The first game in the Bravely Default series was released in 2012 on the 3DS, developed by JRPG giant, Square Enix. It received acclaim for its unique battle system whereby players can ‘Default’ their move in combat and choose to go on the defensive in order to store up ‘BP’, which can be used for multiple moves per turn later on, or to unleash hell with a special move. In 2015, we received Bravely Second, which was a sequel set two and a half years after the first game’s story concluded. Last year, Nintendo announced that a new game, rather confusingly called Bravely Default II, would be releasing at some point in 2020.
After a surprise Nintendo Direct ‘Mini’ (or not so mini really) by Nintendo last month, fans were able to download a free demo of the new game to their Switches the same day. Featuring a story separate from that of the final game, the demo is a chance for players to get to grips with the game’s battle system, meet the new protagonists, and have a first glimpse at what the world of Bravely Default II has to offer.
Please note that anything discussed within the article is still subject to change and alteration before the release of the final game later this year.
The demo of Bravely Default II can be downloaded from Nintendo’s eShop.
Much like the first game in the series, and in many JRPGs in general, the premise of the story is to find and reunite the four stolen crystals of the world, representing the four elements. The guardian of the gems, Princess Gloria of Musa, is the last of her line, and thus the responsibility falls to her and her plucky new companions: Seth the sailor, Elvis, a loud and charismatic researcher, and the mercenary Adelle. From the short time I interacted with this new cast of characters, I thoroughly enjoyed their personalities, and am looking forward to learning more about their backstories and involvment in the main story.
One of the core features of the Bravely Default series is the job system: by collecting items known as ‘Asterisks’ from defeated enemies, you can unlock more and more jobs for your party to utilise. In the demo, the player is given five jobs to assign to their characters in both a primary class, and a subclass: Freelancer, White Mage, Black Mage, Monk and Vanguard. Each job has certain traits and abilities, and can be used in combination to give your party a varied set of skills. I played with Seth as a Freelancer, Gloria as a White Mage, Adelle as a Monk and Elvis as a Vanguard. I almost wish I had made them all the healing White Mage class, because oh boy, was I going to need it.
More on that later.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO
The art of Bravely Default II is stunning, and the best I can liken it to is a classic children’s storybook. All of the environments have a wonderful hand-drawn charm, and the 3D effect of running through them is absolutely gorgeous. The starting city of the demo, the oasis town of Savalon, is a showcase of the game’s beauty, and how seamless the transitions from the main environment to inner buildings have been made.The music is another stand-out element of Bravely Default II, managing to match the atmosphere and tone of both the battle sequences and the exploration portions of the game without ever becoming dull. Composer Revo has returned after an absence in Bravely Second, and if the music of the demo is anything to go by, this game is going to have a truly wonderful original soundtrack.
Now, onto gameplay.
The demo begins with a helpful little pop-up, warning you that for the sake of being able to really test out the job system, the demo is going to be harder than usual.
This was a severe understatement.
Within the first thirteen minutes of my playthrough, I had died five times. Five. Some of the very first encounters I came across had enemies that could eviscerate two thirds of your health in one strike, and between trying to attack, heal, and stack up BP, combat was a stressful undertaking.
Not to be dettered, I switched my jobs around, made sure I had some healing subclasses equipped to enable me access to more restoring spells, and tried again.
I tried grinding around the entry area, hoping for some smaller enemies to slowly build up my experience.
Death again. By six orcs. SIX.
Whilst I soldiered on at first, this game is punishing in a way no demo should be. Rather than make me fall in love with the job system and abilities, I came to hate encounters, instead choosing to sprint around the map at full speed just to avoid the inevitability of the Game Over screen. Of course, the demo has said upfront that it’s more difficult for a reason, but I wish there had been some kind of balance between being a challenge and being enjoyable. Yes, I was able to beat some of my encounters. Were they satisfying? Not really. They made me think tactically, but to the extent that all actual fun was taken out of battles. Regardless of whether or not the full release reduces the difficulty as promised, I hope that Bravely Default II includes the system included in previous iterations, where players were able to change encounter rate and difficulty level, depending on how they wanted to play.