I’m starting this article with a weird statement: I am jealous of children. It’s not a singular jealousy, as if I covet their youth or their free, innocent spirits; after all, I’m not trying to transmute any babies into goblins, like a less-fabulous Ziggy Stardust. It’s more that I’m jealous of what they get to experience because of the trials and tribulations from our childhoods, and the benefits they receive because of this. I’m old enough to remember a time where save points in games were nonexistent, where people would invest in spiral notebooks to record codes or unplug the console from the television and hope Mom didn’t notice. Kids these days can now save right before a boss battle, on multiple save files, and place consoles on Sleep Mode without any penalties whatsoever. This doesn’t incite anger, but it does invoke an extreme envy, and I still can’t figure out how to use 3DS StreetPass. Because of modern innovations, especially in the field of video games, I’m finding myself yelling “Get off of my lawn!” more than I should.
This is why I feel as if Bravely Default was made specifically for people like me, as though the developers had taken the wishes in my diary to heart. Hidden under my mounds of unicorn dolls and Lisa Frank binders, Square Enix has unearthed some of my greatest yearnings in gaming, and I can’t thank them enough.
The spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light, Sqaure Enix has truly outdone themselves at a time when they sorely need the support of their fans outside of Japan. One of the most daunting tasks that developers face is the idea that a good game should always feel familiar to the players, but also have enough twists and innovations to build the idea that this experience is brand new, and Bravely Default is accomplishing just that. (By the way, this is what us as fans do to developers. When we get something “old school”, and we say that there’s nothing new, and when we get something innovative, we tell them to stick with what they’re good at. We are the most fickle figurative prom dates of the consumer world; though that in itself is a topic for another day.)
The combat system is more than ideal, a polished work that has had a few decades of mechanics to borrow from. It feels familiar in the fact that there are classic job systems available and recognizable; you will instinctively know where a Black Mage or Knight’s strengths and weaknesses lie, with a small learning curve when equipping weapons and armor. The innovation is in the combat tasks itself, giving people the chance to build the most well-rounded and ridiculously synergistic team ever. Characters, on top of attacks and abilities, can now choose two different options: Brave Points lend to multiple and/or stronger actions at the cost of having to sit out on preceding turns, while the Default option has the character save up Brave Points, which gives them the option to save devastating attacks for later (while taking less damage and essentially “sitting out” for a turn).
The artwork, as always, is epic in scope, and couples well with its larger than life story: four heroes, all with different backgrounds and attitudes, are thrust into the service of the people around them. In the Demo version that is available in the 3DS eShop, Tiz and the team find themselves helping citizens of a small city with various different quests. The scope of the city is mesmerizing: decorated with cogs and buildings reminiscent of timepieces, the subtle movements and rustic colors can draw the player’s eyes into something hypnotic.
Lastly, it just feels like a Final Fantasy game. Admittedly, I’ve had a lot of trouble enjoying the latest incarnations from Square Enix, from their push to get the other markets to love Lightning as much as we love Cloud or Tidus to their foray into the MMO realm. The appeal of the genre, to me at least, is the idea that we are experiencing these epic stories on a singular level, and every player that is experiencing it at the same time will have a different but relatable experience as well. Grinding to level up characters, for example, should never be displayed for the eyes of others to see; we turn into gnarled husks of ourselves, repetitively reenacting battle after battle to stand a chance against the next big boss, and it is an accomplishment that only the player can truly appreciate.
In truth, Bravely Default is just what the doctor has prescribed for Square Enix: an old-school epic adventure that is taking advantage of every possible innovation that they can. I can see this striking out with younger demographics in the long run; there is no sort of “Pokemon X/Y Exp Share”-type item that I’ve come across, and the immense amount of depth that is built into the job system is daunting at the very least. But for someone who has been yearning for a solid JRPG experience will need to pick this up, because our Nerd-prayers have been answered. If any other developers would like to take a peek into my diary, it will be neatly nestled between my Easy Bake Oven and my Lightsaber collection - hey, even Padawans have sweet tooths.