Bravely Default II is not just a video game, it is a dip in nostalgia. The series blends the classic turn-based gameplay of old Final Fantasy with the class and skill management of Tactics, creating a combination that is hard to tire of if you are a fan of JRPGs worthy of the name. In recent years the sagas belonging to this genre have gradually disappeared, much to my regret. Whenever I hear a player complain about how boring turn-based combat is, I feel a stab in the heart: tastes are tastes, God forbid, but we're talking about the most classic of gameplay and I'm more than convinced that everyone should give it a chance. To be convinced that a challenge against a monstrous enemy is less adrenaline-pumping since not in real time, is wrong. Preparing to the best of your ability for the turn in which we will be attacked gives the right thrills and does not provide any discounts, even to the most experienced.
Bravely Default II is classic but with panache
The story of Bravely Default II is set in the same universe as the two titles that precede it in the saga, but it takes us to explore completely new areas. The world of Excillant is very reminiscent of its antecedents, especially as regards the exotic cities, full of colorful shops and imposing buildings. The characters who inhabit it also seem familiar, as they play all the roles of classic fantasy. The protagonist of the story is Princess Gloria and she has been invested with the sacred task of recovering the Crystals she was guarding, which have been stolen and are currently in the hands of shady figures scattered among the various nations. The characterization of the young woman left me a little perplexed, representing in all respects the noble handmaid aware of her responsibilities and her role in the world. Seth, travel companion and destiny, is also a bit dull, print and figure of the hero born of the people but with great potential and hidden. Elvis and Adelle are decidedly more interesting: the first is a magician with a delightful Scottish accent and irreverent personality, the second a mercenary with a mysterious past and verve to sell. The quartet is surrounded by a large cast of characters that we cross as we walk, some better characterized than others. Despite myself I must admit that I was not too impressed by the story, neither in negative nor in positive. That's what I expected for the canons of the genre, following the trend of the previous titles and the lore of the fantasy RPG games of the last decades. The dialogues within the group give a pinch of extra panache, showing the funny background of the adventures we live.
The strong point of Bravely Default II is undoubtedly the gameplay. The turn-based combat boasts a system of accumulation of action points, which can be collected by avoiding acting and defending. This system is called Default and allows you to invest the credit later, using multiple actions in a row with the Brave. You can also choose to go the other way and accumulate a debt of stock to recover in later rounds, which is sometimes convenient for using more powerful skills or trying to get rid of an annoying or dangerous enemy quickly. Understanding how to use Brave / Default expertly is a fundamental weapon in dominating battles and avoid being in dangerous dead ends, in which our characters are all in debt for shares and remain helpless for multiple turns in a row. This system is certainly not the only element to keep an eye on in order to win: classes and skills are equally fundamental. Advancing in the story you get particular jobs for the four protagonists to undertake, each with unique attacks, characteristics and abilities, which can be combined with each other. The passive skills learned, in fact, are preserved by changing class and this allows you to create a puzzle of characteristics to create the perfect warrior. For example, the tamer learns a skill that reduces the consumption of Mana Points by 20%, a true holy hand for a mage, which consumes them at a fast rate.
The project of leveling the various classes is not a plan that can be achieved in a short time: obtaining Class Points to perfect ourselves requires a certain commitment and a considerable grinding, even if it is possible to chain battles with enemies to obtain particular bonuses of growth. Some of the most useful classes are only obtained far into the story - or even later - and that spoils the attempt to create an efficient skill set in the first few dozen hours of play. However, reflecting on perfect skills is a good part of the fun the title offers and more the clothes related to the various jobs are fantastic and delightfully kitsch.
There is no denying that grinding plays an essential role in the title, a bit like the two previous Bravelys. It happens so often that we have to fight for hours and hours that it is possible to speed up the battle or set automatic attacks to repeat in a loop, so as to save us the effort. Although the enemies are present on the screen, and therefore avoidable with a little commitment or with particular objects that keep them at a distance, it is necessary to face them to earn Experience Points and Class Points for the growth of our group. Bravely Default II is not an easy game and even a good strategy is often not enough to compensate for a low-level party, punishing it harshly in some boss-fights. I appreciate challenges, so I tend to try to deal with enemies as soon as possible, but I have often been forced to revise my plan and return to the battleground with a few extra levels on my shoulders. It is not a big problem and fighting against enemies can bring other advantages, such as finding rare objects or trying to capture them with the tamer, but sometimes it is a bit tedious, thanks to an exploratory component that is not exactly at the top. The dungeons become decidedly more complex going forward, but they never made me cry for a miracle and I found it quite simple and repetitive to explore them, even if a bit more challenging it is to find all the chests, the total number of which is still indicated on the screen if you possesses the skill that allows it. Having to face countless fights in a row to visit all the rooms is sometimes tiring, especially when very large groups of enemies appear in front of us, perhaps taking us by surprise and thus gaining the first action. Such fights, while routine, can be more difficult than expected. It should also be considered that healing is not possible in every point of the mazes: we can use healing spells and potions everywhere, but recovering the Mana Points is another story. The tools to increase them are in fact quite rare, with the exception of their mini version which is on sale immediately, and the only other way to recover them is to sleep in a tent, which is only possible in certain specific areas. We therefore find ourselves having to ration mana in some battles, but it is a common element to many games of the genre and finding ways to manage the situation well is part of the gameplay.
La great variety of side missions and optional bosses it was perhaps obvious given the size of the title, but it still fully satisfied me. Side quests are often simple fetches, but sometimes they reveal surprises, so it's always worth taking on them, if only to gain experience. In Bravely Default II there is also a nice mode that allows you to send ships to explore while the console is in rest mode: the more hours we are away from the game, the further the boat goes and brings us back treasures. Considering how much I've played, my ship has been roaming almost only at night, but it has still brought me useful items, including orbs that provide Experience Points or stat bonuses. It is also possible to collaborate with friends online, but I was unable to test this mode in the review phase before the release of the title.
The artistic component of the Bravely series has always been of the highest level. The backgrounds and cities look like they came out of paintings and getting lost in it is a pleasure, that hasn't changed from the Nintendo 3DS to the Switch. On the other hand, what appears quite different is the appearance of the characters, whose models have been rendered three-dimensional, passing from a drawn style to a plastic doll-like style. I didn't appreciate it, but they are personal tastes rather than a real criticism. Everything else is truly awe-inspiring, including the design of enemies and bosses, which are always interesting and - at times - creepy. I have noticed some occasional drop in frame rate, plus the game pauses for a few moments before the cut-scenes or when we press the button to interact with some NPCs that provide us with quests: nothing serious, but a little exciting. The music of Bravely Default II is no exception: I particularly appreciated the battle themes of the human bosses, which give the right charge without being too repetitive. A nice touch is the dubbing of the characters, which is pleasant in both English and Japanese. There are really excellent and very expressive actors, while others are flatter, but overall the result is really nice: I enjoyed each cutscene and loved the comments of the protagonists during and at the end of the fights.
Bravely Default II is an excellent JRPG. The series needs no introduction and I believe that all fans of the genre know it, as it represents one of the most recent and good quality franchises. The title is undoubtedly a must purchase for anyone who owns a Nintendo Switch and is not reluctant to the experience of turn-based combat, thus not incurring my disapproval. On balance, however, I must admit that the game remained less in my heart than the two chapters that preceded it, in which I perhaps linked more with the story and with the protagonists. Nonetheless, the third title in the saga did a good job of smoothing out the small gameplay flaws, improving scant elements here and there without upsetting the level of challenge or the fundamental elements of the genre, which make it a challenging game that gives great satisfactions.