When Bravely Default finally got its western release in 2013, it was well received. So why change the ingredients when you have found the recipe for success? Now sequel Bravely Second: End Layer also arrives in this corner of the world and it certainly looks a lot like its predecessor.
The plot of this sequel picks up where the first game left off. In a world that has been exposed to some pretty gruesome events, Agnés Oblige, who we know from Bravely Default, has become the Pope of The Crystal Orthodoxy and continues to work to bring peace to the world. She is protected by the young Yew Geneolgia - who this time around is our protagonist. But one day Yew finds out that he can not protect Agnés against everything and everyone. She is attacked by Kaiser Oblivion and his wicked fairy, Anne, whose powers exceed Yew's. After the attack Yew is struggling just to stay conscious, but all he sees is Kaiser Oblivion steal Agnés away. Thereafter, everything goes dark. After a few weeks Yew finally regains consciousness again, and despite his injuries he swears to exact revenge on Kaiser Oblivion, setting out to save Agnés and fight the dark forces that threaten their world.
But even though the game's story is set after the first game, we don't think it's necessary to have played the original. Of course it's an advantage if you have, as you undoubtedly will have a stronger bond with certain characters and will know more about what has happened. But thanks to a quick review of past events, it's not a necessity.
The game gave us one of the most well put together - albeit quite complicated - battle experiences we've had in a while. This combat system is built around the Bravely Default recipe, but because it's so well constructed, there isn't much that needed to be changed anyway. There are so many elements that feed into make the battle experience a satisfying one, but because there are so many elements, it can be difficult to keep track of them all. It takes patience and the will to learn how to navigate the battle system properly, but if you invest some time in it, it'll be worth it.
As in Bravely Default, you choose a job for each person on your team. This job determines which abilities a character has and it acts similarly to the class systems know from almost all RPGs. In End Layer there are also some new jobs to choose from such as fencer, bishop, wizard and many more.
Just like the level of the character increases throughout the game, so does the level of the chosen job. Levelling a job means you get to unlock new abilities. You can choose a primary job, which is what you will be levelling up along the way, and a secondary job, the skills from which you can still use in battle. When you have found out which combinations of jobs you like the best among the four characters on your team, you can save these as your favourites and thereby quickly find them again before an important battle.
And how do these matches unfold, then? They work with a turn-based system where your team and the enemy each gets to attack once per round. However, you can - as in the first game - take advantage of the feature called 'default'. By making use of this, your character enters defence-mode and therefore he or she does not take much damage during that turn. But the advantage of using default is that you can stock up your rounds. This means that you use the default, for example, four times in a row or more, and suddenly you are able to attack the enemy with four hits in one round and possibly kill the enemy more effectively that way. It gives the matches a tactical layer, and we found it very helpful, for example, when we could time our attacks after a boss' attack pattern, and thereby beat him without taking too much damage.
It is also possible to give each character a special move which you can design and name yourself. You can determine what this special move should do and how it should be unlocked in combat.
The encounter slider from the first game also returns for the sequel. With this slider you can adjust how frequently you would like to bump into enemies. It is useful because in areas where you get very small amounts of experience you can lower the frequency, but when you want to grind experience you can make it higher. It definitely saved us from one of the things that could irritate the most. For those with no patience it'll be a relief to be able to decrease the amount of enemies they encounter when they just want to reach their destination.
But Square Enix has made it easier to gather experience this time around. If you win a fight in the first round, you now have the possibility to say yes to fight once again for a greater amount of experience. If you once again win during the first round, you can repeat it again for even more points. That means it becomes a bit easier to reach your desired level.
But it's not only the game's combat system that is incredibly well developed. This is a deep game filled with lots of things to do. Just as in the first game we could rebuild Tiz's village, in Bravely Second you can rebuild a society on the moon. And here it is an advantage to have some StreetPass friends that you can pull into the building process as well. It's possible to cut a significant portion off the time it takes to rebuild the community, if you have more people helping with the build. Thereby you can earn the various rewards much faster.
We also quite liked the options that the game offered us to get to know our companions better. In addition to the mandatory cutscenes where we hear more about them, you may also from time to time set up camp and thereby witness scenes that otherwise would not have been shown. There is also the opportunity to see the conversations that the characters have on the road if you press the Y button when the "Party Chat" icon appears. It's something you can choose to do (or not), but Square Enix definitely gives the player the chance to get to know the characters and thereby make an emotional investment in the game.
After having played a while it's also possible to do side missions. These missions give you a bit more history behind the so-called asterisk holders. These asterisks are small stone-like things that can unlock new jobs and are therefore very worth getting your hands on. They also provide a great escape from the otherwise very linear feeling of the game. And although there is still linearity looming in terms of what areas you can move around in and such, it gives you the sensation that you yourself are choosing in what order you want to do things.
At times, when a game has so many things to offer, it can overwhelm. Sometimes you completely forget that certain parts of the game even exist, or maybe you can't remember how you actually do half of the more complicated actions because you don't do them enough. However, we think that Bravely Second manages to explain itself really well, so much so that you understand all of the different elements. And although it sometimes introduces us to new things a bit too often, for the most part we were allowed to get to know the new features before more new things were thrown at us.
Just traveling from A to B in Bravely Second is a bit of an experience in itself. Instead of just selecting an icon on a map and fast traveling there, you're able to walk around the map yourself. It works just as it did in the first game, where you, as a rather large version of the character, are wandering around the beautiful surroundings on the map in order to reach your destination. In addition to this you also get a decent soundtrack, and what we consider really solid voice acting, and so the game creates its own little universe inside a bubble that you can disappear into. When a game makes you forget that you're really just lying on the sofa at home, and takes you away to a different place; there's very little that can rival that.
Sometimes it can be hard to drawn into the 2DS's small screen, but with Bravely Second it came naturally. Whether that's thanks to the beautiful surroundings, the gripping story (that from the beginning is full of twists and turns), the good - but also sometimes kind of dumb - humour, or even the cool combat system it's hard to tell. They're all present and accounted for, and they all contribute to giving the player a complete and immersive experience.
We spent some quality time with Bravely Second: End Layer. It follows its predecessor's formula successfully, and although we wanted some fresh ingredients to spice up the journey, we were spellbound. If you had a good experience with Bravely Default, you'll probably love this game, and all those who have not yet given it a chance, should.