Bravely Default — Master Class JRPG Subversion
Taking the FF out of the classic turn-based JRPG genre is no easy task, but someone had to do it. The degree to which this 3DS masterpiece subverted a genre often criticized as growing stale with age is astounding and perhaps underrated.
Not to say this gem is exactly overlooked, making 3DS and general JRPG top lists on several major gaming websites since release. The subversive brilliance of the game, however, rarely seems to be understood or discussed.
Here are just a few ways Bravely Default hits hard by deconstructing its predecessors.
Spoiler Warning: Plot details incoming. Ending details not explicitly stated but may be extrapolated from information given.
Setting the Stage
Introducing the cast of characters you’ll be embarking on your adventure with…
Tiz is a displaced youth whose hometown was destroyed by a mysterious disaster.
Agnes is a vestal tasked with making great sacrifices in a pilgrimage to save the world.
Ringabel is an enigmatic casanova with no memory of his past.
Edea is the former officer of the powerful empire which uses the crystals to power advanced technology.
Airy, the cryst-fairy, assists the the wind vestal, Agnes, in protecting and tending to the crystals.
The majority of JRPG character tropes are covered by this cast. The game makes no effort to hide the truth from the player. Rather, it’s unapologetic in its initial presentation of the characters and the story as following all genre conventions. The game bills itself as a callback to the glory days of turn-based JRPG gaming, but the true secrets come with time.
Breaking Turn-Based Battle Mechanics
Where once Final Fantasy may have reigned supreme with the introduction of the “Active Time Battle” system in its fourth installment, the once favorite franchise is losing steam. One possible reason is that, since then, it has failed to develop a new battle mechanic quite as groundbreaking.
Bravely Default’s embrace of classic turn-based battles may at first appear to be a step backwards, but it’s namesake gameplay mechanic of Braving and Defaulting allows the player to manipulate the very nature of these battles. Whereas characters would normally take turns in a predetermined order, players can choose to store up turns to use all at once at opportune times. One can even unleash multiple turns right away, building a sort of “turn debt” that must be paid off later.
It may seem like a negligible novelty early on, but it becomes more necessary as the game progresses and difficulty increases. Mastering this new mechanic, knowing when to play it safe and when to risk it all, is crucial to experiencing all this game has to offer.
Shattering JRPG Plot and Cliches
Take this for a revolutionary JRPG plot. Your band of young heroes must awaken the four elemental crystals to restore balance to nature. A global empire who uses the crystals to power advanced technology is trying to put an end to your quest at every turn. As you defeat officers of the empire, you gather new job classes to assign to your characters.
Airy, the cryst-fairy, travels alongside you and your companions to assist you with the proper method of reawakening the crystals. She is a constant voice of hope and persistence, even when the journey hits a seemingly impossible roadblock.
Following me so far? Nothing new here.
But after many hours of adventure, you finally reawaken all the crystals and a pillar of light appears somewhere in the world. This is where you must go to finally restore the balance that has been so carelessly disrupted by technology. You enter the pillar of light and… eventually wake up back in the town where you started your adventure.
At this point, your characters are the only ones who seem to remember the events of your quest. Everything seems to have returned to square one, with the crystals no longer reawakened and enemy officers no longer defeated. Knowing this, Airy urges you to embark on your pilgrimage once again.
You do it again… and then again… and the conspiracy begins to unravel. Members of the empire beg you not to continue your quest with every crystal reawakened. Something sinister seems to be at play and you begin to question your own goals.
When the true villain finally reveals itself and everything is out in the open, the tables turn in a way that betrays everything you’ve ever believed about saving the world.
Conjecture on the Finer Details
The game does hint at this unveiling blatantly enough that you may find it predictable. I expected it but found myself appreciating what it represents in the context of the genre. As soon as the unveiling occurs, a new chapter begins and the title screen changes in a way that may, at first, be hard to notice.
I won’t go into detail about it, but to those of you who caught on, I’ll close this article with the same statement I used to open it.
“Taking the FF out of the classic turn-based JRPG genre is no easy task.”
My name is Mark Thomas McLaughlin and someone should buy me Bravely Second.