When the original Bravely Default landed on the 3DS back in 2014, it stood as direct confirmation that there was still a market for high quality, turn-based JRPGs. It sported a job-based combat system and a party reminiscent of 2010’s Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, a game that itself took heavy inspiration from Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy V.
Despite its more wizened roots, the game went on to meet (and then thoroughly exceed) Square Enix’s expectations for a game of its kind, thus enabling the development of a direct continuation in the form of Bravely Second: End Layer. The sequel was met with lesser reception and sales, and series producer Tomoya Asano would go on to discuss his regret that it didn’t do more to meet fan expectations.
As a result, Bravely Default II was produced with the express purpose of creating a standalone follow-up more in line with the scale of the original Bravely Default. When it launched for the Switch in February of this year, I bought it, played it, and loved every moment of the nigh on 100 hours I spent in it. With the release of the game’s PC port, also developed by Claytechworks and published by Square Enix on September 2nd, 2021, I’m happy to report that an already fantastic game has found its definitive version.
The Classical Elements
The story begins when Seth, a sailor, washes up on the unknown shores of Excillant after his vessel capsizes. He is discovered by Gloria and Sir Sloan, a princess to a fallen kingdom and her advisor, respectively. Shortly thereafter, the three cross paths with Adelle, a mercenary, and Elvis, a wandering scholar. Gloria reveals that four elemental crystals were stolen from her kingdom and scattered after its demise, and the party sets off on a quest to find and reclaim them while pursuing their individual goals simultaneously.
Like Bravely Default before it, this is a very classic, Final Fantasy-esque premise: a band of heroes setting off with a mission of justice against an evil empire. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before in that admittedly sparse summary, but there’s more detail and care given to each of the traditional aspects that it feels more like an evolution of them than a retreading. Still, in essence, Bravely Default II‘s overarching plot is a quintessential journey. You guide the party through the world, exploring, learning, and becoming entangled with the politics and struggles of the kingdoms that dot the continent.
While they bring their own cultures and ideas to the table in an interesting way, the emphasis the game places on character stories and their development is what elevates the experience. The game treats its cast as an ensemble, with every core character (and a surprising amount of side characters) stepping into the spotlight at various points throughout the adventure. Uncovering their personal histories and seeing how they clash with various characters and ideologies is where the story really shines.
Bravely Default II knows how to pace itself, as well. No one location or storyline overstays its welcome, and the game knows when to give the player a longer cutscene and when to give them a shorter one, which is incredibly important when you have a story that lasts as long as this one can.
In short, the story is good and the characters are better. However, because of my experience with the previous entries, I was expecting things to get a little weirder than they ended up getting. The more “meta” elements one might associate with Bravely Default are absolutely still here, but they don’t quite reach the same heights as the original.
One of the first things I came to appreciate about Bravely Default II is how it avoids wasting the player’s time. After starting a new game, you’ll have your first battle under your belt in twenty minutes and—more importantly—your first job not long after. This is a very welcome change from the first game and Bravely Second, which kept all party members as the freelancer job for a much longer stretch of time.
And that pace doesn’t let up as you continue. Obviously you won’t be getting a new job at every turn, but there will be plenty of times when you get two or three back-to-back in the span of a few hours. This speedy influx of new character roles becomes the most important attribute of the pacing thanks to the breadth of options that comes with each one you acquire. Every job is starkly unique to the others, offering new combat options and passives to earn that almost never overlap in utility with abilities you might already have.
When you combine this with how unrestrictive the job system is as a whole, you get turn-based combat that’s incredibly malleable to player customizability. Every party member has access to the full ability lists of two jobs at once, provided they’ve leveled the jobs up enough to learn them. What’s more, every job has two or three passives you can equip that are constantly active, and each character can equip five of these without job requirements. This means that each character can have five different passives from five different jobs, regardless of what their main job and sub-job are.
There’s a lot of depth there, but you won’t be able to simply pick a setup you like and force your way through the game unimpeded. In the original Bravely Default, particularly when it came to non-boss encounters, the balance was such that you could reliably spam your most powerful attacks repeatedly to make your way through combat.
This isn’t the case whatsoever in Bravely Default II due to the Counter mechanic. Certain enemies will return specific types of actions with their own. As an example, there are plant enemies that will immediately fire off a slew of debuffs after receiving any form physical damage to turn the course of the battle in their favor. The result? You have to reassess your party makeup and prioritize magical attacks when encountering those specific enemies. Specific job actions can be countered as well, so you always have to be on your toes.
On that note, Bravely Default II isn’t afraid to give you a proper challenge, even on its Normal difficulty. Boss battles in particular are more than happy to show you what the Game Over screen looks like. Random encounters can pose problems too, but it isn’t a constant struggle, and there’s an Easy and Hard mode available at any time if you find Normal isn’t quite to your liking.
What you get when you combine all these elements is a fully-featured battle system that successfully incorporates several different mechanics by giving them all equal importance. There’s a lot to play around with and pay attention to as you work your way through Bravely Default II, but it’s never overwhelming, and the game clearly presents all the information the player needs.
It also has the best card-based minigame since Final Fantasy VIII‘s Triple Triad in the form of Bind and Divide (or B’n’D), complete with collectible cards and rankings against NPCs. It’s a great side activity, should you decide you’re not quite in the mood for combat at the time.
Bravely Default II is the best looking game in the series to date. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the previous entries are on the 3DS, but the degree to which the developers were able to upscale the art style while retaining the singular Bravely Default aesthetic is impressive.
The explorable environments are fully 3D this time around, but the various kingdoms of Excillant are delivered in a 2D, painted style that’s gorgeous to take in. Battle effects and animations have seen a significant upgrade from the previous entries, as well, and all of these visual elements are even more appreciable in the game’s PC port, which features resolutions up to 2160p and a smooth, consistent framerate.
While there’s no shortage of proper cutscenes, a large chunk of the game’s dialogue is delivered while the characters stand in front of a still image representative of their present location. I’m not typically a fan of this style of cutscene, but it helps that every character is backed up by a talented voice actor and animates in line with what’s being said. These scenes are also where one of the slight negatives of the PC port arise; the resolution of the stills behind the characters were clearly designed for the Switch version, which features a dynamic (and typically less-than-1080p) resolution, meaning they have a tendency to look a bit pixelated and stretched at higher resolutions. It’s far from a distracting or detracting fault. but it’s one worth mentioning.
One of the most exciting things about the game’s original announcement was the return of Revo, the composer for the first game’s soundtrack who didn’t return for Bravely Second. It’s difficult to discuss the series without mentioning the iconic music in the same breath, and Revo has delivered another expressive, expansive soundtrack here that never seems to get old.
We don’t get JRPGs of this caliber every day. With a turn-based battle system that not only facilitates experimentation and customizability but also serves up a real challenge, Bravely Default II is a game that knows how to engage its players. Its narrative doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but there’s tangible effort put into these characters and plenty of surprises to be found along the way. The addictive moment-to-moment gameplay and the amount of content on offer is well worth the price of admission on either Switch or PC, but it’s hard not to prefer the latter for its higher resolution and smoother framerate. It really gives the game’s beautiful artwork the treatment it deserves.
Review copy provided by Square Enix for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.