It's impossible to talk about Square's new RPG without being drawn back to Final Fantasy.
Because all the typical aspects found in the company's franchise is up for grabs: turn-based battle system, intense music, cheesy storyline (and cliché characters - the young boy who lost everything, the womaniser who suffers from memory loss, the hot-blooded woman who interferes with the womanizer, and of course the team member who possesses magical powers that will determine the full fate of the world).
Square Enix have also decided to place the adventure amidst an archetypical (Final) fantasy setting. Knights, white mages, monks, thieves and merchants are some of the many classes available to distribute in across a four person-strong band whose main task is to save the world.
Inspiration has been taken from Mega Man, in the aspect that we take over an enemy's skills after they're defeated. To begin with, I only have access to the neutral class, but with time I unlock more combinations for my small team. Who I choose to distribute each class to is then entirely up to me.
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Bravely Default also implements a new feature that is so slick that I will miss it deeply when returning to other titles in the genre. The game's battle system allows you to stack turns in advance, or save them for later. So if you gamble that you'll defeat an enemy if you use four turns in a row, you can do so. The flip-side is if they're still standing come your multi-turn end, you've got to watch your side get hammered as they take their four turns against you - which usually means a resolute and unforgiving death.
If I instead choose to save my turns, my small crew will then arm themselves and receive less damage when attacked. Following that, I can let loose all my saved turns (up to four per character) and thus distribute up to sixteen rounds at the same time.
The system works great and puts a distinctive stamp on Bravely Default which makes it feel fresh, even though it is otherwise quite old fashioned. It means I'm not devoting as much time to the smaller battles - if I come across a lone tiger, for instance, I can simply squeeze out 16 rounds in advance , kill it in 15 seconds and then continue with a few more experience points in the bank.
The dialogue is well written and most of the voice actors perform it equally deftly. Others, such as the stammering magician, are so bad that you'll want to turn off the audio. Everything is written in a way that is reminiscent of the Super Nintendo - humour and nonsense is intermixed with seriousness and darkness, and every little aspect is drawn to an extreme in a way that only Japanese RPGs can get away with.
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The story is an epic one, as it should be in Japanese role-playing context, though it takes us a while to warm to the cast and their plight. We barely raise an eyebrow at the plight of main character Tiz's village as its cast into a sinkhole at the game's opening, but a few hours in, we find ourselves concerned for their fates.
Restoring the village opens up a min-game alongside your main quest, one that uses the 3DS StreetPass system rather smartly. Clicking on dilapidated houses will order one of Tiz's workers to restore it. To begin you've only the one helper - StreetPassing other players will enrol another person to your workforce, and restored buildings can be used to create useful items such as weapons and potions.
Street Pass hits can also be used in combat. You can create a custom attack which can be shared with other players (and vice-versa), and used during battles (though you can only use another player's attack once a day). The system is fun, different and definitely has potential.
Complex, but useful. However, things get more complicated with the inclusion of the SP feature, which allows you to pause any battle and, as long as you have enough SP, kill the enemy immediately.
SP can be obtained by keeping your 3DS in sleep mode for eight hours or by using real life money. I have not been able to test the system on the review copy of the game and therefore do not know how much SP actually costs, but it matters little. It is after all a cheat system where you pay to win (in single player!). The gaming experience is much more rewarding if you completely skip this.
If it were not for the latter elements, Bravely Default would edge towards a score of 9. But as it is, it's a weak 8. There's a lot to praise: combat, design, music, characters (and their development), the Mega Man-inspired class system and the amount of content, but I hate the SP system. Equally, while the StreetPass stuff in interesting in theory, its highly annoying that players may miss a lot of great items if they are unable to regularly share content with other 3DS owners.
In the end, I recommend anyone with any degree of love for the Japanese RPG genre to buy Bravely Default and enjoy it for what it actually is. Disregard the micro-transactions, ignore the SP-cheating, and you've one of the best RPGs for the 3DS since Fire Emblem: Awakening.