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Bravely Default review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £35
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A beautiful JRPG that bravely goes where other games fear to tread, this is a triumph of its genre

When the land is in peril and the fate of the world rests on four elemental crystals, it doesn’t take long to see where Bravely Default fits into the JRPG family tree. Indeed, take away the slightly nonsensical name and it retreads many of the same story beats as its spiritual predecessor, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. But while Bravely Default may be a Final Fantasy game in all but name, it takes an equally short amount of time to see how its complex twist on turn-based battling puts it above and beyond any of its ancestral source material we’ve seen in recent years.

The secret lies in its strange title. Select Brave during battle and you can take up to four turns in one go, giving you the opportunity to unleash hell on earth in the space of a single turn. You can’t do this every round, though, as each action requires the use of Brave Points, or BP, which you can store up by choosing Default. This allows you to create a handy turn buffer in times of need, but if your BP count slips into minus points, you’ll need to wait until it goes back to zero before you can attack again.

Bravely Default
Selecting Brave will queue up more actions in advance, but take too many and you’ll be left defenceless

It’s a simple but finely-tuned system that rewards both the reserved and the risk-taker, and its careful economy gives battles a whole new sense of dynamism. We suspect the game’s ruthless difficulty level will have most players erring on the side of caution for at least the first couple of hours, but there’s always the option to change the difficulty level if boss battles get a little too tough.

To liven things up even further, your enemies abide by these rules as well. This leads to some genuinely hair-raising moments when you see a boss flash red with four Brave warnings at the start of a fresh turn, but it constantly keeps players on their toes as they settle into the rhythm of each new encounter.

Bravely Default
The world map may look familiar, but Bravely Default is unlike any other JRPG in recent years

It’s not just turns you have to manage in battle, though, as Bravely Default also breathes a new lease of life into another JPRG staple, the job system. This determines your characters’ stats and abilities, and you’ll find old favourites like the Knight, Monk and Black Mage rubbing shoulders with new job types like the Merchant and Vampire. There are 24 to collect in total, but unlike previous job-based games, you can only obtain new jobs by defeating characters that already possess them. This turns each job skirmish into a true trial by fire, but rarely have we felt such a sweet sense of victory when foes are finally brought to their knees.

Bravely Default
Pirate is another new job class, but you’ll have to dig deep into the game’s sub-set of sidequests to find it

Bravely Default doesn’t simply limit you to using just one class either. In a similar move to the Dragon Quest series, you can also draw upon a secondary set of abilities you’ve learned from other jobs you’ve used in the past as well as various types of support effects. This not only paves the way for some truly inventive character types, but it also means you’re always putting your precious and hard-earned job points to good use.

Nothing is wasted in Bravely Default, and this is especially true of the time you spend away from the game as well. As long as you close your 3DS while the game is playing, you’ll earn Sleep Points for every eight hours you clock with the lid closed. These let you stop the clock mid-turn and attack enemies outside the normal laws of battle, adding yet another layer of complexity to its ingenious battle system.

Bravely Default
Everyone starts as a Freelancer, but you’ll soon be able to draw on a whole manner of different abilities

That’s not the only thing that happens while the game’s in sleep mode, though, as there’s also an entire sub-game that revolves around rebuilding your hometown of Norende. Every StreetPass hit you get adds another resident to your village to help with the building work, and the more villagers you have, the quicker you can move on to new projects. You’ll want to rope in as many people as possible to get the job done, though, as some tasks can take a whopping 99 hours to complete. Fortunately, the hours you spend in sleep mode also contribute toward each task, so you better say goodbye to your 3DS’s Home screen, as you won’t be seeing it for a very long time.

What’s more, once buildings have been finished, new items will become available to buy from the in-game adventurers that double up as save points. It’s an incredibly well-executed feature and it’s by far one of the best uses of sleep mode and StreetPass we’ve ever come across on the 3DS. Add in the ability to summon friends’ characters in battle and Bravely Default is perhaps one of the most socially-minded JRPGs outside of Capcom’s Monster Hunter series.

Bravely Default
The desert town of Ancheim is one of the first towns you encounter, but it’s huge windmills leave a lasting impression

All this is set against a backdrop of beautiful, hand-drawn towns and environments, a gorgeous soundtrack and some of the most detailed and fluid character animations since Resident Evil: Revelations. It puts Fire Emblem: Awakening’s pigeon-toed cut-scenes to shame, and the option to choose between its Japanese and surprisingly good English voiceover is another welcome addition. There’s always a sense of wonder when you enter new towns, as these illustrated set-pieces not only look stunning in 3D, but the camera also pulls out when your characters are left idle, letting you appreciate them in their full stereoscopic majesty.

Our only complaint comes from the game’s insistence on making players use the D-Pad during battles. It’s easy to get used to over time, but it’s a little jarring when you can use the Circle Pad for almost everything else.

Bravely Default may bear more than a few family resemblances to the Final Fantasy games of yesteryear, but this is a thoroughly modern JRPG wrapped in retro clothing. The combination of its intricate battle system and the near infinite levels of job customisation make Bravely Default one of the most engaging games in its genre since the Wii’s Xenoblade Chronicles, and the vast amount of side content gives players plenty to get stuck in with. A must-buy for JRPG fans.



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