Bravely Default revitalizes the traditional JRPG genre and takes it in refreshing new directions. When I first encountered Bravely Default, I assumed it would fall into the familiar pit of a Final Fantasy clone. Once I purchased the game, however, I was immediately shown that Square Enix has invested a lot of time into figuring out what has gone wrong over the past decade.
Let's start with the gameplay. Bravely Default uses the traditional "enter town, gear up, enter dungeon, fight boss" paradigm that has been prevalent in JRPG's since the beginning of the genre itself. However, they have added some extremely useful and intuitive options here. When you're out on an adventure, you have the option to change the encounter rate! You can slide it from 100% to -100%, so when you're almost K.O'd and running back to town, you don't have to worry about dying to a random encounter and losing hours of progress. Likewise, if you need to grind out those last few levels before a boss, just raise the encounter rate and pump them out.
The game also features a mini-game in which you rebuild the protagonist's town of Norende. You can grow your population by a few people a day and set them off to work on individual shops. At first, I was less than impressed by this. But after getting to the end of a dungeon and speaking to the "save-point" guy before a boss, I realized he also sold the items that my shops had in Norende! I was able to stock up on potions and other items, given my item shop's level was high enough to carry those items. The weapon shop and accessory shop also sell unique items, for a hefty price.
The turn-based battle system has also seen a tweak as well. They've added things called Battle Points (BP) which start at zero. As you fight, you can choose to spend up to four BP at once, giving you four turns but leaving your BP at -4. Your character will be unusable until your BP is back to 0, so decide when to spend future BP wisely. This is useful for pummeling through random encounters and ending them in one turn. For boss fights, it's much more effective to "Default," which makes your character defend for a turn but doesn't spend any BP.
The hand-drawn locales are absolutely gorgeous. Each town was absolutely remarkable to view. The cutscenes were cleverly done with a hand-drawn backdrop and 3d characters interacting on the foreground. You can also choose to auto-play or skip cutscenes entirely, which is very convenient for a handheld title.
Revo, the composer for the game, has done a spectacular job. From Edea's theme to boss fights, and even each town's music are memorable and will get stuck in your head.
Bravely Default has a tried-and-true "four warriors of light" base to the story. The storyline itself is engrossing, though. Dealing with political and religious conflict, the main themes are a bit more mature than most JRPG's. In fact, in any of the four main towns, you can embark on sub-plots and side-quests, which give more perspective to the inner-workings of the city, but that also unlock one of the 24 classes of the game. Some familiar jobs return, including Knight, White, Black and Red mages, and monks. There are some new ones though. Ninja, Dark Knight, Spiritmaster and even Pirate are among the jobs that are new to the genre. The job-system has been revamped as well - once a character learns abilities from one job, they will permanently remember them. When selecting a new job, you can choose which previous job's abilities you'd like to retain and use in battle.
Bravely Default is exactly what this genre has needed for the past decade. It's an RPG that's not afraid to change up the formula with a small gimmick, in fact it disregards the formula, save for a few trademarks. It seems Square Enix wants to turn this into a franchise, and I for one am excited to see where future installments will take it.