It's time to return to Excillant because once again the crystals are causing a riot. Here are our first impressions.
Nintendo recently dropped a playable demo of Bravely Default II on the Switch eShop. Despite the unusual title, it's actually the third entry in the series and, for the first time, it's a Switch exclusive. Intelligent Systems did it with Fire Emblem: Three Houses and now developer Silicon Studio is following their lead and leaving the old 3DS behind and heading to pastures new. As fans of the series, we thought we'd take a look at what the third chapter has in store for players and started an adventure built around four new heroes.
The developer opens the demo by confirming that this special sneak peek will actually be a little more difficult than the final game. Through this new demo, Silicon Studio wants fans to experience the tactical finesse offered by the JRPG and although we invested around 200 hours in the two predecessors on 3DS, our party got wiped a couple of times over the course of the next few hours. Even with good strategies in place, the beginning was fairly rough because the combat system isn't easy to get to grips with.
In Bravely Default II we're fighting turn-based battles but there's a little trick to remember: units can save up so-called Battle Points (BP for short) and use them to perform actions several times in a turn or particularly powerful attacks. A maximum of four actions can be carried out per character in a single round, and you can activate this overpowered attack even if you haven't yet collected enough BP, however, if you do so your characters are exposed to enemy turns across several rounds and can't react to them. Your opponents can also take advantage of this mechanic, which leads to some intense and dynamic battles.
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The brilliant class system for which Bravely Default is best-known is directly linked to this battle system. In the last game - Bravely Second: End Layer - there were 30 classes with eleven passive and active skills, which we accumulated and unlocked throughout our various battles. This made it possible to create absurdly powerful hybrid classes that allowed for an incredible range of complex strategies. The demo for Bravely Default II shows us the first six classes that all four characters can access at the same time (we unlocked the last one by defeating the boss of the main mission).
According to the developer, this demo is separate from the main game and thus we're assured that we'll receive virtually no information about the story coming in the finished product. All we know is that our group is looking for four crystals and wants to bring them back under control. Apparently the world is once again standing at the edge of the abyss. For example, the wind crystal has caused a desert city to sink into an overflowing oasis.
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Our group consists of amnesiac Seth, the crystal vassal Gloria, a seductive mercenary called Adelle, and a funny guy called Elvis. Together, the foursome search for information about the wind crystal in the aforementioned desert city and during their investigation they come across a rumour that leads them to a nearby ruin. Here they meet another asterisk carrier (asterisks are gemstones that let us change class), who turned out to be a boss. In fact, we discovered one or two encounters hidden in the game world, and Silicon Studio had two powerful bosses lurking in wait for our party. It wasn't much fun that these bosses were so powerful that our level 20 characters didn't stand a chance.
Each class has a special attack that you have to charge by fulfilling certain criteria first. As a freelancer, ten normal attacks are enough to ready this ability. After doing so, Seth, for example, could then carry out a mighty attack that gives the whole group a powerful stat boost. This manoeuvre changes the rhythm of the soundtrack too, and as long as the new melody is playing, your fighters benefit from various additional effects.
What was obviously very important to the developers is the interface and menu navigation in general. For example, if we hold down the A button on the right Joy-Con during combat, the last command that the respective character executed in the previous turn will be performed again. Bravely Default already tried to make the JRPG grind as pleasant as possible and Silicon Studio obviously wants to repeat this. In contrast to its two predecessors, however, we are no longer thrown into random battles but instead, we have to find our opponents on the 3D world map or in dungeons.
What struck us in this early version was the series-defining visuals. Unfortunately, this is only really noticeable in the backgrounds right now. The 3DS titles were among the most beautiful games on the old Nintendo handheld and they were incredibly good at using the 3D effect offered by the device. These panoramic views are also available in Bravely Default II, but in our opinion, the over-stylised and uninspired Chibi design of the characters doesn't work all that well; characters look plastic and have an unnatural glow, which simply doesn't do justice to the series' otherwise distinctive visual identity. Thus we're a little worried that the charming presentation of old hasn't survived the transition to the Switch unscathed, which would be a real loss for this particular series.
Regardless, it's obvious that Silicon Studio has used many of the great ideas first seen in the game's predecessors to underpin the next chapter in the series. That said, since the last game already felt a bit like a copy of the original despite having a few of its own ideas, and the fact that we only got a glimpse of certain aspects in the demo, our impression after playing the first three hours is somewhat sober. We know that Silicon Studio was able to develop an intriguing narrative in its previous games, and we expect that in Bravely Default II too, however, it might also be time to stop repeating the formula that made the first games so good and do something fresh and exciting with it - we'd like to see where else this series can go in the future.