Watch out for FLUDD.
When Bravely Default saw its US release in 2014, I was ecstatic. It was exactly what I’d been pining for: a brand-new riff on old-school Final Fantasy. The game had its fair share of problems – the entire second half, for example – but it was such a novelty that I couldn’t let those flaws stop me from seeing it through. Bravely Second, unfortunately, doesn’t have the luxury of being novel.
Much like its predecessor, Bravely Second is a turn-based RPG with a twist; your characters can take an advance on future turns with the Brave command, allowing them to act several times in one round. However, this leaves them unable to act until they recuperate their Brave Points, or BP. Alternatively, they can defend with the Default command and save up BP to use later. This deceptively simple system provides a great foundation for some fun and creative fights, especially when you consider that your enemies are bound by this same system.
Though the core mechanics have gone unchanged, there are some new job classes to help spice things up. Some of these seem a little bland – Bishop, for example, is kind of just a modified White Mage – while some are absolutely bonkers. Charioteer is a personal favorite, allowing characters to equip additional weapons in place of armor. Job classes from the first game are still available as well, obtained through sidequests (which the game mercifully points out on the map) in which you must take up arms against one of the first game’s returning job-masters while siding with another. Although you only acquire the jobs of those you choose to fight, the other half are eventually obtainable as well.
Honestly though, calling them “sidequests” seems a little disingenuous. Bravely Second all but requires you to jump through their hoops, going so far as to show a tutorial pop-up noting that you’ll likely not be leveling up enough to progress the story without them. I wouldn’t mind this so much if the quests felt even tangentially important, but despite efforts to contextualize them with “ambiguous moral choices,” they fall flat. Your choices never have any genuine consequences, but are often accompanied by brutally steep mountains of dialogue with characters unimportant to the already-thin story. The so-called sidequests are supposed to make the player feel stronger, but they only ever left me exhausted.
The old job-masters aren’t the only thing returning from Default either. Many of the towns and dungeons are carbon-copies, and the same goes for enemies. Sure, Second does take place only two years later, it makes sense that the world of Luxendarc hasn’t changed much, but the first game didn’t even have enough content to fill itself out! In what almost feels like a direct insult, two of the three protagonists Second begins with pull a heel turn within the first hour, then get replaced by returning heroes Tiz and Edea.
Rounding out the cast are leading-man Yew Geneolgia and the Moon-hailing “Ba’al Buster” Magnolia Arch. Do you get it? His name is Yew, as in you, the player! Ba’al is pronounced ‘ball,’ like a testicle! It’s funny! I hope you think it’s funny, because Bravely Second really wants you to think that it’s funny. It wants it so much, in fact, that pesky things like plot and characterization are thrown out the window. The writing is some of the most absolute groan-worthy garbage in recent memory – and there’s a lot of it. Cutscenes come far too often and advance the plot far too little. Most of the time they’re devoted to Yew shoehorning the word ‘gravy’ into idioms, or Edea jabbering endlessly about food and/or swordsmanship.
To its credit, Bravely Second’s monkey cheese writing is at least voice-acted with aplomb. Of course, that just made me feel worse about mashing A through most of the dialogue. I wish that the game would take itself as seriously as it takes its jokes and their delivery. After all, what impetus is there to press on in an RPG with so little pathos, so little gravitas to what few plot developments do occasionally trickle into the well of absurdity, so little respect for the player and their time? Perhaps a short-form game could sustain itself in such a way, but to ask for dozens of hours supping this foul stuff as you trek through familiar land with familiar faces – it just seems absurd.
Then again, maybe it’s not so absurd. After all, Bravely Default was about nothing more than lighting the four crystals, at least until it decided to throw a wrench into things over halfway through. Bravely Second’s story beats aren’t identical, but their structure may as well be. “Let’s save the Pope” might be a proper propelling force for Yew and co., but there’s so little flavor or flair introduced until well past the point of caring. Presentation and mechanical grace can only carry an RPG so far, and Bravely Second seems unwilling to acknowledge it.
There are people this game is made for, and for them it’s been made very well. If you were thinking of replaying Bravely Default, or if you never played it but wanted to, or if you went somehow unperturbed by its abysmal second half, check this game out. The battle system is solid, the boss fights are cleverly fun affairs, and there’s certainly a lot of time to be spent in Luxendarc. But if, like me, the first game left you weary and wanting for something with a bit more substance, then I just can’t let myself recommend Bravely Second.