Disclaimer: This is a review of a European copy of Bravely Second, which was released February 26th, 2016.

Back when Bravely Default launched for the 3DS it was something of a revelation. Turn-based JRPGs weren’t nearly as massively popular as they once were, and fewer and fewer were being developed, especially from the traditional JRPG titan that once was Square-Enix.

To bring the genre back to the forefront, Bravely Default cleverly tweaked mechanics and featured a very unique take on the classic Final Fantasy formula, and ultimately made it clear that turn based JRPGs still had a place in modern video gaming. With its positive reception and popularity in the East and West, it’s only natural a sequel was greenlit. The question is: Does Bravely Second improve on its predecessor in any meaningful way?

Penning a new journal

Just after the release of Bravely Default in North America, game director Tomoyo Asano told fans that the structure of the game was inspired by American television shows, bizarrely citing Beverly Hills 90210 and Glee as examples. He explained that characters would be introduced through levity, and then drama would take shape later on.

At the time, I couldn’t see the connection; Bravely Default was divided into somewhat episodic chapters, and definitely had its funny moments, but it felt aggressively dark right from the beginning, where a humble town is obliterated by a blinding light.

Bravely Second, on the other hand, definitely feels influenced by the realm of television. Almost every chapter opens with a slick CGI opening, complete with a peppy J-pop song; the story dips into countless different genres, and there are more recurring characters and clear-cut conflicts than before.

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The playable gang this time around consists of Yew Geneolgia, an optimistic young man fighting for justice and duty, Magnolia Arch, an enigmatic warrior from the moon, and two returning faces; Edea Lee and Tiz Arrior. Thankfully, these four characters tend to stray away from played out JRPG tropes; a good example of this is Tiz, who looks more than a little brooding in promotional materials but ends up being his usual dorky self once he joins the team.

That isn’t to say the game is totally immune to cliches though. There are romantic misunderstandings, a clumsy duo of recurring villains akin to Team Rocket, and one extended sequence featuring hijinks at a hot spring. That’s not to mention the ridiculous amount of puns peppered throughout the game, some of which made me roll my eyes so hard I think I strained them. Whether this tone works for you is entirely subjective, but personally I think it hits more than it misses.

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If it isn’t clear already, Bravely Second is a lighter game than its predecessor. Where Bravely Default focused on the horrors of war and some purely evil machinations, the Luxendarc in Bravely Second is in a state of recovery, former villains are seeking redemption, and the main bad guys this time around are somewhat more sympathetic. That doesn’t mean the game shies away from the darkness that made the first game so distinctive, but it’s definitely less overt.

Unfortunately, one aspect of the game that hasn’t improved is the voiceover quality, which can sound incredibly compressed at times. While it’s not a major issue for most characters, some get it worse than others, especially a certain cowgirl with a Southern drawl. These RPGs are undeniably huge in the dialogue department, and while the support for both English and Japanese voiceovers is commendable I can’t help but wonder if it came at the cost of overall audio quality.

The music in Bravely Second is a mix of returning tracks and brand new jams, the latter of which were composed by Ryo of the J-pop music group Supercell. While it’s unfortunate the first game’s composers, Revo, couldn’t make a return with another stellar soundtrack, the new songs are in-keeping with their tone and there are some definite stand outs.

Exploring Luxendarc

Naturally, as the game is set a mere two years after the events of the first game, very little has changed in the way of geography. The continents are almost identical, iconic locations return, and even many of the dungeons you toiled through several times already make a comeback. While these visits can lead to some interesting moments, such as finding out what the residents of the sand city Ancheim are doing after their corrupt King was deposed, very little of this is reflected visually.

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Many assets are pulled straight from the first game, and only a few of them get any sort of update. This is especially egregious when it comes to dungeons, as many of the returnees have the exact same layout and puzzles as before. If you’ve only just recently completed Bravely Default, expect a lot of déjà vu.

There are plenty of new locales to visit as well, with breathtaking painted backdrops and unique dungeon mechanics. These areas are almost-seamlessly placed where empty space existed in the first game, and thankfully you tend to spend more time in them than in familiar places.

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Players of Bravely Default will also be happy to know there is nothing comparable to the repetitive pacing issues that plagued the latter half of that adventure. There are still a few lingering problems, and you will do quite a bit of retreading, but things are kept relatively fresh throughout the journey.

Moral choices

One of the biggest changes to progression in Bravely Second is how it handles side missions. These diversions focus on the challenges faced by Edea, who, as a high ranking member of the Eternian duchy, has to help or hinder the members of her army in their post-war ventures.

This is where a lot of the thematic genre switching comes into play; one side mission you’ll be helping figure out the future of a state’s education, the next you’ll be deciding who takes priority in a survival situation. This ultimately comes down to a binary choice, and you’ll end up fighting whoever’s plans you stand against.

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This is also how you get your hands on the Job asterisks from the previous game’s bosses, which adds an interesting wrinkle to the moral dilemma: Do you go with what you think is right, or are you more concerned with preparing yourself for the fights ahead by obtaining a certain job?

Getting a Job

As the returning Jobs are fenced behind those moral dilemmas, Bravely Second has to account for players not getting access to fundamental abilities. To do this the game introduces a number of new asterisks that help cover the basics, but with twists. For example, the Wizard job may seem like Black Mage on the surface, but its unique Spellcasting ability is a game changer. With it you can apply various effects to your spells, such as making them always hit first, strongly affect identical foes, or even inflict damage over several turns with elemental mists.

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The Ability slot system also returns from Bravely Default, and the new jobs result in a wide array of different possibilities. For example, you can give a White Mage the Spellcasting ability and dramatically increase your capabilities when it comes to healing, or equip a Knight with the Charioteer’s Triple Wield ability to maximize damage output. Needless to say, the incredibly flexible Job system of the first game has been expanded even more.

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Leveling up Jobs is also made easier than in Bravely Default, as you aren’t nearly as weakened when switching to lower level jobs. Victory chaining also makes a return, although this time around you get the option to immediately take on new foes after defeating a group, whereas in the first game you had to force a second encounter by running in circles. Your spent BP is also now retained between these successive victories, meaning it’s trickier to find sure-fire grinding spots. Those who had a blast blitzing every job to max level before will have to think up new strategies this time around.

Conclusion

Western players of Bravely Default may not know that its groundbreaking accessibility options, such as the encounter rate slider, battle fast forwarding, and the Bravely Second mechanic itself, weren’t in the original Japanese release. The version of the game localized was in fact an updated re-release, subtitled “For the Sequel” in Japan.

I bring this up because, as a result of this retroactive inclusion, there are very few innovations to be found in Bravely Second. While there are some new features, like the bizarre cookie clicker-esque Chompcraft, there’s nothing quite as significant as what came before.

When these returning mechanics are so well crafted, however, it’s hard to view this lack of innovation as a deal breaker. Fans who loved their time with the first game will have just as much fun with the sequel, and should definitely make the return to Luxendarc as soon as possible to experiment with the new jobs and abilities.

Newcomers may best be served going back and experiencing this saga from the beginning. While the first game is quickly summarized in the opening cutscene of Bravely Second, the franchise prides itself on fleshed out characters and a subtle deep mythology that’s peppered throughout both games. The massive number of Jobs could be overwhelming for the uninitiated as well, despite the game’s attempts to pace them through the aforementioned side missions.

Whichever camp you fall into, Bravely Second is a fantastic traditional-yet-subversive JRPG that should be experienced by any fan of the genre.

Pre-order Bravely Second: End Layer on Amazon today and receive the Al-Khampis Costume Set DLC as a bonus gift!


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8.7
  • Incredibly flexible Job system
  • Likable protagonists
  • User-friendly features make the game very accessible
  • Reused locations with very few changes
  • Occasionally sub-par voice over quality
  • Lingering pacing issues

System: Nintendo 3DS

Release date: April 15, 2016

Category: Role-playing game

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Square Enix

Written by Tom Brown

Whether it’s an exciting new entry in a series long established or a weird experiment meant only for the dedicated, Tom is eager to report on it. Rest assured, if Nintendo ever announces Elite Beat Agents 2, he’ll be there.

Tom Brown