingering buff that lasts for as long as the Special theme plays during battle. The conditions for activation vary from job to job. The Vanguard, for instance, can deliver a powerful Earth attack that grants 30% Physical Defense to the entire party. In essence, Bravely Default II doesn’t mess with the series formula too much. Even though the improvements are few, the soul of the game is still intact and as fun as it has ever been.
Visually, Bravely Default II continues its predecessors’ legacy of chibi characters on oil painting style backdrops despite the move to the higher powered Switch. This has been both a good and slightly not so good thing. The series art style has always been an endearing one in my eyes. I’ve always found the chibi style cuteness to work in the game’s favor regardless of the situation. The humorous and lighthearted moments are enhanced while the darker and sadder moments hit harder. It’s a well-designed visual formula that works even better here with the more polished textures and added details. The one issue the graphical style poses only appears when you play the game on a big screen in docked mode. It’s not that there are technical issues as they game runs buttery smooth in either mode. The problem is the art style itself; it feels better suited for a smaller screen. This may be a proclivity of my own devising. I just didn’t feel the characters looked fit for a 4K display. Either way, the bottomline is that Bravely Default II is also quite familiar with respect to its visual style, which holds up well even by today’s standards.
If I were to summarize my experience with Bravely Default II, I’d say it’s a warm brothy bowl of goodness that I haven’t tasted in a long time. Especially for someone like me, who grew up with JRPGs that held the turn-based combat banner high, playing through Seth and Co’s adventure was a nice return to the familiar. I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent so far trying out Job combinations, a meta-game that has proven to be, once again, a real rabbit hole. Even though the game doesn’t bring too much new to the table, what it sets out to do it does well. It’s reliably comforting and sometimes that’s just all you really need.