When the first Bravely Default launched in 2014, it represented a return of sorts. Developer Square Enix made its name with classic turn-based roleplaying games like Final Fantasy, but those eventually gave way to bigger, more cinematic experiences. With Bravely Default, Square was going back to its roots. It may have technically been a new franchise, but the game was pure classic Final Fantasy-style adventuring. It even introduced a novel battle system to help it from retreading too much new ground.
So where does that leave a sequel? Bravely Default II — technically the third game in the series, following 2016’s Bravely Second: End Layer — does all of the same things that made the original so interesting. But seven years later, it doesn’t have quite the same impact. Bravely Default II is solidly made, and the battle system is still a lot of fun to play around with. However, it also does very little to stand out — this isn’t a game you play for an engrossing story.
First, let’s clear up the naming scheme. Bravely Default II isn’t a direct sequel to the original game but instead a new story, with new characters, set in a new world. That’s why Square Enix started over with the title. (Think of it like Final Fantasy: X-2 was a direct sequel, while XI was a brand-new experience.) If you haven’t played any games in the series before, the other thing to know about the name is that, ridiculous as it sounds, “Bravely Default” actually makes some kind of sense.
The turn-based battles are based around two unique commands called “brave” and “default.” It’s essentially a risk / reward system. Being brave means you can take multiple turns at once, but this also means you forfeit upcoming turns. Defaulting, meanwhile, lets you skip a move in order to stack up turns for future use. It’s a clever setup that adds a lot of strategy to battles, particularly bosses, as you have to make hard choices about when to go all-in and when to be patient.
“Of course I really enjoy making these games — but I enjoy playing them as well.” — Bravely Default II producer Masashi Takahashi on classic RPGs
The setup is buoyed by the job system, a long-running Final Fantasy feature that lets you customize your characters by fitting them into specific roles, like a white mage or monk. You unlock new abilities over time and can even mix and match jobs to create your ideal squad. It takes a lot of time, but I really enjoy experimenting with different combinations of jobs and abilities. The copious battles and grinding in classic RPGs can be a turn-off in some games, but in Bravely Default II, I felt invested in virtually every encounter.
Enjoying those systems is key to liking this game — because otherwise, there’s not a lot here to dig into. Yes, Bravely Default II technically takes place in a whole new world, but it’s very familiar, particularly if you’re a Final Fantasy fan. It’s really hard to say anything unique about it. You’re once again exploring a vast fantasy realm, searching for powerful crystals, while controlling the famous heroes of light. It’s not exactly memorable. And after Octopath Traveler, which was developed by some of the same team and featured an ambitious multi-character narrative, this blandness is particularly disappointing. At a certain point, I started skipping cutscenes that ran long.
Really, what you’ll get out of Bravely Default II depends on what you’re looking for. The combat is still among the most interesting that I’ve experienced, and the job system — which dates way back to Final Fantasy III — has yet to grow old. Tinkering with character builds and then unleashing them on monsters remains incredibly satisfying. If that’s what you’re into, this is the game. It’s especially nice playing on the Switch, which is ideally suited for this kind of game, as you can chip away at a dungeon while lying in bed.
The rest of the experience isn’t exactly bad, per se, it’s just… there. A bland fantasy realm with characters I can barely remember. In Bravely Default II, the grind isn’t the combat — it’s listening to all of the dialogue.
Bravely Default II launches on the Nintendo Switch on February 26th.