Bravely Default II Demo: A Beautiful Challenge

I grew up on the Final Fantasy franchise, so I love a good turn-based JRPG. One of the most memorable recent entries in the JRPG canon was the Nintendo 3DS game Bravely Default. It was a turn-based RPG with a Job Class system – what a godsend! It was even published by the same folks as Final Fantasy, JRPG powerhouse Square Enix.

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘Job Class,’ this is a style of RPG character customization where the player unlocks various different ‘Jobs,’ which they can then assign to their characters at will. Each job alters a character’s attributes and abilities in specific ways, usually by giving them access to a specific skill set unavailable to other jobs. For instance, a common Job Class is the White Mage, which gets access to White Magic used to heal and protect party members. Another example would be the Thief, which can steal items from opponents.

I’ve always been a huge fan of this style of game, as it adds a layer of customization to your characters that deepens the gameplay immensely. Bravely Default utilized the Job Class system quite well, allowing characters to mix and match passive abilities and active skills from various different jobs to create truly unique builds.

A new entry in the franchise, Bravely Default II, is coming out this year, and Nintendo announced yesterday in a bite-sized Nintendo Direct presentation that a demo is now available on the eShop. Naturally, I grabbed it right away.

The demo notes at the outset that the difficulty has been increased a bit to force players to familiarize themselves with Bravely Default II‘s two core mechanics – Brave Points and the Default command. The Default command acts like a Guard command might in a different game. The character sacrifices their turn in order to boost their defense for a round. However, that’s not all Default does; it also grants the character a Brave Point, or BP. BP can be spent during a character’s turn to take extra actions, up to a maximum of four. You can also ‘borrow against’ future actions, sending your BP into the negatives for more immediate actions at the cost of losing future turns. It’s a neat system that tweaks the classic turn-based gameplay just enough to make it fresh.

They were not kidding about the difficulty spike, though! It’s been a while since I played the original Bravely Default (and I missed out on its direct sequel, Bravely Second: End Layer, completely) and it took me awhile to re-familiarize myself with the rhythm of combat in this series. My party got wiped out a few times before I got back into the groove of defaulting, building up BP, and unleashing massive turns to wipe out tough foes in a single go.

Even after I got used to the systems again, I was still having trouble with the story mission the demo presents to you (there are some enemy wasps that are no joke). I’m honestly not sure if that’s a result of the increased difficulty of the demo, or simply my own rustiness with the genre. Either way, I have to admit I still haven’t cleared the demo as of this writing – I’ve resolved to work on the few sidequests available in order to grind out some levels and earn more Job Points.

The demo gives you access to five jobs – Freelancer (the generic starter job with basic, though useful, abilities); Monk (a brawler with high attack power); White Mage (a magic-using healer); Black Mage (which uses elemental combat magic); and Vanguard (a job with high defense). I wasn’t surprised that this was our selection, as they are all pretty traditional Job Classes and they each fill a specific niche – attack, defense, magic, healing. After every fight, characters gain both experience toward their regular level and Job Points toward their Job Level. Each new Job Level grants a new skill. You can only raise your jobs a few levels in the demo; this cap is certain to be much higher in the final game. As it is, there’s a good mix of active and passive skills between the five truncated jobs, given that it’s only a demo.

An interesting addition to this game’s Job Class system is how it handles gear. In many Job Class games, specific jobs can only equip specific gear. For instance, a Fighter class might be able to equip heavy armor and shields and wield a variety of weapons, whereas a Thief could only equip light armor and daggers. In Bravely Default II, any character can equip any piece of gear, regardless of their current job. However, different jobs may have higher affinities for certain pieces of gear (a White Mage is going to get more mileage out of a magic rod than a Monk will). That’s not unusual in this type of game. What’s a bit more unique is that each gear piece has a specific weight, and different jobs have different carrying capacities. If a character’s gear exceeds their weight limit, they receive stat penalties. Therefore, you might have a very powerful set of armor and an awesome sword, but if they weigh too much, equipping them both to the same character might do more harm than good. It’s a very interesting way of balancing loadouts between classes, and I’m eager to see how much it will affect potential builds in the full game.

If you’re a fan of traditional JRPGs, you’ll enjoy the combat, as the Brave and Default systems add a nice layer of strategy on top of a tried and true method of play. One other thing I appreciate about combat here is that each enemy has weaknesses to various magic elements and specific weapon types. For instance, an ogre might be weak to both Blizzard magic and sword attacks. This reminds me a bit of another fantastic Switch RPG, Octopath Traveler, in which determining a foe’s specific weaknesses was a key element of every battle. Here, vulnerabilities just allow you to deal extra damage, but they’re still handy to know. While discovered weaknesses are not displayed on the main battle screen, you can push the + button at any time to pull up a menu that details them, as well as other enemy info.

Speaking of Octopath Traveler, I have to admit that playing that game has made the shine come off the Bravely Default apple a bit. When I first played Bravely Default back in 2014, I thought that the Brave and Default systems were just the shot in the arm the JRPG genre needed. Since then, though, I’ve poured a ton of time into Octopath, and I have to admit that I actually prefer its (similar, but just different enough to matter) system in which characters receive Boost Points at the end of each turn. Boost Points act just like Brave Points, allowing you to take multiple actions in a single turn, but there’s no way to go into a deficit of them. Octopath Traveler also has, as I alluded to earlier, a greater focus on finding and exploiting enemy weaknesses; using weaknesses to “break” foes at specific times being is a major part of that game’s strategy. That said, the Job Class system in Bravely Default II is significantly more robust than the comparatively simple one in Octopath.

Plot-wise, the game is set in a different world than its predecessor, much like how every new Final Fantasy takes place in a new universe. In fact, that’s not the only thing Bravely Default borrows from its parent franchise; it also revolves around four elemental crystals, a staple of its progenitor. There’s not a lot of plot to be had in the demo, but we are introduced to our four main characters: Seth, Gloria, Adelle, and Elvis. On the surface, they seem quite similar to the four protagonists of the original Bravely Default, but we’ll see how they develop in the main game – they may end up being very different. It’s too early to judge at this point.

Before wrapping this up, I should note that this game is absolutely gorgeous. The original utilized the 3DS’s 3D capabilities to create stunning pop-up-book inspired cities, and that lovely art style returns here in full force. However, with the improved visual capabilities of the Switch, even character and enemy models get to shine now, and there’s a surprising amount of detail in the cute, stylized character designs. I highly recommend equipping everyone with each different job at least once, simply to appreciate how great the designs look!

The only visual issue I had with the game were some of the menus. They could be a bit cluttered and at times hard to read. In particular, while shopping for new gear, the readout displaying the items’ stats protruded over the character stats on the other side of the screen, obscuring some of Elvis’s information (most crucially, his affinity for the weapon type in question). It’s not a major issue, but it’s definitely something I hope can be cleaned up a bit before launch. The developers have said they intend to listen to feedback about this demo to implement in the finished product, so there’s a decent chance it’ll be addressed.

Despite a few minor flaws, I have enjoyed my time with Bravely Default II so far. I can’t overstate how much I love a good Job Class system, and that’s on full display here! After this demo, I’m more excited than ever for the full game to release later this year.

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