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When it comes to video games, turn-based RPGs have come a long way from their humble origins. Early examples like the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest immediately established themselves as in-depth adventures, serving up strategic combat and rich in-game worlds (for the time). As the years went by, the genre developed well with games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII blowing us away in the 1990s, and even 20 years after them, we're being amazed further by the likes of Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Persona 5 Royal.
However, there's still a lot of appeal in those older RPGs, and Bravely Default II knows this. Capturing the spirit of older Final Fantasy games, BD2 combines modern bells and whistles with classic - borderline retro - gameplay. Add to that the signature 'Brave and Default' combat system (a kind of credit/debit approach to using turns), and the result is a user-friendly, enchanting experience that you won't want to put down.
Playing as your custom-named protagonist, you're introduced to the world of Halcyonia, a place described as "the most prosperous and peaceful kingdom". Frankly, it's utterly beautiful. The town has a pop-up book aesthetic, with the 3D style making textures overlap in both a clever and crude manner. Walking around the town is a delight, with plenty of NPCs offering up welcome conversation. Quick note here for Truff, a friendly "monster" who is so cute it physically hurt me to see him upset.
Then there's the character design, which blends the proportions of a chibi art style, with a soft, porcelain-esque vibe. While this isn't exactly new (and I don't just mean from previous Bravely Default titles), it feels distinctly well done here. Characters are cute yet sombre. Approachable yet strong. Ultimately, their appearance indicates that BD2 isn't all smiles and sunshine, and this versatility is a big reason to delve in, but I'll say more on that when I review the game later this month.
The high quality of the voice acting notably stands out. Characters display believable emotions (for the most part), adding a shade of reality to an otherwise complete fantasy world, and that's remarkable. Don't get me wrong, not every accent is flawless, but Bravely Default II definitely isn't lacking in firstrate vocal performances. This exceptional quality helps you invest in the game, driving you on as you face each obstacle.
Speaking of sound, the OST is wonderful. Some of the music is on a par with greats like Chrono Trigger, and that doesn't happen too often. One tune in particular got so engrossed in my head that I found myself humming it while playing another game on the following day. Normally, this kind of thing would annoy me (I'm looking at you, 'Title Screen' from Super Mario 3D World), but not this time.
The best feature of Bravely Default II is the combat. Battles are exciting and encounters are as frequent as you want them to be. Your party offers a nice mix of abilities early on, letting you combine a range of basic attacks with magical abilities. Most importantly, there's the aforementioned 'Brave and Default' system. 'Brave' essentially lets you have more turns at once - up to four - meaning you can unleash four attacks on an enemy in one go. There's a drawback to this, as you'll then have to wait up to three turns to recover the excess moves you used. This doesn't just work for attacks, as you can also apply it to magical abilities and item usage.
Then there' the 'Default' option, which lets you give up a turn while assuming a defensive pose. The advantage of this is your character patiently waits, building up a point for each skipped turn - up to three - so you can use all of these moves in one go. In other words, you can use 'Brave' to perform multiple attacks, without being left vulnerable afterwards. This combat system adds a layer of strategy to the gameplay that sets the Bravely Default series apart from other RPGs, and it's an experience you won't want to miss out on.
Although I'm only a little way into Bravely Default II, it's clear that this game has me right where it wants me. A superb combat system, gorgeous visuals, an OST filled with memorable tracks, and a cast of appealing characters all combine to offer an early game of the year contender.
Bravely Default II was played on Nintendo Switch with code provided by Nintendo. The game releases for Nintendo Switch on February 26th.
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