Bravely Default 2 is a long, bland parade of JRPG cliches, presenting one after another for 50 consecutive hours.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before
From the moment its protagonist awakens on an unfamiliar beach, suffering amnesia, the groans and eye rolls began in earnest. Things do not improve from there. You are greeted by Princess Gloria and her loyal elderly knight Sir Sloan (cliches both) and are quickly pulled into an urgent quest to save the world. A set of powerful crystals has gone missing and it’s up to you and your team of happy-go-lucky, found-family losers to get them back and earn their place in society AND in history.
Among your party are the mage Elvis and his strong, unflappable bodyguard Adelle. Both characters speak in a soup of British and Scottish colloquialisms that can only be the work of an American localisation team. Both Elvis and Adelle will join you on your quest to save a vaguely European fantasy world and defeat a pallid, conventionally villainous, queer-coded, one-dimensional villain.
If you didn’t know I was talking specifically about Bravely Default 2, would you have ever known the difference between this and a hundred other JRPG’s released every year?
Default by name, default by nature
The answer is no, you wouldn’t. That’s a dire position for a series this well-liked and respected to find itself in. Bravely Default 2 refuses to try anything remotely interesting or different to its competition. The central plot is banal in its predictability, its twists openly pinched from other games. Its side quests are uniformly fetch-quests, unhappy slogs that do nothing to immerse you in its world or provide a window into those who inhabit it. Its characters are paper-thin and of little interest despite the reams and reams of fully voiced dialogue.
The only facet of the game that isn’t a complete let down is the combat. If you’ve never played Bravely Default or its true sequel Bravely Second, the game’s title refers to its battle system. As with most JRPG’s, Bravely 2 uses turn-based combat and gives the player multiple characters with different specialisations. You can give your characters a “job” to better categorise their playstyle, from basic setups like Knight or Black Mage, to more complex picks like the art-centric pictomancer.
Attack now, pay later
Two of the more powerful actions you can take are Braves and Defaults. Performing a Brave move borrows extra moves from your future attacks. To wit, you can attack three times on this turn and deal triple damage, but you’ll have to sit the next three turns out if you do. By contrast, using a Default costs you nothing at all. Default moves grant a defence boost and store extra moves for use later. It’s up to you to pick your moment: against weaker enemies, it’s possible to burn all your characters Braves and wipe the baddies out before they ever get to move. Against harder enemies, you’ll want to use them more sparingly. Burn a Brave at the wrong moment and you’ll be quite severely punished for it.
It can seem overly complex at first, but once you get your head around it, its a system with a lot strategic meat on its bones.
Just get out of my way
It’s also lucky that the combat is fun because god, you do a lot of it. Like a lot of JRPG’s, Bravely Default 2 falls into the trap of forcing the player to grind weaker enemies to gain extra levels. You can spend hours grinding levels to get powerful enough to progress, and all it takes hitting the next boss to make it all feel worthless. JRPG’s love gating off the next chapter of the main quest with obscenely powerful bosses and Bravely Default 2 is no exception.
The idea is that you’re supposed to get your behind kicked and come away from the fight swearing vengeance, before power levelling madly, returning to the boss and blowing it away. But it never feels like that, it just feels like a slog. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to challenge you. It feels like it’s trying to waste your time.
Bravely Default 2 is a prime example of how stagnant the JRPG genre has become in recent years. It isn’t brave enough to get out of its comfort zone, and by embracing the dullest genre cliches available, it is doomed to be the default.
TWO-AND-A-HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Lovely painterly backgrounds; Combat system is rock solid
Lowlights: Bland, cliche-ridden story and characters; Not a single original idea
Developer: Claytech Works
Publisher: Square-Enix, Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch