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Review: Bravely Default II is a fantastic but difficult slice of old-school RPG goodness

This one is for the fans of how RPGs used to be done, a fact that may turn some players away.
This article is over 3 years old and may contain outdated information

It’s hard to start up a game like Bravely Default II and not think back to the games that informed so much of my youth. Games such as Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, Secret of Mana, and The Elder Scrolls II informed so much of my taste in RPGs, and still do nearly three decades later. It was these titles that primed me to become a fan of Bravely Default when it launched in 2012, as it very much planted its feet in the style of RPG design that made the ‘90s such a fun time. 

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Bravely Default II is not moving an inch from that position, bringing a glorious slice of nostalgia for people who love classic RPG mechanics. It also polishes everything to a high shine, marrying a beautifully developed title with a difficulty level that might catch some players off guard. 

Tale of tales

Image via Nintendo

The main character is a young seafarer named Seth who washes up on the shore after a terrible storm. He is saved by a kind woman and her older friend, who just happen to be a displaced Princess and her warden. The Princess is on a mission to get back some magical crystals that were once the property of her people, and those same crystals have plans for Seth. 

Graphically, everything has taken a huge step forward while also remaining loyal to the series’ classic style. In dialogue scenes, the character models look stunning, almost like claymation, and the hand-painted style of many of the towns and environments is beautiful. Character models and creature designs are richly detailed, making even the lowliest enemy an incredible sight. The Switch’s power provides the standout difference in the form of lighting effects, shadows, and other visual treats. Everything has a beautiful depth that makes the game very alluring to the eye. You will notice some choppy framerate issues at times, but it’s less of a problem in a turned-based RPG that it would be in an action game. 

The music is easily my favorite aspect of the game. The soundtrack is stunning, adding a sense of forbidding, whimsy, or panic when needed. It cannot be overstated how incredible this soundtrack is, and anyone out there who enjoys listening to game soundtracks while working or relaxing should add this one to their rotation. 

A dangerous world

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The titular combat system returns, bringing back the idea of choosing between being Brave or Defaulting. By selecting the Brave option, players can take multiple actions, gambling on finishing a fight quickly. Defaulting allows them to store an action point by sitting out a round of combat while benefiting from improved defense, then unleashing multiple attacks or powerful abilities later. It’s an extra layer of tactical depth that makes fights fun, rewarding, and risky. 

One fantastic area of improvement in the combat system from the Bravely Default II demo is the addition of bars that display how far a character is from their next turn. At the same time, enemies will be marked with exclamation points to show which of them is about to act. This makes it much easier to coordinate all four characters and deal with the immediate threats. 

Even with these changes, however, this is not an easy game by any means. Combat is difficult, an almost constant game of rock, paper, scissors where you need to figure out the best moves to make quickly or you’l see the Game Over screen a lot. Hitting enemies with attacks they are vulnerable to, deciding when to Brave and when to Default, and even choosing when to avoid fights completely are tactics you will learn as you play, but you never quite get powerful enough to escape the tension in combat. This will really appeal to some players but isolate others. 

The job system is also a lot of fun, as characters can be given roles to change their skills and abilities in battle. The right job for the right character can be the difference between winning and losing a fight, adding yet another layer of tactics to a game that is far deeper than people might suspect.

The verdict

The main question that people will have is whether Bravely Default II is fun or not. The demo may have made some nervous due to the enhanced difficulty the developers opted for, but if that is a concern, you will be happy to know that you can now change the difficulty at any time during your playthrough. This will make the game far more welcoming for those who struggled to overcome some of the demo’s combat scenarios. Even with this change, the game is still difficult, so don’t expect even the easiest setting to be a cakewalk.

Overall, Bravely Default II has proven to be a delightful game that manages to appeal to my sense of nostalgia while also doing enough not to be a samey repeat of the series’ strengths. Everything is remarkably deep and polished, and there has been genuine care and consideration put into the game’s many systems. It might feel a little dense at first, but it will all flow together perfectly as players spend time in the game. 

Anyone looking to relive the glory years of the isometric, turn-based RPG can consider Bravely Default II a must-have experience.

Final score:

8.5 / 10

+ Fun characters elevate a fairly standard RPG tale.
+ The combat system is deep and challenging.
+ The soundtrack is simply phenomenal.
+ The Jobs system means you can do a lot with a small party.
It really is challenging, which may turn some players off.
Disclosure: This review was written using a game code provided by Nintendo.

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Aidan O'Brien
Aidan O'Brien has been playing games for over three decades and has been writing about them for five years. When not getting stomped on by the creations of Hidetaka Miyazaki, he enjoys spending too much time in Warframe, Destiny 2 and any other ARPG with a solid grind. When not writing, he is doing inexplicable behind-the-scenes magic for GAMURS Group.