Rejoice, JRPG fans. Bravely Default 2 has finally arrived on PC, and cor, you're in for a treat. Previously confined to Nintendo-only consoles, first on the 3DS and later the Switch, the Bravely series is simultaneously a love letter to the classics and - in my eyes, at least - one of the genre's best modern advocates. We've seen plenty of games try to reinterpret Final Fantasy's four heroes of light and elemental crystal schtick over the years, but Bravely Default is the one that really gets it, scratching that retro itch while also bringing something new to the table in the form of its fantastic risk and reward battle system, compelling job classes and absolute chefkiss.gif soundtrack (which also plays a surprisingly big role in combat, too). It's legit one of my favourite JRPG series to date, and I'm so pleased it's finally made its way to PC.
In some ways, it's not surprising that Bravely Default is such a good study of that classic Final Fantasy vibe. After all, it was originally conceived as a sequel to the also-excellent Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light spin-off for the Nintendo DS (which really took the series back to its roots when it came out in 2009 / 2010), and the latter's producer, Tomoya Asano, also came over to produce the first Bravely Default game. Asano has also confirmed in later interviews that Bravely Default was indeed partly designed to appeal to those veteran Final Fantasy fans, and the throwback to its storied crystal structure was all part of making it easy to get into. "We know that it's fun for them," he told Gamespot in 2014.
The lineage is there, then, but right from the off it was clear that Bravely Default was doing something new, not least in how it approached combat. Its odd-sounding name refers to its unusual battle system, which lets you bank (default) and borrow (brave) turns through the use of BP, or brave points. Every party members starts at 0 BP in any given fight, but even from here you could choose to brave up to four times and take four turns in one go to really beast your enemies. Combined with its, at the time, innovative fast forward button, and it really helped to speed up the usual JRPG grind.
In boss battles, though, where you had to fight characters with specific job classes in order to obtain them for yourself, the brave and default system really came into its own. If you beasted four turns in one go without having already banked a few, for example, then you'll go into minus BP. When this happens, you have to wait until you're back up at 0 BP before you can attack again, leaving you open to attack. Defaulting, meanwhile, also acts as a kind of 'defend' option, reducing damage while you store up turns. This alone continues to be one of the most compelling risk and reward systems I've seen in a JRPG, but Bravely Default wasn't content to stop there. Oh no.
Once you start obtaining job classes (or asterisks) of your own, your party can start mixing and matching their abilities, letting you draw on moves, buffs and other commands you gained in one job while performing another. Other JRPGs have done similar things in the past, admittedly, but I'd argue none of them have had quite an eclectic range of job classes as the Bravely Default series. The first game on 3DS started off with your trad Black, White and Red Mages, Knights, Thieves and Monks and what not, but even that one eventually progressed to more unusual classes like Arcanist, Vampire, Pirate and Valkyrie by the end of it. Meanwhile, the second game, Bravely Default: End Layer, added the Catmancer, Patissier, Exorcist, Hawkeye and Astrologian jobs in there, while the third, Bravely Default 2 (confusingly), introduces things like Beastmaster, Pictomancer, Bastion and even Librarian into the mix. In all cases, it allows for a wonderfully flexible set of character traits to choose from, and the fact that all job have a level cap on them encourages you to try new combinations over time, too.
But even that's not all there is to Bravely Default's battle system. Within these different jobs come their respective Special Abilities, which is probably Bravely Default's greatest and best masterstroke. Now, the music in this series has always been consistently great. Composed by Revo, who's a rock musician in the Japanese band Sound Horizon, Bravely Default treads the line between storybook nostalgia and rock on toe-tappers beautifully. But when you activate your character's special ability, Bravely Default absolutely sings.
Every character has their own special theme, you see, and initiating one of these special abilities applies a swathe of buffs to your entire party for the length of that special piece of music. That's right; your buffs are tied to the game's music. And those special themes are incredible. Ringabel's "Romantic Vagrant" theme from the first game embedded below continues to be one of my favourite pieces of music ever to this day. It's barely longer than 90 seconds, but it is absolutely perfect.
But. That's not even the best part about the special abilities. You see, your buffs only end when the special music does, but it's not limited to just that one character's music. It's everyone's, and the key to really maximising this power move of a battle system is chaining your party's special abilities one after the other, activating them just as the last few notes of the first one are fading away. Do this successfully for all four, stacking up buffs upon buffs - and maybe even triggering another round in the process depending on whether you can meet their special ability requirements within that short time period, while also going hard and fast on those BP points, braving turns all over the shop, having fast forward on full pelt to skip through those minus points... phew! It's just exhilarating, and one of the best and smuggest feelings I've ever had from the JRPG battle system.
There really is nothing else like it out there, and that's before we even get to the series' truly world class story twists. I've only finished the two 3DS games, admittedly, but let me tell you, there's some proper galaxy brain stuff in there. I'm not even kidding. Even concept art for OTHER CHUFFING GAMES have hidden Bravely layers to it for crying out loud (because, yep, you guessed it, Asano also went on to produce Octopath Traveler before returning to produce Bravely Default 2). That's how deep this stuff goes.
As for Bravely Default 2 and its hot off the press PC release, this game features a new world and separate cast of characters to the earlier 3DS games, but from what I've played so far, it still retains everything that makes the series great. Despite its name, it's an ideal starting point for newcomers to the series, and most importantly it still has plenty of bangin' special ability battle themes. It might look like one of the many other pretenders trying to relive Final Fantasy's glory days (I Am Setsuna, I'm looking at you), but trust me, this one's the real deal.