"What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet". Juliet had it spot on when she fluttered her eyelids nervously at a copy of Bravely Default. It doesn't matter what it's called. We'll love it regardless for what lies beneath the awkward moniker but for God's sake Square-Enix, you could've tried a bit harder.
As it turns out the name directly references the two main battle commands in the game, Brave and Default, two ideas that are just the tip of a delightfully rebellious little iceberg that has veered the rather staid Square-Enix RPG tanker into exciting new territory.
At its core Bravely Default is a traditional, turn-based role-playing game along the lines of Final Fantasy, Breath Of Fire and Fire Emblem. Farmhand Tiz narrowly escapes with his life when his entire village is consumed by a vast sinkhole. Having watched his little brother slip away before his very eyes, he seeks an audience with the king in order to beg for help in his search for survivors. A foreign army is battering the kingdom, though and the only useful answers come from a timid girl by the name of Agnés who turns out to be the Vestel of the Wind, keeper and protector of the Wind Crystal. The sinkhole is a direct result of the failing crystal and so the pair join forces in order to put things right.
To summarise the story in such a way is to do a massive injustice to the scriptwriters, though. The scope and emotional attachment achieved through the ever-unravelling story and constant character development is extremely impressive. The volume of VO has a dramatic affect on the feel of the game and is so good you'll sit through all of it, despite being able to skip through.
Just The Job
The audio is complemented perfectly by gorgeous, hand-drawn cityscapes. Different areas within the city are made to seem three-dimensional by clever use of parallax movement and layers. Leave your character alone for a few seconds and the camera will zoom out, like some kind of desperate gasp for air, until your character is but a dot. It's an impressive technique that has functional benefits, as well as looking awesome.
Bravely Default looks and sounds great, then, but as any budding adventurer will tell you, it's the battle system that defines any good RPG. This one takes its inspiration from many different places, but the main Job System is an obvious nod to Final Fantasy V. Initially you're limited to the bog-standard Freelancer job. You can only unlock new Jobs by securing Job Asterisks and, more often than not, these come from boss battles and side-quests.
With a Job Asterisk in hand you can then start learning a set of new abilities by gaining Job Points in battle. Jobs range from standard RPG fare (White Mages, Knights, Thieves) to more outrageous offerings (Superstar, Pirate, Vampire) and each of the 24 jobs specialise in a certain style of combat and command. The crux of the mechanic is that you can only ever assume the outfit, stats and development for one primary job. You're also allowed to assign a secondary Job Ability (utilise another job's main skills without assuming the main stats) and select a limited set of tertiary abilities that you've learned. The resulting system is both extremely satisfying and nigh-on impossible to explain.
These skills and abilities are accessed from the main battle menu, which appears on the touchscreen during battles and is headed up by the brand new system from which the game earns its name. Tap the L button and your character will be 'Brave', which means they'll get two attacks in the first round, instead of just the one. You can tap L up to three times in order to get up to four attacks per character straight away. Each 'Brave' uses one Brave Point (you'll go into minus figures if you use them straight away) and means that you won't be able to attack again in consecutive rounds until your BP is back to zero. Conversely, you can tap R to 'Default', which means that you miss a round and also become more defensive. Each Default earns you Brave Points.