Development delays have been aplenty over the past year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The world has shifted from office-based to remote working where possible and, as a result, has delivered additional challenges. As such, Bravely Default II has been no stranger to development issues. The game’s producer Masashi Takahashi recently commented in an interview with Japanese publication Famitsu that voice recording progress was hampered by the shift to remote working, while miscommunication also caused some unforeseen problems, adding to the game’s release delay.
Despite these challenges, both developer Claytechworks and publisher Square Enix wanted to make sure Bravely Default II could be enjoyed wholeheartedly by series fans and newcomers, releasing two demos in 2020 with the intention of using player feedback to adjust the final game. Since then, Takahashi and his team have altered the game significantly based on 22,000 responses, adding weapon and armour comparison menus in the game’s store, including exclamation marks on enemies to indicate their turn, and decreasing overworld enemy movements to ensure the player isn’t caught off guard by encounters. Perhaps it’s this tenacity from the developers that makes Bravely Default II so enjoyable to play. It’s not perfect by any means, but there’s a beautiful softness at its core, delightfully unfolding layer by layer.
After spending 25 hours in the world of Excillant, exploring the kingdoms of Halcyonia, Savalon and Wiswald with our chosen Heroes of Light, it’s refreshing to see how much the franchise has developed since the original game’s release on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013, for PAL regions, and 2014 in North America. While Bravely Default II introduces a completely new story with different characters, the picturesque water coloured art style set in a 3D diorama design is simply gorgeous on the Switch and draws similarities to Octopath Traveler. Twinned with the beautiful harmonies of Halcyonia and the dulcet undertones of Savalon, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve sat back and simply listened to the music while the camera pans out to showcase the diorama town. A small factor, perhaps, but one that is appreciated all the same.
Aside from the wonderful art style and music, Bravely Default II’s storyline follows the chosen avatar Seth and his comrades Gloria (Princess of Musa), Elvis (a noble from Wiswald) and Adelle (a mercenary on a journey to recover her missing sister) on a quest to locate the four elemental crystals to restore balance to the world of Excillant. After the destruction of Musa, Gloria is tasked with finding the whereabouts of the remaining three crystals. With the Wind Crystal safely by her side, she bumps into Seth, Elvis and Adelle on the way. Following a disastrous encounter with grave consequences in Halcyonia, Gloria loses her hold on the Wind Crystal and makes her way to Savalon with her comrades in tow.
Although the storyline delivers a strong start in its 5-hour prologue, the first chapter in Savalon is possibly its weakest and most predictable sub-plot from what we’ve played so far. The second chapter in Wiswald is where the story really begins to take off. Between maniacal bosses and blood-stained walls, there’s a glorified darkness at play here that represents Bravely Default II’s adult themes, much closer to the original game’s storytelling mechanics. Even at surface level, it’s a haunting affair but when you dig a little deeper, especially during the final moments in the second chapter, you realise there’s more meaning buried within. Let’s hope the writing continues at this superb level throughout the game, with chapter one a mere blip in the sand.
When it comes to gameplay, Bravely Default II delivers several enhancements compared to its predecessors. Turn-based battles – featuring the ‘Brave’ and ‘Default’ mechanics – are now more fluid as the player controls each character with separate commands in a one-by-one affair, while special attacks are only available once a crystal’s power is awakened and by completing a set number of actions (as opposed to placing the console in sleep mode). Job classes have also had a facelift too. Obtained by way of defeating bosses and claiming their asterisk, players now have access to four jobs (Vanguard, White Mage, Black Mage and Monk) on completion of the prologue and can switch between these easily in the game’s sub menus. Activating their passive abilities, such as Drain Attack, Pain into Gain and JP Up and Up, will also deliver specific buffs to make combat less arduous. Plus, by the second chapter’s completion, players will have access to 13 jobs, which includes Red Mage, Berserker and Shieldmaster to name a few. And, with the return of consecutive battles by way of using ‘Monster Treats’, you can easily increase your job points quickly to make switching between them less of an issue before boss battles.
Depending on your proclivity for level grinding, Bravely Default II’s difficulty remains a slippery slope between strategy and classic RPG levelling. Having played the game on both casual and normal modes, the former is certainly more forgiving to those prone to making mistakes, while still offering enough strategic challenge in boss fights. However, normal difficulty implements a much bigger strategic curve, which is a particular challenge in chapter one where you have less job asterisks in your arsenal. For example, Godspeed Strike from the Thief is a particularly devastating attack that deals additional damage on the next turn. It’s a move that can be averted with the Berserker or Shieldmaster moveset, but both of those are unavailable to you during the fight. There’s no shame in turning the difficulty down to a more manageable level here, particularly if it offsets the hours you’d spend level grinding instead.
Returning from Bravely Second, visible enemy encounters in dungeons and the overworld are particularly helpful for exploration and level grinding segments. Yet while the art style is unique and interesting, the dungeons are relatively flat and uninspiring. And although the series has never excelled in dungeon design, wider open spaces wouldn’t go amiss for stringing consecutive enemy battles together. But perhaps we’ll see more interesting areas deeper into the game.
With all that said, Bravely Default II is shaping up to be a decent third entry in the series. Between the gameplay enhancements to a storyline that appears to involve plenty of dark twists and turns, we’re hoping that a brave new tale will deliver a glorious return to the franchise’s revered storytelling.
A copy of Bravely Default II for preview purposes was provided by Nintendo UK. A full review of the game will be published in due course.