Bravely Default II Review: Gameplay Impressions, Videos and Speedrunning Tips

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2021


Bravely Default II isn't shy about its classical inspirations and plenty bold (or brave) about where it chooses to innovate.  

The latest in a strong line of role-playing games heavy in the JRPG category, Bravely Default II leans heavily into its innovative battle systems and a gorgeous world to weave a gripping tale. 

Developer Claytechworks, with Nintendo handling publishing worldwide, aims bigger with this release on Nintendo Switch after the prior two entries were on handheld systems.

It's a recipe that certainly works on paper, with the turn-based combat, immersive world and strong cast of characters looking like an ideal fit on the Switch. But like any number of brutal boss battles in the game, the execution on a moment-to-moment basis will decide how the first jump to big consoles for the series is remembered. 


Graphics and Gameplay

Bravely Default II is a gorgeous game in many respects. 

The art style is engrossing, with beautiful, memorable towns. An early one features a sandy desert area half-submerged in a flood, with pole boats dotted around the sunken areas. That's just one of many examples of superb storytelling through visuals. Details like a waterway adjacent and below the player path is stunning and provide backstory to the town without throwing it in a player's face. In one instance, there is a waterfall visible behind a building interior. Most times the towns and buildings do fun things with perspective, too. 

Each area is unique with a fitting citizenry, and out in the open world, many staples of the classic genre such as wandering monsters persist. In battle, it's never too difficult to see what's going on, and the escalating nature of magical and job moves are strong enough for the turn-based format.

That world isn't just window dressing like it could have been, either. The non-town segments of the open world don't just look great. There is plenty of interaction to be found, including chopping down grass to find items, uncovering secret chests and even stumbling upon brutally difficult fights (with the monsters outlined in red). Thankfully, there's even an auto-run feature tucked into the menus. 

The day-night cycle doesn't go to waste either. In towns, certain quests only open up at night. Out in the world, night is a time for monsters, so players can encounter even more than usual while exploring, lamp in hand. 

It helps that the soundtrack and music are so, so good. Tunes accompanying each town are liable to get stuck in a player's head—and that's 100 percent guaranteed of the battle music. The same can't be said for the voice acting, which ranges from superb to sounding way too forced at times, depending on the accent and context of the situation. It would also be nice if catchphrases weren't repeated so many times per battle turn while, say, using the Fira spell four times in a row. Those pair poorly with another big issue with the presentation.

The biggest problem with the visuals in Bravely Default II is the characters. Sounds harsh, but when the game cuts into a cutscene where characters talk to one another, things just fall apart. It's like the game wanted to straddle the line between realism and anime with the models, and it comes off as odd. Characters look like bobbleheads on smaller bodies as they parade around the screen, often distracting from what can otherwise be really important story beats. It worked on the handheld games but suffers on a bigger console.

Jarring disparity between character models and beautiful world aside, the game's namesake again shines in the form of the battle system. 

At its most basic, the "Brave Point" system functions as a clever way to manipulate the constructs of a turn-based battle. By pressing "default," a player can defend and bank one of their turns to use at a later time. By using "brave," players can cash-in future turns up to negative-four, unleashing a flurry of attacks or magic before having to sit out until their counter is back to zero.

And that's just the turn-based system. Players have items, magic, the jobs system and plenty more to juggle in a given battle. There are also vulnerabilities for elements and weapons that go both ways and finer details like catching a group of baddies from behind, which lets the player's group start with a turn advantage. 

It all sounds intimidating and is, though gunning through the mobs early in the game is simple enough and akin to training wheels. It takes time to figure out who should use which weapons, what items to stock up on and how to chain together jobs for the best offensive or defensive output. 

That said, the easiness of the early battles makes the bosses seem all the more difficult. Early bosses can feel like endgame material, even when a player doesn't go out of their way to avoid optional fights in the overworld. 

Maybe the idea is to encourage players to experiment and find the right combination of party members, weapons, magic sets, jobs and all that jazz for the right situation. But it has to walk the tightrope of letting players go about the game in the way they want, too, so it sometimes comes off as feeling way too difficult. That leads to the experience seemingly hinging on grinding out levels to even be competitive against some bosses. 

Call it a minor annoyance and one almost expected of JRPGs, though. The battle system is addictive in its simplicity, and the satisfaction of emerging victorious is downright engrossing in its complexity. It's a mixture of tried-and-true traits with just the right amount of innovation that can keep players happy and having fun for a long time. 


Story and More

Story-wise, somewhat like the gameplay, Bravely Default II goes some expected and unexpected routes. 

There are some groan-worthy moments to the story, which features the typical hero's journey and when several prophesized folks happen to come together at just the right time to save the day. But Bravely Default II weaves in some unexpected shockers to combat the tropes and truly creates some moments players won't soon forget.

Characters especially get fleshed out via optional conversations. These aren't extensive cutscenes by any means—the participants yak it up about timely events and otherwise from mere panel portraits that aren't voiced. But those who take the time to invest in some reading get a treasure trove of character development and understanding of motivations and actions. 

Of course, the story gets a massive assist from the downright breathtaking world. Even side quests offer some intrigue too, whether it's just details about the world or stumbling upon an interesting character. The really special ones seem to have voiceovers, and even if the listed rewards for the wide ranges of tasks don't seem worth it, sometimes it is just to hear what folks have to say. 

The game also innovates in some fun ways that aren't all that typical. Exploration mode, for example, is something players can set at a vendor in town before taking a break from playing. The game detects when the Switch is in sleep mode and sends a friend off in a ship to go on missions that reward the player with items and goodies. 

It's not only fun to read about the adventures, but the items are very useful. This one little system makes level-grinding easier, which is important because there are so many things to grind. Whether it's just sheer level or the level of a new equipped job, players need all the help they can get, and this system is A-plus stuff in that regard. 

Speaking of assists, this one has the typical JRPG items fans will expect. There are tents to restore the party, dungeon escape items, cures for things like silence, MP restores and on and on. The same goes for the weapons and equipable clothing and armor. Swords, bows, spears, helmets, armor and more all with their own properties, passive benefits and tucked into a weight system players need to manage for each character. 

We could go on for hours about the seemingly endless items in the game. Specific types of monster bait spawn specific types of monsters and an experience multiplier happens when fighting more than one group of baddies at a time, for example. 

The mentioned Jobs system is a way of sorting characters into roles. Players can find a big number of Jobs by collecting Asterisks. A Black Mage, for example, dishes out plenty of elemental damage, while a White Mage turns the magic inward, healing and protecting teammates. 

But like everything else, it's not that simple. Players can assign a job and sub-job to a given character, meaning both sets of options will be available during battle. There are also passive benefits tied to each job. A character who levels up, say, four different jobs, can then mix and match the passives they actually equip—and this is where players can discover the overpowered builds.

Bravely Default II should also receive plenty of praise for its extensive menus and player onboarding process. The tutorials pause the game and walk players through details and are then reviewable later in the menus. Ditto for the party conversations. 

While it's an intimidating game, any sort of information a player could wish to find is tucked into the menus. They can be hard to navigate at first, but the feeling fades quickly. There are even different difficulty options to ease the burden of the grind and/or the boss fights. 


Speedrunning Tips

The Bravely series always made for interesting speedrunning fodder because of the battle system, which let skilled runners go all-in on interesting strategies and character/job tandems that blitzed through the games. 

Rest assured Bravely Default II will be more of the same, and likely on a much more appealing level now that it isn't confined to a handheld system. 

First, the basics. Flicking on auto-run from the menus is a must. So is skipping dialogues and cutscenes. Learning when and how to take battles out in the open world to make sure the party's level stays where it needs to be is a must too. Simply practicing pathing to get the quickest routes through dungeons is also critical. 

Early on, one of the more interesting strategies looks like letting the powerhouse character take a job that can encourage other players to attack him and only him. He can soak up the punishment and characters with other jobs can cast magic that also encourages enemies to attack him. Meanwhile, magic users who are borderline glass-cannon types go ignored by the baddies while unleashing devastating attacks. 

But that's just merely one very basic example of the flexibility permitted by the Jobs system. It's sure to make speedruns incredibly interesting from the moment the game launches and will likely be the backbone of a strong community for years to come. 



It's certainly hard to complain about the Bravely series returning to offer up another stellar JRPG experience that feels almost endless in its complexity and playability. 

Thankfully, the story itself has some amazing and unexpected moments. It's only boosted by an incredible world, wonky character models notwithstanding. 

Courtesy of the Jobs and battle systems, Bravely Default II is a triumph of a 2021 release and a monster in its specific genre lane. It's addicting in the best sorts of ways, and the experimentation permitted by those systems is something that carries the whole experience from front to back. 

If it sounds like just another spectacular Switch release, it is.