I really, really wanted to love Bravely Default, but there was just too much annoyance in Square Enix’s retro-Final Fantasy revival for me to recommend the full experience. Most of its flaws had to do with the narrative, which made its initially lovable characters into ear-grating, obnoxious bores by the end, and of course there was the now-infamous stretch where you had to repeat the same dungeons and bosses ad nauseam. I’m happy to report that with Bravely Second: End Layer, the developers have remedied most of the issues that kept the original game from greatness.
Unfortunately, in the process of resolving these problems, the game spends a lot of time retreading old ground. But while it would have been nice to have seen more of an evolution in the gameplay department, it’s hard to complain when the concept has been done so right this time around. Whether you were disappointed with the original like me or thoroughly enjoyed it, or never even got around to playing it, this is a superior classic-style RPG that shouldn’t be missed by fans of the genre.
The story of Bravely Second picks up two-and-a-half years after the original game. Ringabel’s gone off on a mysterious quest, Edea’s returned to the Duchy of Eternia, Agnès has been made Pope of the Crystal Orthodoxy and Tiz has been asleep in some sort of cryo-chamber the whole time. If that sounds like a lot of gibberish to you, don’t worry — recaps highlighting important characters and events from the first game are all over the place.
If, on the other hand, you fancy yourself an expert on all that, you can skip past those and get right to finding out how these guys have been doing and what’s next for them. As it turns out, only Tiz and Edea are back as full party members (though Ringabel and Agnès still have roles in the story), with new cast members Yew and Magnolia filling out the absent members’ spots.
And you know…things are a lot less annoying this time around. While the original’s plot required its characters to be hopelessly stupid in order to make it work at all, Bravely Second drops the pretence of an epic story with plot twists galore, instead choosing to let things hang a bit looser in terms of humor and character interaction.
That’s not to say the narrative lacks surprises or drama — far from it — but the emphasis here seems to be on making the characters, from party members to villains, interact with each other in more organic ways. That makes things a lot less heavy-handed this time around, and allows certain people, like Agnès (whose sincerity, piousness and shrill voice poisoned the party last time), to really shine as individual personalities.
Speaking of individual personalities, yes, there are just as many bizarre baddies this time around, and yes, their jobs are just as awesome and unique as they were before. To elaborate for those not in the know, the game utilizes a job system reminiscent of Final Fantasy III and V. Certain bosses carry items called “asterisks,” which allow you to assume their jobs and learn their moves and abilities. For example, there’s your typical stuff like black and white mages, who can learn offensive and defensive magic skills, respectively; but then there are plenty of weird and wacky ones as well, like the Exorcist, who can use a move called “Undo” to revert enemies to a prior state (getting rid of healing or buffing effects, for example).
This job system, along with the trademark Brave/Default mechanic (which allows you to bank/spend multiple turns at a time), form the basis for a truly addictive RPG. Simply put, it’s an absolute blast to try out all the different jobs, learning different abilities from each one to custom-build your ideal character.
Like I said earlier, though, it’s kind of a shame that Bravely Second didn’t take more risks and try to evolve its gameplay beyond simply fixing the quirks of the original. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with Square Enix making a perfected version of this throwback to classic Final Fantasy games, but if you’ve played Bravely Default, a lot of what you’ll experience here is going to feel awfully familiar.
That goes right down to exploring whole sections of the map again, fighting bosses you’ve already fought and walking back through dungeons you thoroughly combed for treasures the first time around. One could argue that, since the game takes place in the same world, it’s only natural that such a duplication of efforts would occur — but rehashing is still rehashing, and it’s a shame that the developers couldn’t have found a way to make retreading this old ground feel fresh again somehow.
At the very least, revisiting old areas gives you a chance to witness just how breathtakingly beautiful this is for a 3DS title. Square Enix has clearly put a ton of effort into getting all it can out of the little portable, and it’s paid off wonderfully — the huge, detailed cities alone are worth the price of admission. Plus, the 3D effect of the system is at its most impressive depth here; the graphics are actually far better with it turned on than off, making it look like you’re actually peering down into its world.
As for the soundtrack, well, it’s on-par with the outstanding original. In place of Revo from Sound Horizon, Ryo of the band Supercell stepped up to pen the game’s fantastic collection of tracks — the new boss theme is a particularly face-melting number. Plus, a few of Revo’s old songs manage to slip their way in, including the gorgeous themes for all the old towns (Florem’s is still the best!).
If you’ve got a 3DS and a hankering for a solid RPG, it’s time to consider picking up Bravely Second: End Layer. Some of the biggest narrative annoyances from the first game have been deftly resolved this time around, and there’s plenty of explanation regarding the characters, places and past plot events if you’ve never experienced the original narrative. You could easily spend over 100 hours enjoying all the addictive intricacies of the game’s excellent job and battle systems. And although there’s a lot of reused content here — a shame, considering the potential evolution this sequel could have seen — it’s still a solid and thoroughly enjoyable romp with excellent visuals, a brilliant soundtrack and some great character interaction.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which we were provided with.
Bravely Second might not take as many risks as a sequel should, but that doesn't matter so much when you experience the great character interaction, impressive graphics, outstanding soundtrack and addictive gameplay of this wonderful RPG.