In order to get everything I want to say about Bravely Default out at once, I decided to write two posts. The Default Edition is spoiler-free. I’ll mostly cover mechanics and general opinion. The second post, the Brave Edition (this one), is spoiler-filled, with a focus on story and other specifics! Again for emphasis, THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. READ ONLY IF YOU ARE BRAVE!
Instead of writing this with some sense of explanation, I am going to assume you know what I am talking about. If you don’t, then hey you probably should go play Bravely Default and learn before I start spoiling the fun. Otherwise, be prepared to be lost.
Bravely Default is the Groundhog Day of JRPG stories. For a lot of people, the added redundancy and repetitiveness seemed like an excuse to pad out the game and give it excess value. I won’t disagree but I disagree. I found the story and the way it unfolded to be absolute genius. As modern as the game plays, the story turns the experience into a meta critique of a genre and a series literally obsessed with repeating the same journey over and over again. Protect four crystals, fight bad guys, repeat.
The end product is an experiment in narrative that I can get behind. Frankly, JRPGs have failed to do anything innovative with their plots in decades. Even if Bravely’s failed to capture your attention like it did mine, I hope you at least appreciated what it was trying to do.
The best part of the multiverse was how it neatly explained away some of the game’s social mechanics. I am not inviting friends to jump in and help me win the battle, I am inviting actual Tiz’s and Agnes’s from parallel worlds! Sure, it doesn’t make THAT much sense, but its at least an attempt. It also opens up the series for a hopefully really interesting sequel. If the awareness of the multiverse doesn’t play into the game’s plot, then I will be deeply disappointed.
I also really appreciated how they handled which ending you’d get. JRPGs have a sordid past when it comes to different endings. Particularly the ones which require you to not do something very obscure early on in the game are the ones I hate the most. Bravely Default makes it a simple choice, and it challenges you on it time and time again. Yes, it did make for a lot of repetition, but I really liked the fact that the game made it a choice and then challenged you to make it over and over again until you felt crazy for NOT breaking a crystal. It goes along with the narrative’s overall experimental nature, and does an incredible job of backing it up by making the player feel the repercussions of your actions (or lack thereof).
Beyond the world repeating, I found the first world’s stories to be a lot darker than I had expected. Particularly the stories involving Mephilia and Fiore, but also Victor and Victoria. Maybe I shouldn’t be so disgusted, but the whole speech explaining the berets, how she enjoys killing innocent fairies, and how there is still a bit of light left in the wings when you pluck them seemed incredibly dark. Fiore’s sidequest were any more explicit, I may say this game needs a ratings bump to Mature. He was basically a rapist who discarded women by melting them down so who could ‘kidnap’ more women. Though a play on the typical Frankenstein story, Victoria’s obsession with murder and Victor’s rationalization of it both seemed a little extra dark.
And it isn’t like I have a problem with dark, its just these characters seemed so strange when compared to the Monk and White Mage couple or the fire-obsessed Black Mage. Even the Vampire, who is supposed to be an antihero, is an infinitely nicer guy than those characters. I suppose I found the game’s levity really uneven, but that’s also what made redoing those boss battles over and over again so compelling: I desperately wanted more insight into these characters and their motivations.
The characters were flat though, all of them. The plot also suffered a lot from not making much sense. I feel like a lot of nonsense could’ve been avoided with SOME open dialogue. The Templar was a nice guy, even if his armies consisted mostly of murder-loving maniacs. The game could have done a lot more with twisting around their motivations and ideals with each passing world, but instead they chose to go with a far less interesting route. It seems strange to me to have a largely deterministic world that for some reason is still a multiverse? If choices are all largely the same from world to world, then why are there so many different worlds?
Part of me wants to critique Bravely Default even more, but I know it isn’t worth it. Ultimately, it isn’t that serious a game and the barrier of translation from one culture to another does hurt the experience. As much as I love a lot of their ideas, Japanese stories often have tend to lack the well-reasoned, logical aspects of Western world building. That leaves any serious inquiry I might have with one easy answer: it’s just a game.
Well at least Bravely Default was a game with the nerve to be a little different, even if it is pretty inconsistent with itself. I still loved it!