CAUTION: This article contains spoilers. If you’ve never completely played through Bravely Default, you’ve been warned.
Today, I want to tell you a story about Bravely Default. And no, not the new sequel, End Layer, but the first one.
Just over 2 years ago, Square Enix released Bravely Default in North America (a Nintendo 3DS exclusive) to much fanfare and anticipation. I’m a huge 3DS fan, but I was caught off guard by all the fervor this game was generating. The buzz was about the new battle system mechanics which improved on the standard blocking maneuver by coupling it with the ability to save a move for later. Essentially, you can “pass” on a move so you can get two, three, or four simultaneous shots in later. This simple change added a lot to the strategy of battling without making it complicated.
The game not only looked good, but Square Enix was promising a refreshing new approach to this RPG and acknowledged the grumblings about recent Final Fantasy entries. A lot of members in my retro gaming group were going to get it, so I got excited along with them and grabbed it on Day One.
And yes…in fact, Bravely Default was an incredible game! The towns are wonderfully rendered, the dialog doesn’t go on for too long (minus a handful of pointless conversations) and is relatable. Battles and grinding are fun because of the new battle mechanics that allow you to overwhelm weaker opponents with multiple hits up front and you can even fast-forward or automate the action.
I enjoyed my 24 hours of playing the game when I came upon what I expected to be the ending: capturing the final crystal and a “final fight” with the boss, Artemis Dim. (Even if I expected Edea’s father to have been the final battle.) Our brave heroes head into the Pillar of Light to rid the world of evil and…
…Tiz wakes up in the Inn just as if the game was starting all over again.
I was shocked. What was happening? I walked outside and all the people who knew me before didn’t know me now. It would’ve felt as if the game had simply been reset had it not been for some specific dialogue referencing a “loop.” Sure enough, I was instructed to destroy all four of the crystals again. AGAIN! At this point, I consulted with an online walkthrough (which I’d managed to avoid the entire game because the game is a very fair one) and, sure enough, you had to play the game all over again.
Four. More. Times.
Aggravated and annoyed, I quit on the spot. That was the end of that. I spent the next two years, when asked what I thought of the game, responding that it was very good but had a horrible ending that demanded you play over and over and would leave you jaded.
Let’s move to 2016 and two years have gone by. Bravely Second: End Layer is coming out and people are getting excited and I’m just here…well, grumpy. I really wanted to play it. I really did. A Limited Edition was being released and looked so great, but no way am I buying that. How could I? I never beat the first game, was still peeved about my experience, and what was I going to do, continue from where I left off after I’ve totally forgotten the whole story and how to play? Surely, I wouldn’t play it all over again, right?
OK, that’s exactly what I did.
Sheepishly, when I decided I’d start the game all over again, I was super excited. It’s very rare I play a game though twice, especially an RPG, but I wanted to make my peace with the game. Simultaneously, I expected that I might quit after I started if the game didn’t hook me back in.
But hook me it did.
Bravely Default, after having played it a second time through, is even better than I remembered! I daresay it’s an almost perfect RPG. Firstly, it’s not tremendously long. You won’t have to play 100 hours of it. Yet, the big win to it really is the grinding aspect. Do you have to grind levels to beat it? Yep. However, the grinding is easy…in fact, it’s enjoyable and satisfying.
Your party consists of four characters, all of whom join together pretty early into the game, maybe just an hour of playtime in. They don’t swap in and out of your control, so you don’t have to waste time grinding up characters you eventually lose or split off. Each character has a primary level and then a job level. This means that as you battle, any of 8 different meters can max out and level you up. This greatly reduces fighting that doesn’t gain you at least something. Also, you can speed up fights by up to 4X and, really, you’ll want to keep it there, especially later in the game. And if all that wasn’t enough, you can put the battling into Auto mode where the game will automatically choose the last set of attacks you picked. If your characters are strong enough to take on some enemy and beat them in one round, you can leave this mode on and grind while doing other things. For example, I grinded my characters while I ate meals, watched TV, and even did some Just Dance. It was a blast!
And then it came time. It took me 35 hours, but I reached the “end” of the game where I’d gotten to last time. It took an extra 11 hours because I grinded the hell out of my characters at each stopping point. I was strong, but now what? Time to take on these loops.
As it turns out, you don’t have to replay the game per se. You simply have to save all the crystals again. You can re-do any side quests you want, and dialog is different to keep things interesting, but you don’t have to. So, off I went to get the first crystal…
I died. Over and over. Every time. Oh my god.
Was this my destiny? Was playing through all over again just to quit again…at the same spot no less…my fate? I tried the first side quest in the game, the battle with Barras and Holly Whyte…surely I can beat them at Level 57, right?
For 24 hours, I was done. I had quit again. I couldn’t believe it. Every step of the way I leveled up my characters. I knew the max level was 99, and I was almost 2/3’rds of the way there. How could I get my ass handed to me every single battle? I was even dying during regular random battles. I mean, really?
Well, I refused to give up after all. In fact, I found a great little leveling spot nearby the 3rd crystal and, while I would die every now and again and lose some progress, it worked well. One hour, two hours…I spent a whole day working on it. Eventually I’d hit Level 70 and was able to grind without using magic meaning I didn’t really need to rest at the Inn anymore. That’s when I tried my hand at the first crystal and…BINGO. I was on my way. Add to that I was absolutely flush with cash and bought the Growth Egg, which made battles provide tons more experience, and attaining power became very easy.
Over the next 10-13 hours, I looped over the game again and again. You loop 4 more times and then the story takes a twist and you fight the final boss. I enjoyed every second. Was it a little monotonous? Maybe. Perhaps if I didn’t have to keep tapping X with Agnes all those times to revive the crystals it’d been less so. I found out, too, that it’s possible to overdo that and break a crystal which advances you immediately to the end of the game. (A bad ending.)
When the whole game was done, clocking in at around 50 hours…I was left satisfied and impressed. Bravely Default, after my two year run to beat it, was so good that I’d be willing to play it through a 3rd time someday and try out some of the other jobs. It’s that fun a game.
Finally, I have inner peace.
And now…it’s on to End Layer.