Bravely Second Offers Interesting Combat But a Lackluster Beginning

Bravely Second: End Layer, the sequel to much-beloved role-playing game Bravely Default, launched in Japan last month. I’ve been playing an imported copy, since there hasn’t been any word yet on an official international release. To be clear, the following preview applies to the Japanese version, which is Japanese language only and playable on the region-locked Japanese 3DS.

That being said, whatever version of Bravely Second we do eventually get in North America could be vastly different from the original Japanese version; publisher Square Enix has frequently published international versions of its games that include more features. The original Japanese Bravely Default didn’t include the ability to alter the random encounter rate, but the feature was added to the game’s “complete edition,” called Bravely Default: For the Sequel. This “complete edition” was localized for North America and Europe, albeit nearly a year and half after its original release. Something similar could happen with Bravely Second.

The story picks up where its predecessor left off, placing players in a world wholly changed by cataclysmic events–but a world largely the same in terms of its gameplay mechanics. While the game is very much a direct sequel to Bravely Default, steeped in many similar narrative tropes and combat elements, there are a few tweaks that make small but noticeable differences in how you play.

I won’t spoil the story, but I will say it has an abrupt takeoff. I wouldn’t recommend Bravely Second to those who haven’t played Bravely Default, because the game relies heavily on you knowing what happened in the previous game. Some events won’t mean much if you aren’t aware how important certain characters are to the narrative.

Navigation on the overworld, as well as within the UI, is the same as in Bravely Default. On the overworld, you run around freely between locations, represented by little pictures of cities and other structures. Once inside a town, you have a set number of paths you can take within it. Most lead to narrative events and give the option to find weapon and magic shops to bulk up your arsenal. It’s reminiscent of old-school Japanese RPGs, where tiny versions of the main character would move on foot across colorful, detailed maps.

In the last game, the fairy Airy would hang out in the pause menu with directions on where to go during your quest and your next objectives. In Bravely Default, Airy is replaced by Agnes, who can also be accessed through the pause menu and by summoning her through her pendant, which she leaves with Yu, the main character. If you’re lost, you’ll rely on Agnes for quest information, and her presence is helpful when where your party needs to go is unclear.

The Asterisk job class system and combat are essentially the same as Bravely Default. While there are a handful of new job classes to equip and master–such as the Tomahawk, Fencer, and Bishop–nothing has changed in how you set them up and use them. However, the My Set feature allows you to save job class configurations. For example, if you have a Valkyrie with several White Mage abilities added and a certain set of equipment, you can save that entire configuration. So if you switch to another job and back, your preferred setup will still be there.

The one thing I do miss from Bravely Default that’s not in Bravely Second is the encounter slider, which could be found in Default’s pause menu. You could alter the frequency of random encounters, choosing whether to battle more or avoid them entirely. I enjoyed this feature because it allowed me to grind and quickly level up without aimlessly running around the map. However, Bravely Second had added a different kind of wrinkle to its grinding game that helps make thing more manageable and allows you to, essentially, have more random encounters: the Consecutive Chance feature.

Consecutive Chance allows you to repeatedly fight the same set of enemies over and over for a greater amount of experience points. If you defeat all opponents in a single turn, you are given the chance to fight them again for 1.5 times the reward. If you manage to defeat them in a single turn again, you can fight them for 1.8 times the reward, for a fourth time twice the reward, a fifth time 2.2 times the reward, and so on. This requires careful management of the Brave and Default system, as your next round against the enemies will start you off with the same number of Brave Points you had on defeating the first round. It’s a delicate balancing act, but it’s worth the risk; in pulling it off, it’s easier to grind for experience and get a jump on your enemies early in the game. Some enemies are still pretty tricky, so hitting the pavement with leveling right out of the gate is a good idea.

I’m also not a fan of Bravely Second’s melodramatic dialogue. As the character you followed from beginning to end in Bravely Default, Tiz was an excellent lens through which to view the story; he was hopeful and more often than not the group’s voice of reason. But he also felt emotions very deeply and was quietly strong when he needed to be, making him a well-rounded protagonist with a good balance of flaws and strengths. Yu, by contrast, is a mess. He’s juicy and emotional in sappy ways, often more anxious than ready to fight. He exhibits sporadic moments of courage, but they fade away quickly as he demonstrates he is unable to really take care of things on his own. I’m not that far into the game, so I can only speak for the first several hours of Bravely Second, but I hope his character development is significant.

Another annoyance I encountered with Bravely Second is something that Japanese players have been complaining about since launch. Bravely Second has its own version of Bravely Default’s Norende Village restoration, in which you use online features and 3DS Street Pass to rebuild a destroyed village. In the previous game, you could swap items and builders with other players, allowing you to help each other in the process. In Bravely Second, in order to access the restoration project, you need to register or login to the Square Enix member website. This means if you’re not a Square Enix member, you can’t do anything with the project. It’s a pretty crappy thing to do, considering restoring the village is ultimately helpful to you in the long run. Sticking it behind a registration wall is inconvenient and unnecessarily limiting.

If you enjoyed Bravely Default, Bravely Second is just more love. So far, it feels like the same game with new characters and a few small tweaks. However, some of these changes drag down the experience; the absence of the random encounter slider in particular slows down leveling, one of biggest pillars of the JRPG experience. Despite that, I’m still enjoying combat and fighting alongside old friends from Bravely Default. I’m enjoying seeing how the new job classes work, and if you were invested in the story of Tiz and Agnes, you won’t want to skip this game when it, hopefully, gets a worldwide release.

Alexa Ray Corriea on Google+

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