I honestly don't remember the last time a game had me feeling so content when just grinding through enemies. When an RPG becomes so difficult that I have to go and level up my party against random foes, I normally get angry like a sulking child, but not this time. No, Bravely Default II hits different, and it's a magical thing.
In my preview, I wrote about how Bravely Default II channels turn-based fantasy games of old and adds some modern touches. This blend of new and old makes for an excellent title already, but Bravely Default II goes above and beyond. The real strength of the game is hidden a little bit deeper.
The environments are gorgeous. Areas look like beautifully crafted dioramas, the kind that would give the Switch remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening a run for its money. The lush greens. The gentle waters. Even the sand looks so good that Anakin Skywalker wouldn't complain. Add to that the cutesy-yet-elegant character designs and Bravely Default II looks so wonderful that you'll fill up your Switch memory with screenshots in no time. Don't let the aesthetic fool you, though, as there are some epic thorns attached to this visual rose.
As I previously mentioned, there are difficulty spikes in the game. I don't mind admitting to you that Bravely Default II smacked me down a few times. Seriously, there were a few moments where I found myself stunned at the beating I just received, and I was only playing on Normal difficulty. Having one of your heroes knocked out in a single hit is never good, but the thing is, I didn't respond to these moments by turning the game off. Instead, I loaded my last save up and marched onward, a little wiser on how my enemy would fight. If that didn't work, I turned myself around and went back to a safer area to prey upon weaker enemies, because I don't always want to pick on someone my own size.
Farming experience points this way is arguably one of the most enjoyable parts of Bravely Default II, as odd as that may seem. Casually strolling around a beautiful area, walloping enemies en masse is a great way to unwind, and it all feels good because you know you're gearing up for a rematch with the boss who just flattened you. Add to that the job system and it feels even better.
In Bravely Default II, your characters can be assigned jobs. These range from a White Mage, who heals party members, to a Monk, who dishes out physical damage with expert precision. As your characters battle, they will earn job points, which boost their job levels and unlock new abilities. This mechanic isn't mindblowing on its own, but Bravely Default II also utilises a sub job system. In other words, your characters can have two jobs at the same time, opening up a variety of combinations. It's immensely satisfying to have a Monk who can decimate opponents while being able to heal themselves and others thanks to having White Mage as their sub job. It's another example of the way Bravely Default II embraces RPG tradition while adding modern convenience, and the result is truly rewarding gameplay unlike anything else.
As great as all these mechanics and visuals are, they'd fall flat if Bravely Default II didn't offer you something deeper. Lucky for us, there's a loveable cast of characters here that develop throughout the game. Party members, like Adelle, offer you insight into their past when you complete a sidequest, giving you a closer connection to them as you adventure together. This isn't anything new, but it's another element that Bravely Default II gets right. It also helps that (most) characters are voiced superbly, letting you invest in their stories that little bit more.
Having said that, there are times when conversations do run on a bit. In defence of Bravely Default II, there's a lot going on with the story and its characters, but it's hard not to skip cutscenes at times. Same with optional conversations, available by pressing the '+' key when prompted. It's not a case of these scenes being inadequate in isolation because they are genuinely enjoyable, most of the time. It's just that when you're hit with a load of dialogue sequences in a short period, it feels like a stall in an otherwise smooth journey.
The good thing about these slower moments is they give you a chance to appreciate the original soundtrack even more. Bravely Default II has some masterful music that will burrow into your mind and stay there long after you've stopped playing for the night. From the tense battle music to the more calming melodies in cutscenes, some of these pieces hold their own against the best in the genre.
In short, Bravely Default II is a gem. It serves up amazing visuals with a combat system that both veterans and newcomers will love. It marries excellent characters with a rich in-game world, and delivers it with a majestic OST. It's not perfect but it's an excellent RPG that every Switch owner should try.
Pros: beautiful art style, fun gameplay, classic RPG vibes
Cons: too many dialogue sequences, difficulty spikes
For fans of: Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Retro RPGs
Bravely Default II was reviewed with code provided by Nintendo. Bravely Default II releases February 26 for Nintendo Switch. Demo available now. Read a guide to our review scores here.
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