Bravely Second is an unapologetic sequel to a JRPG that is a spiritual successor to another, and all the better for it.
Editor's note: Bravely Second is out now on 3DS, so here's our review from late last week in order to let you know whether Square's JRPG sequel is worthwhile or not.
Let me tell you a story: there was once a gung-ho old pirate and an effervescent teenybopper. They both wanted the rights to a song; one wanted to preserve it in its original format, the other wanted to modernise it, and a troop of warriors were asked to mediate. In one timeline, the heroic quartet sided with the pirate and beat the songbird into compliance. In another, they tentatively sided with youth and gave the old seadog a beating, expecting an unpleasant conclusion to the war of copyrights.
It didn't happen. Instead, they got a goddamn party.
Bravely Second is a lot of this. Good-hearted camaraderie interlaced with sprawling battles, silliness balanced with meditations on ethical behaviour, a dollop of drama, and an overarching sense of kindness. Bravely Second is kind. The characters are kind. No one really wants to hurt anyone else, they're all trying to preserve what they believe is the best way to be good to the people who matter, and that's both oddly twee yet strangely satisfying. I think it's because JRPGs always seem fixated with dire circumstances, while Bravely Second feels more like a case of people who can't agree on how best to be nice.
Which is not to say that it is a domestic fantasy. Sure, there are trips to hot water springs and dessert tastings, arguments about ramen and awkward umbrella-sharing, but Bravely Second isn't without its epic storyline. It opens with an ominously dressed Kaiser kidnapping Pope Agnès Oblige, who you may recognise from the first game as a playable character. Yew Genealogia, scholastic scion of the Genealogia, immediately rushes out to save her, and that in turn kicks off a sprawling adventure.
Two members of the original cast, Edea and Tiz, make a return and happily, they're not terribly different from their original selves. Though Yew is, in theory, the player's narrative vehicle, Edea is often brought to the forefront. It is she who is often asked to decide between two opposing ideologies, a task she meets with an endearing amount of sheepishness. Of the four that we meet, I'm least enthused about Magnolia, the lunar Ba'al Buster who is endlessly fascinated with terrestrial things. She's sweet enough, but there's something jarring about her usage of French and her voice actor's inconsistent accent.
If you've played a turn-based JRPG, you'll likely know how Bravely Second works. Your party of four alternates between wandering an overworld map, a cadre of dungeons, and gorgeous-looking settlements. In between, you engage in random encounters and boss battles, many optional, some mandatory. Combat itself is easy to figure out. Every character gets a turn to decide if they're going to fight, use an item, use a class-specific ability, or perhaps run away. Then, the enemies make their decisions and it all goes down to a question of speed.
Okay, it's not quite that straightforward. Bravely Second shares a certain unique mechanic with its predecessor, namely the option to choose whether you'd rather Brave or Default. The former essentially represents an additional turn. If you choose to Brave, you'll be able to take two actions at once, but at the cost of losing your next turn. And that's where Default comes in. When you Default, you skip a turn, allowing you to accrue a pool of turns which, in turn, lets you use said turns without the risk of beating up four times in a row without the potential for retaliation.
If that wasn't enough, there's also Bravely Second, which is a spare pool of turns that can be used by any of your characters, without any consideration for the standard laws. Of course, there's a catch. You only get SP, the resource used in this phenomenon, every eight hours. Unless you engage in the proper micro-transactions, but who likes doing that?
Moving on, it's probably time to talk about the classes. There are now about 30 in all, ranging from the pedestrian to the absolutely insane. On one end of the spectrum, you have the usual suspects. Thief, Red Mage, White Mage, Black Mage. They're all here. But you've also got some rather peculiar classes to play with, ranging from the confection-making Patissier to the tabby-loving Catmancer, who should have been really called the Nekomancer for maximum effect.
All classes are comprised of ten levels, each of which unlocks a new and potent talent. While it's not necessary to master them, it's still not a bad idea to do so. Bravely Second lets you assign passive abilities to a character, regardless of whether they're using the related class or not. Of course, if you don't have access to these talents, you won't be able to put them to use. And, more importantly, you'll be missing out on a lot of fun if you don't obsess over those classes. Like all JRPGs, Bravely Second rewards a predilection for min-maxing possibilities. The damage numbers can get quite spectacular.
So, do I like the game? After about 60 hours or so, I think the answer's a firm yes. The looping mechanism is quasi-present, requiring you to vault through dimensions after a climatic showdown, but it doesn't drag quite so painfully as the first game. You still have an entire retinue of side quests to plow through, allowing you to pick the asterix you missed the first time around, but it's a quick romp. Everything is available for the moment you begin the cycle anew, including the flying [REDACTED BUT IT IS RATHER AWESOME] that becomes your de facto mode of transportation.
I'm still divided on whether I enjoy the return of the "build a village" mechanic, which didn't really click with me the first time around, or the new chompcraft "minigame," which isn't so much a game as it is an interactive screensaver. For those who missed my grousing in the preview, Chompcraft is a ridiculously odd thing that has your characters working in a sweatshop to make plushies. Why? I really don't know. For profit, I suppose. Possibly entertainment. But mostly to unlock music tracks, which are arguably pretty sweet remuneration.
But mostly, though, Bravely Second excels at being a sequel. It's completely accessible, even if you haven't played the predecessor, but it delights in being what it is: a great JRPG. If you're not a fan of the genre, it can feel unapologetically grindy, requiring that you're at least a decent level to mount an attack against a boss, or risk being wiped out by a single blow. But it works extremely well within that context.
More than anything else, though, Bravely Second is loveable. It is a game that revolves about small kindnesses, misguided or not. Whether we're talking about a father desperate to hold onto his son, or a man hoping to the change the world, it's all about the things people do, big or small, to make things better for those they care for. And that is kind of a feat onto itself.