73 hours into Bravely Default and I have more questions than I have answers. Not about the battle system, it’s an elegant affair with plenty of flexibility to let you either prevail or hang yourself. Not about the story, something about crystals and renewing them many, many times. No, my questions all revolve around one thing and one thing only: what job goes best with what job.
After the jump, I’ve been lookin’ real hard and I’m tryin’ to find a job.
I don’t play a lot of Japanese role playing games. I love RPGs but JRPGs always came off as either needlessly complex or extremely rigid, choosing to hold on to design elements that originally came about as a result of hardware limitations but ended up staying as things you just did. In the past few years there has been a refreshing trend away from such rigidity and games like Dragon Quest IX, Etrian Odyssey IV and Fire Emblem: Awakening — or what I like to call “Best Game on the 3DS Ever, Ever, Ever” — have incorporated enough flexibility in them to cater to hardcore JRPG enthusiasts as well as someone who doesn’t know a Phoenix Down from a hole in the ground. Bravely Default continues this trend allowing a flexibility that lets players make things as easy or as difficult as they want without sacrificing the game’s core mechanics.
Those core mechanics revolve around three things: braving, defaulting and jobs. Battles are turn based with brave points being the currency of battle. At the beginning of each round each of your four team members gets one brave point (BP). Sometimes when battles start you already have one stored up. That’s good! Sometimes the enemies already have one. That’s bad! Most moves cost only one point but some of them require you to have up to three BPs stored up before you can use them. To use those sweet moves you can either brave, and take up to four BPs before the turn ends or default and take a defensive posture to save your BP until the next turn. If you think you can sweep all of the enemies in one turn, braving with all four team members is a good way to wipe all of your enemies off of the board in one go, earning you sweet money, experience and job point bonuses along the way. On the other hand, if you go into BP debt with enemies on the board you’re looking at up to four rounds of misery as you sit there and get pummeled, unable to defend or attack.
Certain jobs allow you the ability to manage party BPs, like the Spiritmaster who can take BPs from enemies and give to allies and vice versa to level the playing field. The Performer gives BPs out like candy. The Time Mage can either speed up time and give all players on the field, enemies and allies alike, extra BPs at the end of the round or take them away. Other jobs let you use BPs as a weapon. When your enemies are either braving or defaulting, the Arcanist can deal some pretty massive dark damage based on how high or low their BP count is.The Red Mage gets BP bonuses for killing enemies or taking damage. Along with the usual attributes like hit points and magic points that are used in the traditional RPG fashion. BPs add a welcome wrinkle to the typical turn based combat fabric.
Further complicating matters – but in a good way – is the game’s excellent job system, the current source of my 72 hour conundrum. Like the Final Fantasies of yore, jobs are classes. Unlike in western RPGs where you pick what stats to improve and then choose the best class for those stats, here you pick whatever job you want to have and your stats change to reflect that change. In other words, pick a beefy Knight and your hit points and strength go up. Pick a White Mage and your magic points go up while your hit points go down. Stats can then be further tweaked with items and equipment but don’t look for a Monk with as many magic points as an Arcanist or a hit point heavy Conjurer.
What makes the job system so great is the ability to have a primary job, a secondary job and support abilities from any of the game’s twenty-four jobs. For example, right now my White Mage isn’t just a White Mage, she’s a White Mage/Spiritmaster. Both of those jobs are fully leveled up for her so she can, at any point in battle, use any ability from either class. In addition to those jobs, she’s also a fully leveled up Time Mage as well as a level 5 Ninja so she can use support abilities earned from any of those classes as well as the free support ability you get simply for obtaining the job. Yeah, I said “obtaining”. This game’s side missions focus solely on obtaining new jobs, if you want a job you have to first defeat the boss that holds it.
With twenty four jobs and five support ability slots there is a staggering amount of flexibility to make your party members do whatever you want them to do. Do you want to combine the Ranger and Spellfencer so that you can exploit a monster’s elemental and monster type weaknesses? Maybe throw in the Ninja’s ability to increase the number of hits that can land and then team that up with the Ranger’s Multiburst attack that hits all enemies multiple times. Or maybe level up your Performer and your Freelancer to make use of the Freelancer’s Mimic ability to copy moves with no cost, turning your Performer into a veritable BP vending machine. My White Mage can heal more because she has a healing magic efficiency buff from her Spiritmaster job, my Arcanist can pierce enemies’ magical defenses due to her Black Mage’s support ability. Hell, if I want, I can have a natural talent Monk, one of the most powerful attackers in the game, throwing around dark magic and then use the Spellfencer’s ability to add weapon damage to magical attacks. Now do you see why I have so many questions?
If all you want is a basic tank/bowman/healer/damage caster party you can do that. If you want something elaborate and complicated and high risk/high reward you can do that. If you want something in between, you can do that. My problem is that I don’t know what I want, which is why I’m wandering the same patch of sand in Eternia, looking for guzzlers that I can take down for job points.
This brings us back to the flexibility I spoke of before. At any point outside of battle, you can change the game’s difficulty, affecting the number of enemy hit points but not the rewards for defeating them, or change the encounter rate of enemies. If you want to grind, throw that encounter rate up to +100% and you’ll be swimming in monsters. If you barely made it out of that boss fight alive and need to head back to town but don’t want to waste potions to ensure your survival, drop the encounter rate down to -100% and you won’t run across anything on your way back. Make it as difficult or as easy as you want, depending on the situation. Add to this plenty of save options in town and in dungeons and you have a game that respects not only the player’s comfort but their time as well.
In fact, the game is so generous with the player’s time that it makes the decision to make the last four chapters a giant boss rush mode a puzzling one. The story centers around Agnes, the vestral of Wind. She’s the guardian of the wind crystal and as in all good RPGs, evil has come to the land and corrupted her crystal as well as the three other elemental crystals. It also made a giant chasm that swallowed up an entire village. Tiz, a resident of the aforementioned village joins up with Agnes to help rid the land of evil. They’re soon joined by Ringabel, a dashing rogue with a hankering for the ladies and a serious lapse in his memory and Edea, the daughter of the leader of the forces currently trying to stop Agnes from renewing the crystals, an opposition stemming from decades of theological differences. In chapters one through four you travel to different lands, doing side quests, obtaining jobs and renewing crystals. Once you’ve triumphed you’re whisked right back to where you started with the crystals still evil, the bosses still alive and your party the only ones aware of what’s happened.
So, it’s then up to you to renew each of the four crystals one more time in Chapter 5 and then one more time in Chapter 6 and one more time in Chapter 7 and, you guessed it, one more time in Chapter 8. Oh, all of the job bosses are still around too, although they’re entirely optional. Now, it sounds awful on paper, but in practice it’s not that bad. You only have to defeat the bosses guarding the crystals and you have access to your Grandship, a floating ship that can bring you to anywhere on the map. What’s more, any dungeon maps you’ve uncovered stay uncovered and thanks to the handy encounter slider you can turn random encounters off completely on your way to renewing the crystals. Or, you can be like me and grab a Growth Egg, a bauble that doubles experience and job points at the expense of money, and wander the sands looking for fluorescent blue lizard thingies to kill.
If you don’t want to go through all of the last four chapters you can feel free to renew one crystal and while renewing it ignore the pleas to stop your fervent button mashing. This will break the crystal, bring you to a boss battle and then show you the false ending as well as instill in you a deep sense of shame and self loathing. See, flexibility!
And all of this is to say nothing of the abilities to send battle moves to 3DS friends as well as use moves received from friends; the ability to stop time and attack enemies out of the flow of battle, blasting through the damage cap in the process; the special moves that can be tailored to take advantage of elemental and monster type weakness; the ability to rebuild the destroyed village and get access to extra special weapons and items; the random monsters sent to your village for challenges outside of the enemies you find in the game.
It sounds like a lot, and it is, but not in an overwhelming way but in a fantastic, three in the morning, I can’t stop playing this game kind of way. When it all comes together and you destroy a boss that gave you troubles just a few job levels ago, it feels great. I guess Mark Twain was right, with the right job, you’ll never work another day in your life.