Why Bravely Default II Is A '90s Flashback

They don't make JRPGs like this anymore

Key Takeaways

  • Fans of old Japanese RPGs, especially the early Final Fantasy games, will find a lot to like about Bravely Default II.
  • Anyone who isn't one of those fans, however, may find it difficult to get into at all.
  • The combat system is fun to master, with a unique mechanic that lets you take multiple actions in a turn, at a cost.
Cover art for the Bravely Defualt II game.
Nintendo

Bravely Default II has a specific target audience in mind. If the phrase "back-to-basics Japanese RPG" appeals to you, this is a qualified recommendation. If it doesn't, this article is a warning.

If you're a '90s kid, chronologically or by preference, who's sunk a lot of time into genre classics like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III, then Bravely Default II was made for you as a gift by your people. Full disclosure: that’s me. I just described myself.

For anyone else, especially if they prefer their modern fantasy with a little more irony, it'd be harder to get into. Bravely Default II is coasting heavily on nostalgia, both as a selling and an entry point. How much you like it may depend on how much of that nostalgia you have.

"Figuring out how to gimmick the Brave/Default system does a lot to liven up BD2's fighting, and it's the primary reason to check BD2 out."

Crystals, Magic, Monsters, and Swords

You play BD2 as Seth, a sailor who survives a shipwreck and washes up on the coast of the continent of Excillant. About 10 minutes later, he ends up as one of three escorts for Gloria, the last princess of a fallen nation, on her journey to recover four missing elemental crystals.

If you're thinking this sounds like a Final Fantasy game, that's because it is—sort of. The original Bravely Default began as a planned sequel to a Final Fantasy game on the Nintendo DS, but eventually was turned into a unique franchise aimed at new players.

It still kept a lot of the traditional elements of a Final Fantasy game, however, in an attempt to create what producer Tomoya Asano called, in a 2014 interview with Gamespot, "a comfortable play experience."

BD2's story and world, like the first BD, draws on a lot of those traditional Final Fantasy elements at once and plays them all absolutely straight, almost to the point of parody.

Screenshot from Bravely Default II.

Everything’s here, from the quest to recover the crystals to turn-based combat to the trademark FF character classes. You're even called a Hero of Light, a title that goes all the way back to the original Final Fantasy in 1987.

It absolutely does feel like pandering, but I was in exactly the right mood for something like this. It’s uncomplicated, with clear villains and genuinely heroic protagonists. Usually, I prefer narratives that are a little less black-and-white than this, but BD2 handles it well enough that I got invested anyway.

It’s absolutely just naked escapism, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m particularly fond of how Seth is a nice guy trying his best, which feels weirdly refreshing in a genre where everyone’s been trying to out-stoic Cloud Strife for 24 years.

While the systems are nothing new, BD2 has several extra features that make it much less frustrating than the 25-year-old game it's based on, like autosaves and the ability to fast-forward during combat.

The final product ends up as the Platonic ideal of the '90s JRPG in general, and of Final Fantasy in particular.

Not All the Way Back to Basics

The game's word-salad title is a reference to its central mechanic, which does a lot to liven up an otherwise standard-issue turn-based combat system.

Both your characters and your enemies can use their combat turn to Default, which raises their defense and generates a Brave Point (BP). On their next turn, you can spend BP to grant a character a second consecutive action. You also can spend BPs preemptively, in exchange for losing an equal number of turns afterward.

The push-pull of Brave/Default defines Bravely Default II's combat. Getting the most out of your BPs requires patience and foresight, which turns even simple random encounters into a low-stakes challenge.

A screenshot from BD2.

I can already tell that this is one of those games where I’ll end up with a giant stack of every item in my inventory, because I never want to use any of these healing potions or Ethers, but that’s the risk you run with something like Brave Points.

The trick is using your BP as efficiently as possible, to preserve or regenerate your other resources, and it keeps me invested even in the most penny-ante monster fights.

Figuring out how to gimmick the Brave/Default system does a lot to liven up BD2's fighting, and it's the primary reason to check BD2 out.

If you like a heavily customizable combat system with a ton of options, BD2 has you more than covered, especially as you start to unlock crazy new jobs for your characters.

It's indisputably leaning too hard on nostalgia, though. It’s laser-focused on being the ultimate ‘90s-style JRPG, so if you’ve got a history with that sub-genre, Bravely Default II can’t help but draw you in.

It’s a big plate of comfort food for anyone who grew up playing games like it, but it’s hard to imagine the appeal for anyone who doesn’t have those experiences.

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