For the purpose of this review, I started my playthrough of Bravely Default II with English voice acting turned on, since I wanted to gauge how the dialogue was localised. ‘Badly’ is the verdict I came up with before switching over to the Japanese voice cast.
The English acting is a hodge-podge of accents – the Scottish brogue of Elvis being the only one that doesn’t grate – and none of them add anything to the world-building of Excillant. This hodge-podge is an apt descriptor of the central cast who, led by Seth, are out to hunt down elemental crystals which are causing chaos across the land.
It is very JRPG.
The cast comprises various amnesiacs, princesses, mystical mages, and mercenaries who feel put in place only for the purposes of combat rather than to enhance the story. And that’s because Bravely Default II, much like its predecessor, uses a unique brand of turn-based combat.
While you’re presented with the usual options – ‘attack’, ‘magic’, etc – you have the choice of whether to be Brave or Default into a shielded stance. Choosing the latter allows the character in defence to store an action, up to the count of four separate actions. Then, later in that battle, you can choose to be Brave and spend your action points to attack, heal, support, or cast spells in any order you choose.
This playstyle greatly shakes up the usual JRPG combat, though personally, I only ever fell back on Default stance against particularly tricky boss fights. Minions and smaller monsters never posed enough of a threat, even on the harder difficulty.
But it’s worth keeping this tactic at the front of your mind, as the enemies in Bravely Default II can also choose to Default or be Brave, adding a layer of depth to battles, which are already impressive. Examining monsters will show their HP, which weapon type they’re weak to, and which elements will cause the most magic damage. While this level of complexity’s welcome, it also means your team will occasionally lack some of the harder-hitting abilities.
For example, early on, some monsters are weak to earth magic, and yet Elvis, our primary black mage, has no earth magic in his arsenal at this point. Other monsters may be weak to spear-based weapons, and perhaps you kitted out your squad with daggers, staves, swords, and a bow. This delicate balance is the game’s core.
A traditional risk versus reward system. Throughout the job system too, you’ll find abilities which strike up a ‘do I, don’t I’ question. The monk job allows for big impact physical abilities, but instead of spending MP, you must trade HP. Some vanguard abilities also deliver larger, impactful moves, but the trade becomes an action point. And if you haven’t stocked up on action points through Default, you’ll end up in deficit, and that character misses a turn.
The developers have gone to great lengths to make the fighting as customisable and enjoyable as possible. Many jobs can be applied to characters, changing up not only their abilities but also their proficiencies with weapon types. You can assign sub-jobs too, use items to heal, or dish out damage, and at points in the story, a character accompanying your party will jump in to give aid. If this all sounds like a lot, it is.
If only this level of detail were applied to not only the story but also the environments. That’s not to say the world of Excillant isn’t lovely to look at or explore, especially with humorous or saccharine side quests and varied NPCs wandering about the place.
But none of it feels original. We already have a cookie-cutter team or tropes to control. The worlds never feel ‘new’ – they always feel recycled in the faux-medieval styling, which runs like a river through lands of sand, snow, and fields of grass. It’s all achingly beautiful, even in handheld mode, but many of the areas are forgettable.
The monsters, and in fact all the character designs, are memorable, however. The character models are lovely to look at, even when a monster’s supposed to be grotesque. The details of the combat are reflected here, and every new monster is met with a sense of awe, especially if they tower over your party with hulking strength.
As I begin to reach my word count limit, I realise there’s still a lot left unsaid – brief touching moments between characters, the lengthy dungeons where the fighting happens, the especially great and passionate Japanese voices, and the seemingly never-ending endgame. Bravely Default II is a good JRPG, but it isn’t a genuinely great JRPG – perhaps because the developers just weren’t Brave enough.
Rather than the Default/Brave concept, it’s the job system that really stands out. There are so many options, and these can be used in combination with each other. Many are obvious, like the white mage. The monumental damage of the Hellblade job is a particular standout.
An enjoyable and detailed JRPG, which doesn’t feel as fresh as the original.
Format: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Claytechworks / Team Asano
Release: Out now