With Square Enix taking the Final Fantasy series in new and exciting directions by trading in classic turn-based combat for strategic button-mashing, there’s been a hole left in the JRPG genre. Sure, Dragon Quest XI has remained true to form and looks to stay that way, but the bread and butter of what made Final Fantasy a beloved franchise is gone — for now. That doesn’t mean that Square Enix doesn’t have a plan B. The Bravely Default series, which began on the Nintendo 3DS six years ago, has picked up the mantle of discarded ideas from Final Fantasy and run with it. Now, Bravely Default II is available for the Nintendo Switch, and a whole new audience can experience one of the better JRPG gaming experiences in over two generations.
Bravely Default II is less a direct sequel and more of a new and self-contained story that uses the budding franchise’s core mechanics, namely the Brave and Default combat system, which allows the player to be brave and “borrow” future moves, leaving themselves open to turn after turn of no action, or default and save up moves to unleash pure hell on an enemy. It is this system that separates Bravely Default from its Final Fantasy cousin, but it borrows so much more.
Not unlike its predecessors, Bravely Default II features the adventure of four “heroes of light,” which calls back to the Warriors of Light from early FF games. The four cardinal crystals (earth, water, fire, and wind) also play a huge part in the story. Another common thread comes in the form of the staggeringly deep Job system. Players can switch jobs — choosing from roles such as white mage, thief, and blademaster — to build the perfect four-person team for this long and epic journey. Better yet, jobs can be switched out on the fly, creating a deep customization system with myriad possibilities.
The story of Bravely Default II revolves around a nefarious entity called Holograd stealing the four crystals from the Kingdom of Musa, and Musa’s princess, Gloria, teaming up with a wayward sailor named Seth, a scholar named Elvis, and his hired mercenary, Adelle, to get the crystals back and prevent a great calamity from bringing about worldwide destruction. Each character also has their own personal story that gets a chance to shine during the 60-70 hour-long journey, and discovering these story beats is part of the fun.
The art direction retains all of the charm from the previous games in the series, but the power of the Nintendo Switch lends the visuals a level of detail that the 3DS just couldn’t offer. Character models are unique, with a style reminiscent of chibi, albeit with better textures and details. In party chats or some of the longer conversations, characters all stand onscreen and they sort of resemble the puppets from the Thunderbirds or Team America, which gives them a life all their own. Bravely Default II also builds on some of the effects and stylings from 2018’s amazing Octopath Traveler, making this a true amalgam of great JRPGs, all from under the Square Enix shingle. And some people say Square Enix has abandoned the genre they all but created. Pfft.
While Bravely Default II has so much good going for it, it also has some quirks that won’t mesh well with modern sensibilities. Namely, the intense need to grind for levels and the narrative cliches that seem to permeate in every epic JRPG. As a fan of the genre, I take comfort in these tropes and find great joy in grinding for hours to get my levels as high as I can before progressing, but I also recognize that others may not find the fun in that.
At least Bravely Default II offers players an amazing orchestral soundtrack to make the hours upon hours of battles worth doing. Each region has its own themes and score that represents the style of that locale — for example, the desert area has songs that have a Middle Eastern flare. The voice acting from both the main heroes and the various NPCs are also region-specific, which really helps to suck the player into this game world.
Bravely Default II is an epic and, most importantly, fun adventure that doesn’t try to fix what isn’t broken, and presents a game that borrows various styles from the titles that obviously influenced it. While Final Fantasy has evolved into more of an action RPG series, it’s just wonderful for JRPG fans to have a game that reminds us all of where the genre came from, all without sacrificing what makes them so fun to play.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Nintendo.
Bravely Default II borrows much from the games and franchises that came before it, while still carving out a fun and thrilling identity of its own.