Hardcore Gamer doesn’t give out perfect scores often. So when you read our review for Bravely Default, and you scroll down and you see the little 5 next to the other little 5 at the bottom of the page, it means you should get hyped. Ridiculously, mouth-frothingly over-the-top hyped. We loved it and are currently loving it, and if you’ve got a 3DS you’re probably eager to start loving it too. But Bravely Default is a tough lover, and a harsh mistress. You could ask her to be gentle, but then, this is Hardcore Gamer, where we don’t take kindly to easy mode. If you’re planning to play on normal or hard, your body might not be ready for all the game can dish out. Fortunately, I’m here to offer guidance.
The titular “Brave/Default” system is perhaps the game’s neatest innovation. It allows you to bank turn actions in the form of BP (brave points) while guarding, or take an advance on future turns by making lot of moves up front. If you’re smart, you can use this to overwhelm enemies in short order, taking them out before they can even attack. However, enemies can also use this system, so if you’re not careful you can end up crashing into your opponent’s defenses, then helplessly stand by as they wail on you for 4 turns. Unless you’re absolutely sure you can wipe them out, always leave at least one member of your party with BP to spare.
Early in the game you’re given a magic hourglass that gives you the power to stop time in combat. Though this ability, called “Bravely Second,” is powerful, its use is restricted by SP, a resource you can only earn by leaving your 3DS in sleep mode (or buying it with real money). That said, since you can only store 3 SP at a time, there’s no use in being stingy with it. Use it from time to time so that, when you shut your 3DS, you can earn more. And if you run out and you really need it to save your ass in a tough fight, you can always take an advance on it just like BP.
Just be aware that once you use it, you’re committed. You won’t get SP back even if you reset the game.
Like a lot of 3DS titles, Bravely Default integrates social game elements utilizing streetpass. Every player you pass will give you a villager to aid the reconstruction effort of your hometown, but simply passing players won’t get the village fixed. You need to assign villagers to restore various buildings and open up new areas, which they’ll do while you play, or while the game is in sleep mode. The amount of time it will take to finish a job is divided by the number of villagers working on it. This mechanic isn’t tied to your system timer, so you need to leave the game on for the town to get fixed. On the plus side, you will gain SP as well while the system idles.
You have a limited number of Villagers, so it’s important to prioritize which businesses you upgrade first. Obviously you want to get your weapon and item shops up and running as quickly as possible so that you can buy ethers, phoenix downs, and other essentials. As a bonus, instead of having to go to shops for the items you unlock, you can buy them at any save point. It will take a lot of time to reach the highest levels on any given shop, so eventually it will make sense to spread your workers around and do lower-priority jobs. As with any facebook game, you want to check in at regular intervals so that you re-assign villagers who’ve finished work.
While it’s good to focus on the item shops in Norende, you’d do well not to neglect the special move shop. Every time the shop levels up, you gain special moves for some of your weapons (no purchase necessary) which can be used whenever you meet certain conditions (doing 10 brave attacks with a sword, or getting 3 critical hits with knuckles). These attacks can do an impressive amount of damage on their own, while also providing buffs to your party. Their effects stack as long as the special move music is playing, so it pays to use a lot at once and go all-out.
The moves are totally customizable, and can be augmented by upgrading “special move part shops” spread about Norende. The parts allow you to add damage modifiers and elemental effects to your moves, as well as status ailments and effects that do double-damage against specific enemy types. With support abilities, they can regenerate MP, buff your entire party, and give temporary immunity to debuffs. These shops should be lower on your list of priorities, but don’t forget about them. Even bosses with no elemental weaknesses can be affected by moves that target their type.
One of the best things Bravely Default has taken from Final Fantasy is the job system, but the system has evolved for the new game. You can now equip two jobs at once, although only your primary job will gain experience. This opens up a number of interesting options for building characters, and if you’re clever, you can exploit it to great effect, especially in conjunction with the Brave/Default system. Obviously, there are benefits to having partial stats and spells from a black mage on a combat character, but it goes deeper than that. When you take a brave action, you can combine job abilities and dramatically alter the flow of battle.
For example, if you put Thief skills on a Merchant, you can steal items from enemies and then sell them back at 2.5 times the price. Or, if you couple time magic with a fast job like the Thief or Ninja, you can immediately alter the flow of combat with haste and slow. White Mages couple well with Monks, since monks learn a special ability called “inner alchemy” that can instantly cure silence (or other ailments), after which healing the rest of the party is a simple matter. My favourite combo from the Demo (which is sadly unusable until fairly late in the real game) was using the Knight skill “full cover” with the Swordmaster skill “nothing ventured.” Full cover lets your knight intercept attacks on a single ally at half damage for a turn, while “nothing ventured” halves that damage again and lets you respond to each attack with a double-damage counter.
Bravely Default is, in many ways, a modernized version of old-school Final Fantasy, which means that you have to buy your spells in shops. Needless to say, these are vital early on. Being able to inflict status ailments, heal your party, and exploit enemy weaknesses helps a lot more in the long run than having a few extra points in defense, so spend your money wisely at first and get some use out of your mage jobs.
As with any RPG, it’s important to upgrade your equipment in Bravely Default on a regular basis. However, raw numbers aren’t the only things that matter. Certain weapons have special effects attached to them that provide a significant advantage beyond raw attack power. Some have a chance of inflicting status ailments whenever they strike, but the best among them have special abilities that are triggered by using them like items. For instance, the thief’s knife can be used to cast “mug,” which does damage and steals an item, while the “Blessed Shield” casts a costless Cura.
Far and away, though, the most useful of these items early is the “Sage’s Staff,” which can be used to cast raise. The staff can be obtained by getting the Norende Weapon Shop to level 5, so it’s available quite early if you aim for it, and it only costs 1500 PG. And remember that Bravely Default plays by Final Fantasy rules, so healing spells do damage to undead enemies, and revival spells can instantly kill them. By letting you cast raise for zero mp, the staff both saves your phoenix downs and allows you to tackle the undead with impunity.