Upon first hearing the title Bravely Default 2, the first thing you’re likely to think is, “Well that’s a dumb title”. I most certainly had that thought as I tried to puzzle out Square Enix’s unconventional naming standards. Surely someone making this game knew that a title is more than an adverb and an adjective awkwardly stitched together?
Yet after sitting with the game for upwards of 50 hours, I started to realise what Bravely Default 2 was saying with its title alone. On a literal level, it speaks to the game’s combat system tweaks to the traditional JRPG formula but on the other, it’s a perfect way to describe the game’s philosophy towards itself.
In a time where the traditional JRPG is seemingly becoming rarer and rarer as developers look to evolve and grow what many consider to be an oversaturated market thanks to the late 90s, Bravely Default 2 is remarkably traditional. This is no doubt a risk when you have series like Final Fantasy seemingly reinventing itself with every new game; Bravely Default 2 feels like a JRPG from a long time ago, evoking so many classic elements that if it didn’t look as good as it does, it would be easy to see it being released on the PlayStation 1. That commitment to the traditional, the default if you will, is no doubt brave in the year 2021. Do you see where I’m going with this?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a JRPG trope Bravely Default 2 doesn’t exploit at some point in it’s very, very lengthy runtime. You play as a sailor with amnesia who supposedly has the power to change the world, your party is a mish-mash of personality and accents, you’ll travel throughout the land to different towns and cities who have different problems to solve while slaying hundreds of enemies through turn-based combat… it really doesn’t diverge much from the games that so very clearly inspired it.
I mean come on, the main goal of the characters is to hunt down four magical crystals; you don’t really get McGuffins any more basic than that! Yet while Bravely Default 2 could no doubt be accused of being too safe, I adored nearly every moment of it. It’s a grand, sweeping adventure filled with dozens of people to help, monsters to slay, and it includes that satisfying up-tick in power levels over time.
It’s a game that feels like your favourite restaurant you go to when you need a pick-me-up: You know just about everything on the menu but it just hits a particular sweet spot that leaves you satisfied. If you’re going into this game expecting some kind of innovation in the genre you’ll be disappointed but if you’re a traditionalist and enjoy the tried and tested formula, you’ll adore what Bravely Default 2 has to offer.
Perhaps the most significant tweak of all is the combat system, so much so that the entire game was named after it. Unlike other turn-based combat systems, players can use the actions ”Brave” and “Default” to swing the odds in their favour. “Default” functions as a block that also gains the character using it a “Brave” point, essentially an extra action in a turn, up to a maximum of three.
These points can then be banked and spent whenever you please, leading to situations where characters can pop off ridiculous damage combos in a single turn. Which is all well and good for the player as it adds another layer of both defending and bursting damage into an otherwise stock-standard combat system, but the fact that the enemies can implement the system too is the real stroke of genius.
It’s a powerful tactic, one that can be easily exploited by a player knowing what they’re doing. Thus having such a potentially powerful tool in the hands of the enemy is enough to take most encounters to the next level.
Speaking of combat encounters, one classic JRPG trope has been removed for the better. Enemies are no longer random but visibly roam the overworld, meaning you can choose when you want to engage them or avoid them. It’s an absolute blessing that misses the point the second the party is locked into a confined space. While the controls are tight enough to sometimes outmaneuver the beasts in corridors, it defeats the point of being selective over your combat when the game doesn’t give you an opportunity to avoid a charging enemy. This turns dungeons into an absolute slog as you have to fight every enemy that spawns in front of you which can get old after a while.
Which is a sentiment for the game in general as Bravely Default 2 succumbs to the pitfall of so many JRPGs: It can drag, especially in the early sections of the game. Some cinematics were so long my Switch almost put itself to sleep because I hadn’t interacted with it enough while some boss fights, which are overall very engaging, turn into battles of attrition which don’t feel challenging but boring as you’re forced to chip away at an enemies health while pouring ether after ether down the healer’s throat.
It’s a pity that the game does feel the need to sometimes waste your time (especially with some dull and uninspired side-quests) because I actually found myself enjoying the overly-hammy story. The characters, while never really all that original in their tropes (such is the norm with Bravely Default 2) are charming enough that I enjoyed hanging out with them. I’m a sucker for stories that feature good-natured characters working together to help folks because it’s the right thing to do and while the supporting cast is very hit-or-miss, the story is simple and engaging… until it’s not.
Like I said, this game has some serious pacing issues; a fresh edit of the script a few cut dungeons would have done the world of good. Oh, and the menu system is an absolute nightmare. Please can we just have basic menus JRPGs? I don’t want to cycle through four different submenus to equip one hat.
Yet beyond those complaints, I liked Bravely Default 2 far more than I thought I would. There’s a reason the classic JRPG became such a powerhouse genre and that’s because it’s satisfying to see numbers go up while joining a cast of colourful characters on a world-spanning journey.
While the game no doubt falls into some of the traps solved by innovative developers years ago, it was never so bad to feel dated. More like an homage to the past thanks to some clever tweaks and presentation so good it might be one of the best-looking Switch games available. It certainly won’t be for everyone; this isn’t the game to convince your JRPG hating friend to get into the genre. Yet fans of both old-school and more modern iterations will no doubt find the experience satisfying if they can commit the time to grind through some of the game’s more tedious parts.
Last Updated: February 25, 2021