Yes, this article will focus mostly on Bravely Default, and as I would have loved to dive head-first into a rant, I decided this article should be focused toward giving insight, observations, and educating whenever and where-ever I can. So to clarify, this shouldn’t really be counted as a review, more as a writing on the design decisions made for different aspects of the game itself…
Also, I’d like to mention this analysis is made under the following play conditions: Hard Difficulty is selected and Encounter Rate is set to 100%(doubles the frequency of random battles).
!!! SPOILER WARNING !!!
Good Visual Design and Aesthetics (The Only Positive)
First I’d like start of the start on things I actually like about the game. For one, I like the simplicity in the design as well as the aesthetics. The design is kept very minimal without sacrificing it’s visual themes, like towns being designed to appear cluttered while maintaining a clear and distinctive features of its buildings and decor. I’ve played many RPGs that overdo its visual design to a point where distinguishing a building’s function. For a bad example of this, see any picture/video, or visual of FFXIII or FFXIII-2. Yes the design of the FFXIII games are impressive, they are also far over complicated and reuse far too many assets far too frequently. Its very difficult to identify the purpose or function of the environment once your characters are there and the visuals itself may even seem to fade into backwash of samey colors. Whether you’ve played FFXIII or not, simply image search “FFXIII city” and you’ll see what I mean.
No Real Note On Sound
Sound also seems to be done fairly well, there’s nothing really amazing about it nor anything that really stands out (other than the most annoying victory music I’ve ever heard). Most creatures have the most basic of sounds to them while such things as abilities/attacks/etc share audio assets often. This isn’t really a problem for a handheld RPG title, but if you are going farm for EXP, I’d recommend listening to music on another device.
The problems come from the narrative and gameplay. Lets start with gameplay.
A Lacking Diversity of Classes and Equipment Combinations
Bravely Default doesn’t really have this despite having multiple classes and varying equipment that are interchangeable. The idea here being a variety of classes which each character can be set to allow the player strategic possibilities when used in various combinations. This is fine in theory, though in Bravely Default, all of these classes are too much alike. Many abilities can be shared between classes as they do the same things with very slight variants. In addition to this, much of the equipment used in game do not scale to any particular degree between classes. For example, with Tiz and Ringabel both using the Merchant class with Bloody Shield and Lu Bu’s Spear equipped, I’ve noticed no significant change in stats between this class and the Knight class using using the exact same equipment. If you are to build a mechanic or system which utilizes multiple classes which can be effected by equipment, classes may need to differ vastly.
In the case of the Merchant class, all weapons and armor should be negatively scaled to the character’s stats while the associated Commerce ability “More Money” (receives more money at the end of battle)should be boosted significantly. If anything, the attack and defense of this class should be very weak as to give the player pause to consider intentionally using a severely weak class type for the benefit of gaining more money after battles. Additionally, a small mechanic/script could be used to implement the use of equipment on the class to have negative effects, such as: having chance-based abilities always fail, amount of money received after battle resolve is reduced by 10 % to 60% (after More Money is applied). Also, Merchant class abilities should be tailored entirely to the purpose of gaining or using money in combat. Some can include bribing an enemy to attack it’s allies, accepting a bribe from a chosen enemy to give it a random buff (like +50% attack strength), or sacrificing money to give an ally or allies a specific buff, etc.
The Knight class should should scale depending on equipment, and more so depending on equipment type combinations. This could allow for interesting strategies for combat use including introducing abilities that are only available to the Knight using specific equipment types and combinations. For example, equipping a knight with two shields should grant a monstrous boost to the character’s defense. Personally, I would implement a simple mechanic to where equipping two shields as a Knight would allow the “Full Cover” (protects target ally for 1 turn, basically taking the hit for them while also defending) ability to be usable in battle, however, if only one shield (and no other weapon) were equipped, the “Full Cover” ability would now be “Cover” and would allow the character to protect multiple targets (with reduce damage absorption of course) should an accessory be equipped that allows the equipped character to attack sooner. This will limit the character usability while simultaneously increasing possible strategic possibilities and capabilities.
So should the player come across purchasable upgrades for the party and is massively under-funded, the player may consider using a Merchant-classed character to gain additional money (while being absolutely totally useless in combat with practically no real attack or defense) while using a Knight-classed character as the primary defense for the merchant. As the game stands now, I never needed apply any real strategy as to which classes I needed for a specific outcome, other than making sure at least two of my party could use White Mage and Black Mage classes. Unfortunately, this more or less renders most classes useless outside of how you personally want your party members to look in battle.
The Loot System and Exploration Should be Rewarding
In any RPG with a open and/or free roaming environment, exploration is invited even if the game does not explicitly make it apparent. Many RPG players will go off the set path if the ability to do so is present, searching for treasures and stronger enemies, and many times just to see what they may discover. Why is it Square Enix and or Silicon Studio why they felt it necessary to restrict exploration the way they had.
There a number of problems with the loot system and exploration here in Bravely Default.
1. Areas are locked off, and while this is actually a very common practice in many RPG titles, but why allow the player to enter a restricted area only to activate a cut-scene where the characters state they have no reason to be there. Firstly, how would the characters know there’s nothing for them to find nor a reason to enter the area. Bravely Default has a wide enough space for exploration, actually, the layout of the over-world seems to be designed and constructed specifically for exploration, yet not only are many of these areas locked away behind story progression, but areas available to the player literally have nothing to find. In these open areas, there are no treasures to find, no hidden secretes, no additional dungeons or towns, not even a variant in the enemies or levels which they spawn. There is literally nothing to be found. If there’s no reason for exploration, then having a free roaming over-world map is redundant and ultimately is a waste of time and consumed resources to produce.
2. The loot system in Bravely Default is more or less shot. When exploring, there are a few chests which can be found in dungeons and are sometimes a little ways off the path especially if you are playing with the encounter rate set to 100%. These chests are full of useful and amazing loot, like the basic potion you can buy for 50pg, or antidotes(which after 30+ hours of play, I’ve already had 40 of from random encounters), and other basic status items I’ve never used (literally). After 30+ hours of playing through the game, I’ve learned seeking these chests is an ultimately useless en-devour. In other RPGs like those of the Pokemon franchise, Super Mario RPG Legend of the Seven Stars, Golden Sun Series, Final Fantasy Series, even the Phantasy Star Series do indeed reward players for exploration, even if the loot chest relies on random number generation. As an example, while playing Final Fantasy XII on the PS2, There have been times where while exploring a region/area (whether it was within my level or my being just around the map by encounter triggers who FAR out-leveled my party at the time), I’ve come to obtain items and equipment from random chests found. Sometimes these items were rare and worth high value and purpose, sometimes items were common and worth little value. If anything, it seemed fair even though a few times I’ve ran from enemies who were 80+ levels higher than my party just open a chest containing on 1g, but there were some times where I’ve found a chest containing 70,000g. However, to be fair I don’t actually know if Bravely Default’s rewards for chests and battles are predefined or randomly generated, but for all I know, this may have been an intentional design choice.
You Wear Those Narrative Horse-Blinders Quite Nicely
My biggest complaint in regards to Bravely Default is it’s narrative. To be fair, the plot Bravely Default is generally inoffensive, there are far too many inconsistencies within the narrative and a blatant abuse of plot conveniences.
There are many times throughout the narrative where actions made by characters make no logical sense what’s so ever. In chapter one, your party eventually gains a character named Edea, and you gain her allegiance because she doesn’t approve of the methods used to retrieve the Wind Vestal Agnes, she doesn’t approve of her commanding officer’s treatment of his soldiers, and stresses betrayal of lies told to her by…. actually that part was never explained. There are a number of things wrong with this character’s motive for turning traitor to her father and king. 1) Edea does not approve of the siege of Caldisla. Maybe the writer(s) may have forgotten, but Edea’s faction and kingdom are enemies of this land, so why would she care for the destruction of some civilian homes and the massacre of the Caldisla palace? Its not like you weren’t part of the team who bombarded the lands with artillery fire, so why would this have bothered her, especially when the occupants of the burning home were pulled before it was set ablaze. 2) The treatment her commanding officer Omanis gives his pawns IS NOT a valid reason for a princess to turn traitor to her kingdom. If anything, Edea as the princess should have some sway of court should Omanis’s actions ever be addressed, but to just turn traitor as one reason is simply illogical. 3) Edea mentions that she tires of the lies fed to her by… someone? Firstly, what are these lies and secondly, who is passing these lies to you? Its almost as if the developers needed the player to gain an additional character, one with some sort of direct tie to the antagonistic faction, and either had no idea how to make that happen and the writer(s) no care to writing a tangible plot.
This happens throughout the narrative, situations born of irrational or intelligible decisions and actions made by characters in an attempt to move the plot along. There’s this part early on in the narrative where Sage Yulyana sends Tiz and company to a cave in search of a ritual garb but doesn’t tell her the place is infested with monsters nor of the dragon who lurks inside. To Sage Yulyana, Agnes is the world’s only hope for getting the wind crystal reawakened, yet intentionally has her into dangerous situations for the sack of wasting time. Then, when questioned as to why the silence of the matter, he doesn’t even give an excuse! He literally laughs it off like it were some joke. Another example is of the scenario between Valkyrie Einheria and friends. Einheria was sent to convince her friend Edea to denounce herself from Tiz, Agnes, and Ringabel in an attempt to spare herself the wrath of her king. When Edea rejects the warning, Einheria’s immediate response is to attack her friend and is killed… by her friend. These are two characters who were established to be friends, even as far as restating this after Edea’s betrayal to her king, and yet after a single conversation they are fighting to the death. This is a very bad disconnect in narrative, this is no reason for Einheria to not attempt some sparing or blind-eye to Edea’s refusal of allegiance. Even if a battle had ensued, Einheria could have forfeited her asterisk as an aid to Edea, regardless of whether the narrative required her win or loose, but to simply kill one another after a very brief meeting and short exchange of words? It doesn’t make any sense. Similar situations and scenarios occur all over the narrative at a frequency that’s jarring to say at best. This gives the impression the writer(s) of this title may not have nearly enough to give the narrative any cohesion, no care seemed to be put into making situations believable, character actions that follow any real logic, and plot conveniences that are blatantly injected onto the scene. Nothing illustrates this more than the convenient problem of Tiz’s book.
Tiz has this book, a prophecy book, that seems to have a detailed even of the situations Tiz and company may find themselves, characters they’ll meet or engage with, and seems to know where and when specific scenarios would take place. This is what’s called dues ex machina. This as a means to move a plot or narrative, is simply lazy. For a writer to tell a story where the most of the plot is forwarded by some form of contrivance in, in my opinion, the lowest display of literary writing and is as I mentioned before, very lazy. Doing this in a narrative removes any and all tension from the narrative, it removes any possible engagement with scenarios in the plot, and may cause the player to constantly question plot events. Is there any reason Ringabel hand’t read ahead in the book of plot contrivances? He read that his party would acquire an airship and hadn’t read far enough to know a dark knight would board them? He hadn’t read ahead that some for the (name here) were Valkyrie soldiers in disguise? Why hadn’t he read about the Merchant and King of (name here) being in partnership of the water crises in (name here), nor that the bandits were under merchant’s employ? If the book can detail literally when, where, and how the party acquires an airship and from who, yet for whatever reason the book isn’t consulted for other matters evolving the narrative? Why not if it has been established that the book contains just about all the information Tiz and Agnes needs to complete their goals, a point made Ringabel by the way, but is only used EVERY SINGLE TIME characters don’t have a direct directive to achieve? Believe it or not, this is never once brought up, nor questioned. If anything, this makes me wonder if the writer(s) cared so little for the narrative where the plot literally needed to be told to the characters directly of how to proceed it. For me, a person who plays RPGs mostly for story and character progression, I find this infuriating. I don’t understand why so many persons I’ve spoken with about this game hails the narrative as being amazing.
Overall, it all Boils Down to This…
This is a game that, upon close examination of all its mechanics, features, and narrative, combined with the near complete lack of relation between them, is a title made to appeal to the absolute lowest common of consumers. This is product made for those who the producers feared would become too distracted from an abundance of side quests and exploring, fearing consumers would only buy if the title were made to be completed within a short amount of time. There is no need in this game to explore as there is nothing to be found, there is no need to apply strategic play styles as the game’s mechanics were dumb’d down to its simplest form, there is no need to explore battle mechanics as the choice of jobs merely serve to make player options appear expansive, and there surely is no depth to story or characters as all intrigue has been stripped from the title.
As a complete product, Bravely Default is a complete mess which I personally hail as the worst RPG I’ve ever played. While the visual design and aesthetics are quite well in my opinion, the weight of every other aspect of its mechanics and narrative cannot be ignored. Because of the combination of lacking mechanics, broken plot devices and poor narrative, Bravely Default is far too easy, far too simple, and thus results in an experience one could describe as very underwhelming. Personally, I do not wish to see newer titles or similar games being made to such a low quality, produced with the smallest of effort, and yet is being praised as an amazing product. It completely baffles me so many of these issues within the game can be ignored or dismissed and I’ve yet to discover a reason why. A game as poorly produced as Bravely Default, or any game for that matter, should not be herald as something great, I fear doing so would only promote such a lacking substandard to be the norm for developers.
If Bravely Default really were to be a spiritual successor to the Final Fantasy franchise, then we as consumers deserve far better products than this.