‘Bravely Default’ review: Old school cool

Sometimes, good games aren’t those that are radically new or that fundamentally change the genre. Instead they are those that go back to basics, get rid of the clutter, and rediscover what made a genre so amazing in the first place.

Such is the case with Nintendo’s “Bravely Default” -- a Japanese role-playing game (RPG) for the Nintendo 3DS that dusts off a lot of recent accretions that arguably confused the genre, takes the title back to roots, and then makes most things smoother and better.

“Bravely Default” takes its impetus from the golden age of the 90’s. The job system perfected in “Final Fantasy V” is present, as are the turn-based combat, dungeon crawling, villages with armor, magic and items stores, and themes such as crystals and the battle between light and dark characteristic of those games.

The Scoop

Title: “Bravely Default”

Summary: Nintendo’s “Bravely Default” hits a grand slam by dusting off the role-playing game genre, taking the title back to roots, and then making most things smoother and better.

Rating: 8/10

Availability: Nintendo 3DS

ESRB rating: T -- Teen

You play Tiz -- a young country boy whose village is eaten up by a mysterious force. He soon encounters Agnes Oblige, a priestess of the Crystal Orthodoxy who discovers that the Crystal of Wind has been trapped by a dark force and this is what is causing chaos across the land of Luxendarc (light and dark, you see.)

They band up with spritely, enemy-turned-traitor Edea and amnesiac ladies-man Ringabel and set out to save the crystals on behalf of the forces of good against those evildoers who seek to perpetuate “anti-Crystalism.”

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Edea and Ringabel are secondary characters, but are more interesting than Tiz and Agnes, both of whom fail to escape the stereotypes of gentle country boy and uppity priestess. Consequently, whenever feisty Edea and especially the witty Ringabel take the lead, the plot shines, but it is frequently let down by the unlikeable and bland Tiz and Agnes.

Yet “Default” is also cutting edge. One such way is the titular Bravely Defaulting. The turn-based battle system includes a ”Default” option, allowing you to go into defensive mode and store turns, while “Brave” lets you make more than one stored move per turn. It adds a tactical edge of working out when to stay put and defensively “grind” up turns and when to unleash havoc on your foes.

Also, to make the obligatory grinding (repeating a task over and over) of experience points easier, Square Enix has included the ability to both speed up battle animations and determine at what rate you randomly encounter monsters.

This means you can, for instance, choose not to encounter any monsters for a while, and then grind very efficiently with a +100 percent rate when you need to. This beats encountering monsters when you just want to get on with the story, and then having to run around looking for them when you want to grind. It doesn’t remove the grind, but makes it so much for efficient, and less time consuming. You grind when you want to grind, and play the story when you want to play the story. It’s a simple yet extremely effective idea.

The game also makes use of the 3DS’ capabilities. You can rebuild the town of Norende using workers you pick up via StreetPass or in the game -- workers who rebuild the town and provide new stores from which to purchase from. This is done when the 3DS is in standby mode, giving you a reason to keep the game on at all times. It’s a limited mode, and I wish it had been more fully developed, but it’s still a fun feature that I hope to see developed in future installments.

What’s key to “Bravely Default” is how it emphasizes quality over novelty. The artistic work behind the backgrounds is stunning, and the music is so good, it is even getting its very own concerts in Japan. Combat works well and the job system is highly intuitive, even for beginners. What could have been a relatively standard title then becomes one of the best of its kind.

At first glance “Default” may seem like a cookie-cutter old school RPG. Not at all. While it manages to retain what made the old RPGs so popular, it also keeps the genre fresh. Although it is let down by some disappointing lead characters, and also some repetition near the end, “Bravely Default” is an important contribution to the genre -- from which other RPG developers can learn.