Bravely Second: End Layer for Nintendo 3DS
Bravely Default was a really good JRPG that was somewhat overhyped. I liked it enough to play the sequel Bravely Second, which, although a bit uninspired, is saved by excellent turn based RPG mechanics. Bravely Second is no masterpiece and sometimes feels like it’s phoning it in, but it’s an all round solid experience.
Bravely Second picks up two years after the first game. The Duchy of Eternia and the Crystal Orthodoxy are ready to sign a peace treaty after their conflict in Bravely Default. The peace ceremony is interrupted by the arrival of the mysterious Kaiser Oblivion who kidnaps former Bravely Default party member Pope Agnes and flies away in a floating castle. Yew, the last son of the noble House Geneolgia and Knight of the Crystalguard sets forth to rescue her. It isn’t long until he is joined by Magnolia Arch, a representative from a previously unknown civilisation on the Moon who has descended to Luxendarc to fight strange creatures known as Ba’als. Alongside returning Bravely Default party members Edea Lee and Tiz Arrior, the group travel Luxendarc to rescue Agnes and discover why the Kaiser has thrown the world into chaos.
Bravely Second made me think about just how rare direct sequels are for JRPGs, as well as why that’s a good thing. As many series progress they move between entirely different stories and settings, or are set thousands of years apart, such as the Final Fantasy or the Tales series. Bravely Second has made me realise that this is probably the right approach. Playing Bravely Second I was constantly left with the niggling feeling that anything left to say about Luxendarc has already been said. The plot isn’t particularly interesting and the two new party members never really develop. Edea is still the best character. That said, there are lots of elements of the story I liked. As with Bravely Default, the cast of weirdo asterisk holders you fight are varied, forceful personalities. Bravely Second also takes Bravely Default’s hints at fourth wall breaking and smashes it wide open. It’s really cool when it happens, but it’s hard not to feel in retrospect like it isn’t just sleight of hand to distract you from the fact that huge swathes of the plot make no sense. In the moment though? It’s pretty awesome. The real writing isn’t great overall, with no real grasp of tone. There are some great puns around the word ‘Ba’als’ though.
From a gameplay perspective Bravely Second is simply more of the same. With combat this good that isn’t a problem and the new jobs are just as satisfying to tinker with as the old ones. Some of the weirdest involve a pastry chef who debuffs the enemy or the ‘Catmancer’, who trains cats to mimic the abilities of monsters. Some of them are really useful, like the Wizard who can manipulate the impact of different spells, or the Hawkeye who can attach elemental damage to a weapon, or the Charioteer who allows you to equip three weapons at once. Experimenting with these jobs is probably the greatest strength of the game. Bravely Second has a lot of nice quality of life touches, such as the ability to disable random battles or alter difficulty on the fly. Purists may hate it, but I think it was a nifty way to make a mechanic many have grown to hate bearable.
So, while the core mechanics are still great the other pillar of a good RPG is unfortunately a failure; the exploration. The vast majority of locations in Bravely Second are recycled from the first game, a natural consequence of being a direct sequel. This isn’t really an excuse though and it made exploration an utter drag. Bravely Default had some beautiful locations and the new ones that are here are perfectly nice, but there just isn’t enough. While I like the characters and the world of Luxendarc, I strongly believe that creating Bravely Second as a direct sequel was a big mistake. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that this was simply a cost/time saving measure, with Bravely Second feeling more like an extensive expansion on the original rather than a new game in its own right. Bravely Second never quite manages to justify its own existence, which isn’t a good position to be in.
It’s still a nicely presented package though, with some wonderful music and great visuals. The voice acting will be divisive, but the cheesy style works for the kind of story they’re trying to tell. Unfortunately, the actual quality of the voice recording is sometimes appalling. I’m far from an audiophile; I don’t have great hearing so for me to notice how low the quality of recording is it must be bad. Bizarrely, it’s worse for one character in particular, Magnolia. It may not sound like much but I honestly think it affected my ability to respond to this character as warmly as I did the others.
Bravely Second has an almost perfect core turn based JRPG mechanics surrounded by a sometimes bland and repetitive outer layer. If a third game is made I hope they pull a Final Fantasy and set it in an all new location with all new characters. Luxendarc is definitely done after Bravely Second, although to be honest it was already done after Bravely Default.