Avatar the Last Airbender
SPOILERS, DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU’VE COMPLETED THE GAME OR HAVE NO DESIRE TO DO SO!!!
Well guys, I’ve had the privilege to playing one of the most highly anticipated games of the year, Bravely Default for 3DS. Bravely Default is a JRPG from the developers of the Final Fantasy series, so there’ll be many aspects that look all too familiar in the Final Fantasy world. An in-depth world with it's own story, memorable characters and amazing gameplay make this one of Square-Enix’s finest. I will now sum up this review in one sentence just for all you who don’t like reading extremely long reviews:
The game is like a mountain at its peak, but during the second half, it plummets lower than the Great Chasm.
Now do not misunderstand, taking away its most ridiculous story flaws, this makes for a really awesome game, but the thing that really drags this game down from game of the year to an enjoyable subpar game is both its tedious repetitiveness and its bland ending. So without further ado, let’s get on with it!
Yep, it scored low. Sorry guys, if you’re looking for a really enjoyable story, my only advice is to expect nothing, so that way you can be somewhat entertained by story's end. The story goes as thus: there are four heroes: Tiz, a shepherd boy who lost his home and family to a phenomenon called the Great Chasm opening. Agnes (Pronounced Ahh-nn-yes and not Agg-ness) who is the Vestal of the Crystal of Wind and is tasked with restoring the four Crystals of Fire, Water, Earth and Wind from the darkness that engulfs it. Ringebel, a curious fellow who has no memory, yet possesses a diary that predicts events that he and his allies go through. And Edea, a warrior from the land of Eternia, who goes traitor after seeing the atrocities committed by the soldiers of her homeland. Together, these four journey to save the world from the darkness that has turned the seas putrid, the stopping winds and the raging fires and enter the Holy Pillar so light may shine through the world. Along with these four heroes is a Cryst-Fairy called Airy, who is a pixie that guides Agnes and her crew to awakening the crystals.
Now, on it’s own this is a pretty good premise, albeit terribly, terribly repeated (Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, etc. etc.), but it’s at the later stages of the game that the game’s story begins to fall and fall and fall (Spoilers begin here). So it turns out that awakening the crystals tears the fabric of the world’s space and time and by going into the Holy Pillar, the story resets. I am not joking, the story resets to what it was when the game begins. Do not ask me about the mechanics of how it resets, and how the characters retain their memories, even after a complete reset, after completing the game, I’m still trying to figure that out. Then you are tasked with awakening the crystals again, fighting Eternia’s best bosses, again and going through the same dialogue, again! The only time I saw this as pretty awesome was when bosses you killed in the previous world shared some insight into their character to what they let on (For example, the White Mage and Monk sharing a love interest and the Spell Fencer became a sword-for-hire to spend the money on his sickly daughter), but couldn’t these revelations be made when said bosses escape, and coming back stronger than before? It would A. Explain why the bosses became stronger and B. Doesn’t make the four heroes look like Dexter Morgan times 4, killing off villains to get off on it! The whole idea of returning to the very beginning of the games story, not once, but five times total, is just a completely idiotic concept! If you don’t know, I reviewed The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and condemned the second season because of the same principle of the characters repeating their actions for eight straight episodes. The same goes for Bravely Default, I am condemning the second part of the game’s story for having way too much repetition!
Now what happens when you awaken all 20 Crystals (After having your thumb’s muscles torn apart from all the X-pressing)? Well you then have to fight the mastermind behind it: Ouroboros (Not to be mistaken by the snake eating its tail, though the concept is touched upon here), here it's explained Ouroboros is a god that wishes to devour all the worlds that were linked by the crystals being awakened. Now I’ll tell you another thing about me: I despise villains that suddenly pop out of the blue. Final Fantasy VII was good, because they spent the entire game hating (or loving, whichever you prefer ) Sephiroth, and you felt good defeating him in the end. Final Fantasy VIII was good because they spent the entire game hating Ultimecia and got to finally defeat her in the end. Final Fantasy IX fell slightly because instead of the final boss being Kuja, it was some blue dude that made you go WTF? Why am I fighting this guy?! (Although, he had a really menacing theme tune xD) But I digress, Bravely Default falls into the category of WTF? Ouroboros was never touched upon or hinted throughout the game, except one scene where DeRosso, the vampire dude, said he was given immortality by an otherwordly being, but made little concern for who or what it was, and I felt his presence was too rushed. Yeah, I know I have to beat him because he’s a dastardly villain, wanting to eat worlds, which introduces a very gimmicky Friend System for the 3DS, but I want to spend the whole game hating him, getting to know the depths of his evil, not suddenly find him and be like “You mine, b♥tch!” If the game’s end villain was “The person in your party who duped you all”, that would have been awesome, since your hatred will go to that character, and give you more reason to fight and win. But with Ouroboros, I don’t feel compelled to fight someone I just met two seconds ago.
Now this paragraph deserves a special mention, because it was the final clincher that really dragged the game’s story down: the entire ending as a whole. Here’s how it goes: Tiz, goes back to living in his home town which is newly built after the Great Chasm destroyed it, but then because he had another soul inside him, when it left his body after it completed its task, he went into a coma-like state. What the hell?! We spent 100+ hours getting to know this character just for him to pretty much drop dead out of the blue?! So dare I ask it, what was the point? What was the point in him being all lovey dovey with Agnes, being a hero for her, being the so-called miracle?! Now, I understand the concept behind Tiz, he’s basically the living embodiment of the player, he loves Agnes because we like her as a character (At least some of us do, or are female xD), he has an unwavering sense of justice because we all do (I hope no criminals are playing this xD), the spirit that left his body was basically the player saying farewell to Tiz, but come on! Tiz suddenly collapsing and going into a coma-state was not the proper way to do it! It should have been the case where Tiz bids farewell to the player and then goes on to lead his own life in Luxendarc, get married to Agnes, be the knight in shining armour the way he wants, no longer bound by the player’s actions, not become a lifeless puppet the instant the marionette puts him down! Then there’s Agnes, she goes back to being a Vestal and prays to the Crystals as always?! It’s revealed in the game that the Crystal Orthodoxy was a corrupt cult from its founding, and knowing this, Agnes still chooses to stay?! What is wrong with you?! Then Ringabel just carries on living on Grandship, the airship used in most of the game! It’s like he was just cast aside once his job was done “Hey! Good going saving the world! But guess what! You’re useless now!” Ringabel was one of my favourites and to see such a bland ending for him just made me sick to my stomach. Then Edea, she goes back to Eternia, are you serious?! She seen all these atrocities caused by their soldiers (Including burning down homes, abducting royalty, extorting people of both money and physical labour, brainwashing women, starting a war where one incident killed 110,000 soldiers and generally being sadistic a-holes) and she still goes back to them?! Get your priorities straight, girl! Then we get an ending scene that hints upon a second game, seriously?! I wasted 100+ hours just to get a scene for another game, where I’ll most likely spend another 100+ hours?! Get lost! Overall, with such an awesome game, you’d think there’d be a half decent ending? I was really expecting a scene with Tiz and Agnes getting together and the same with Edea and Ringabel, it was pretty much screaming it throughout the entire game, with Ringabel inviting Edea to dates, Tiz and Agnes getting the seal of approval from Neo Pervy Sage, and when the game was over, they didn’t even bat an eyelid toward each other after that. Hell, the little brat Egil, who the team saved while awakening the first Fire Crystal, had a better chance with Agnes and Edea while the rotting corpse of Tiz remained in the graveyard! Come on! Final Fantasy IV had Cecil and Rosa marrying and having kids, Bravely Default is hardly up to par!
Then there’s the endless amount of plot holes in the story as a whole. How did the darkness that swallowed the crystals come about? How the characters were constantly reset with their memories intact? What was going on when Airy began her light ritual? Hell, if Edea’s father, Braev the Templar (Insert Assassin’s Creed joke here) the commander of the Eternian Forces, and the person to bring about the Duchy of Eternia, was so adamant on bringing down the Crystal Orthodoxy in a peaceful manner, why were his forces causing so much strife for the people across the world? If he wanted to do that, why didn’t he just explain it to them in the first place instead of making it look like he’s the bad guy? If the team were truly hopping between parallel worlds: how is it every time they did, there were no signs of that world’s version of them? And my biggest question of the lot: What in God’s name was the Harrowing they were talking about?
The story was amazingly awesome when it was just the first world, and awakening the Crystals of that world was always impossible through some obstacle or another, but when the parallel dimensions bullcrap and that god awful ending reared their ugly heads, it bit the glorious game of Bravely Default in the ass and dragged it down epically.
Fortunately, the game is saved by the game’s in-depth mechanics and really diverse job system. The game is just like any other Final Fantasy: you explore the world, go into towns or cities to heal at the inn, buy some magic, items or weapons, go into dungeons to fight off some monsters and the like and engage in fun battle gameplay. Just like with all turn-based combat, you get HP, you fight and if either side is reduced to 0 HP, they lose. Travelling through the overworld and going into towns and cities is just like your average Final Fantasy, lots of free roaming and open worlds, hardly anything to nitpick about that.
The game’s battle mode is the game’s saving grace and I feel that if the battle mechanics were for a game with a better story, it would be a high contender in the RPG world, being on par with the likes of Final Fantasy VII. The battle mode has the player assign the four main characters a certain “job” acquired throughout the course of the game, each job has their own specific role, a Knight has high defence and can take hits for those who are low on health, while White Mages provides healing support for your comrades. These jobs have a separate leveling system and with each level the job acquires, they learn a new skill, capping at 14. This system is nothing new, the job system was used in Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy V, but they make much better use of it than they do, for example, each character can assign a second job’s abilities to the one they already have, so even though Tiz has a Knight’s job, he can assign White Magic as his second job abilities and be able to cast White Magic, so the possibilities are endless on that front. Equipping weapons and armour is just like standard Final Fantasy games, you have a weapon, you equip it to your character, and your stats will increase. However, each job has its own weapon rankings, Knights have S ranking on standard swords but have E ranking on staves, meaning his maximum attack output will be for swords, while staves will be at it’s lowest. These rankings vary from job to job and it really keeps you on your toes. My only complaint with the equip system is the very poor optimum mechanics, for those that don’t know, the optimum option allows a character to equip equipment that best suits that character. However, Bravely Defaults optimum option seems too narrow minded on attack and defence, and practically ignores magic altogether. On top of that, if the character has a low affinity with weapons like bows, the character will equip them anyway. It hardly affects the game’s overall performance, because you can just manually equip whichever’s best, but for those dependent on optimum, prepare for disappointment.
One of the battle mechanics is the Brave and Default options, there is a counter called Brave Points, in which if you invest Battle Points as far as -4, you can perform that character’s turn equal to the number of battle points you spent, called Brave, but if you go on Default, you go on the defence, but at the same time, you gain 1 BP, so it pretty much rewards you for going on the defensive. This was a fun battle mechanic to be sure, but it can be costly, since if it’s in the negative on your turn, that character can’t perform, so it needs some thought.
Moving away from the battle aspect is the online aspect. You cannot play against other players in a strategic metagame like Pokemon X, but the online part is still fun regardless. As I mentioned, the village Tiz was raised in was destroyed, and is tasked with rebuilding it as he journeys (Don’t ask how he can do that in parallel dimensions). The player can send online invites to other people, and the more invites that come through, the more the village population increases, and with each villager, you can assign them to build houses after a set number of time (ranging from an hour to 99 hours), that shop will be rebuilt, and can be upgraded to allow better quality items in stock. This was a fun side quest, because the more the village is restored, the game will give you stronger equipment. Another fun online mechanic is to be able to send attacks to those that receive your invite, meaning you can press summon to bring an invited friend’s attack in battle, which can be pretty useful in a pinch, and press send in battle and the next move you do will be sent to other people in kind. And if you’re a particular fan of StreetPass, by playing the game and sending invites, your StreetPass Plaza will fill up tremendously (I went from 14 in my Plaza to 72! It’s fun watching them walk, like my own personal army xD)
Overall, it’s got the mechanics of most early Final Fantasies, as well as the story, but it creates a whole new spin to liven things up. However, if you’re looking for a game that’s got a well-diverse postgame, don’t even bother, once you’re done leveling the characters and their jobs and explore the bonus dungeon, you’re left with fluke all else to do.
Despite the setting these characters were based in, the characters themselves are pretty flawless, minus a few major malfunctions in thought process along the way.
The four main characters are very lovable. Tiz lost his brother in the Great Chasm incident and as such, does everything in his power to make sure nobody else dies before him. He defends Agnes with every ounce of his being, because he believes she is the world’s ray of hope, and takes on the role of her knight in shining armour. Agnes is a girl who was tasked with a great burden of saving the world, but despite her appearance of being strong, she is scared and saddened by all that has transpired, though she can be very stubborn and her trademark “Unacceptable” is funny sometimes. Ringabel is a gentlemanly figure despite his lack of memory and pervyness, and his overall charm definitely rubs off on you the more you play him. Edea is a very hot-headed girl who is prone to anger and her “Mgrgr!” is the best, though she can be gentle and caring when she needs to be and she has an unwavering sense of justice that makes her memorable. That being said, they have one big problem: their incapacity to think, when they first entered the alternate world, did they not stop to think Airy did something wrong? Perhaps not wring an answer from her by sitting in the Caldisla inn and wait for her to spit out some information? Hell no! Let’s do it five more times! I thought this was a glaring fault in all their characters, granted Ringabel did see through the deception, and told the rest, but the fact they still continued their plan was WTF?! material.
Despite the four heroes being very refined, detailed characters, one of my favourites is definitely Alternis Dim, the Dark Knight. Yes, I know he’s evil and can’t get enough of being up the Lord Marshal’s a$$hole, but I found his diary entries in the later segment of the game to be very thought provoking, from the time before the game’s beginning to his passionate love interest in Edea, I thought his character development is one of the best in the game, although, I thought we should be told this from the story instead of read from a book. All the other characters do have their certain shines, but they don’t fully reveal themselves until when you have to do the tedious side quests during the second half, so for a non-main character, Alternis is my favourite.
Graphics and Sound: 7/10
The production of the game is very well detailed, down to the last minute detail. The graphics in the game are absolute sublime, the music is just glorious to the ears, and the characters, though I disagree that they have to be the cutesy chibi style, I admit they’re masterfully designed.
The towns and dungeons are made to be 2.5D, which is basically 2D side-scrolling, but on 3-dimensional fully drawn environments while the camera pans to make it look 3-dimensional. This is important because the amount of detail that went into the environments in these scenes are simply magnificent; it’s even possible to zoom out in these places and admire the full view of them, making it seem very seamless they were drawn and not 3D modelled. My favourite environment was definitely Caldisla, the detail is so incredible, it’s really easy to mistake it for 3D models.
As to be expected, the characters themselves are 3D models, and the characters do look very detailed, especially when in their various jobs, in the days before, it was a simple case of drawing a pixel, but in today’s era, I appreciate all the different models that had to be created for each of the characters in each of the job roles, so that scores favourably with me. However, one complaint I have with the models for the main characters is it looks too child-like, I know in the Japanese version, they are significantly younger, but if I had to look at Tiz, for example, and wager a guess at his age, I’d say he were 10, it’s only when you hear the voice actor do you know of his true age (Which is 16). And as I mentioned, I’m not a particular fan of chibi models in games of this scale, the same thing happened with the reboot of FFs III and IV, seeing a fully grown Cecil be a chibi was horribly distracting. Another production error I found was the lack of CG cutscenes, certain scenes needed to be animated in full, such as the characters first on-screen appearance, Agnes’ speech at Ancheim, etc., it felt really distracting seeing the same chibi models over and over again. Though these nitpicks are small, they surmount really quickly.
The voice actors did a really impressive job with their roles, Agnes’ role when she really gets into it just sounds amazing, though can be a little flimsy at times, like during normal talk where she talks a little too politely all the time. Not too into Tiz’s voice actor either, the deep voiced actor is kinda off-putting, but everyone else did a fantastic job. My favourite without a doubt is Edea’s voice actress, she really pulls off the fiery tempered girl perfectly, and the way she says the “Mgrgr!” is just way too cute. Ringabel too has a very gentlemanly voice that is really charming and is just plain awesome. Other characters I enjoyed were Victoria, giving the sweet cutesy voice along with her dark character, Kamiizumi, because I just love all the voice actors of Gaara unconditionally (Including Kain from FFIV, Ukitake from Bleach and Dimitri from Professor Layton ) and Artemis, who has a cute wild-girl voice while sounding cute at the same time.
The music in the game is just sublime is well, the standard battle music never gets old, really pumping the player up for battle, while offering music that really fits the area the characters are in, calm and tranquil in Caldisla, desert stormy in Ancheim and cold and dark in the abandoned temples. To think, JRPGs began with nothing more than 8-bit music that was deathly on the ears? xD My favourite tune would have to go to the sad theme, whenever something bad happens and the characters are mourning, it can turn a somewhat sad scene into a real tear-jerker Q~Q
So we come to the end of this review and I will not pass judgement on this game:
The gameplay, beautiful graphics, amazing soundtrack, memorable characters and overall experience is a game that is set in stone as legendary, but the poor writing in some areas, like the vaguely described Harrowing, Tiz having strings to hold him down (Insert Pinocchio joke here), the final boss being a boss that pops up out of the blue and the lack of postgame, Bravely Default is a game that is admirable from afar, but get too close, and the cracks start to show.