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Michael Bitton: Final Fantasy Returns with...Bravely Default?

Column By Michael Bitton on February 05, 2014

There’s an Elder Scrolls Online beta weekend coming up this Friday and while I would normally be excited to get in and play, I’m even more excited to finally get my hands on Bravely Default, which releases in North America on the same day.

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Bravely Default is a handheld RPG (Nintendo 3DS) developed by Square Enix that is essentially a new Final Fantasy game in everything but name. In fact, the game was originally developed as a sort of spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. All the familiar classic Final Fantasy tropes are there: a story of crystals, old school turn-based battles, a job system similar to the one found in Final Fantasy V, airships, and even spell names.

Before becoming a PC gamer, and eventually an MMO player, I grew up with the Final Fantasy series near and dear to my heart. Unfortunately, the series has completely fallen off for over a decade now and barely resembles what fans originally loved about it. I used to hold out hope that Square Enix would turn things around with a new game, I even bought the original Final Fantasy XIII to give it another shot, but I’ve since given up on the possibility.

It’s ironic then that Square Enix looks to have a true Final Fantasy game on its hands in a game that doesn’t even bear the venerable series’ title. Heck, they’ve even got Akihiko Yoshida, responsible for the amazing art style found in games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. Out of all the FF games I ever played, it was Yoshida’s art style that resonated with me most and that he is involved with a game that is so classic Final Fantasy is really a match made in heaven for me. Bravely Default has other well-known names attached to the project, too. Anime fans will surely appreciate the fact that Steins;Gate scenario writer Naotaka Hayashi served in the same role on Bravely Default.

While Bravely Default is very much styled in a classic Final Fantasy format, that doesn’t mean Square Enix isn’t innovating at all with the title. The game’s eponymous battle system feature adds a unique wrinkle onto an otherwise standard turn-based battle system.  In your typical turn-based battle, your characters will alternate taking turns with the enemy, though systems like Active Time Battle can make things a bit more dynamic. In Bravely Default, however, players can choose to “Brave” or “Default” on any given turn. Selecting “Brave” will allow players to take multiple turns worth of actions in a single turn, but players forfeit the same number of turns as a result. “Default” works in the opposite way, allowing players to skip turns and store them for later. This adds a whole new layer of decision making to an otherwise typical turn-based battle system.

There are some interesting quality-of-life options available in Bravely Default, as well. For one, if you’re just mindlessly grinding for experience or otherwise impatient, you can actually fast-forward the animations in battle (or even set the battle to Auto), which looks ridiculous to me, but I can definitely see the appeal. Along the same lines, you can tweak the frequency of random battles in the options. If you feel the need to grind a bunch of experience, you can bump the rate up. Once you’re done, you can drop the rate all the way down to 0 to turn random battles off entirely. The choice is yours. Personally, I tend to grind a lot in JRPGs and I can see myself making heavy use of this feature.

Square Enix is also making use of the Nintendo 3DS StreetPass feature to bring some social elements to the game. In Bravely Default, you’ll be able to call upon the aid of those you’ve met through StreetPass to help you in battle. You can also use StreetPass to rebuild a destroyed town using friends (and strangers) you’ve tagged. The more friends you have available, the faster you can rebuild the town. The town’s buildings confer some significant advantages in terms of available amenities. Think shops stocked with better items and abilities for purchase.

Of course, the inclusion of a job system is all sorts of awesome. Final Fantasy Tactics is one of my favorite games in the series and this is due in part to the depth of party customization offered by the job system. There isn’t too much to say about Bravely Default’s job system; it’s straightforward, but knowing that I’ll be able to customize my characters along these lines is definitely a huge draw.

If you’re like me and you’ve been frustrated by the dearth of awesome old school Final Fantasy experiences available on the market today, you should definitely check out Bravely Default when it comes out this Friday on the Nintendo 3DS. For those of you in Europe who have been playing this game since last year, well, I hate you.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB

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