If you've got a hankering for some medieval RPG action, you're in luck — in just a bit over a week, North America will finally get to play Bravely Default, which comes out for the 3DS on February 7.
I've played 16 hours of Square's newest role-playing game, on a review copy provided by Nintendo, who published the game in the west. I'll have a full review up within the next few weeks. For now, here are some thoughts and impressions, in oh-so-fun-to-read listicle form.
1) This is Final Fantasy in all but name.
From crystals to Curagas, all the tropes and traditions are in this one. I actually spoke to the producers of Bravely Default about all the FF references last night — more on that in the future — and they told me the game was originally created as a sequel to 2009's Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light. Early on they decided to turn it into a new franchise, but the Phoenix Downs and job classes stayed. For reference, think FFV meets FFIX.
2) You've played RPGs like this before.
If you like traditional structure, Bravely Default's for you: from the beginning, you'll be going through the same ol' town->dungeon->boss->town->dungeon routine that you've played a thousand times before. There's nothing wrong with this structure, of course, especially when it's presented in a package as lovely as this one. Side-quests help break up the monotony, and every dungeon has its own gimmick (damaging terrain, for example). And...
3) It's full of little innovations to make the game more enjoyable.
There's a random encounter slider. There's a speed-up button in combat. There's an auto-battle mode that makes your characters repeat the last actions they performed. You can skip cut-scenes. You can play the game with Japanese voices and/or text. You can even make it so your characters gain no experience in battles just to see if you can beat the whole game at level 1.
4) People say the second half is tedious.
I have seen folks who have played the Japanese and European versions of Bravely Default report that the last few chapters are rather unpleasant. To avoid spoilers, I haven't read too much about what happens, but there's a lot of chatter on message boards about tedium and repetition. I'm 16 hours in, and I've loved every minute so far, but in the interest of making sure Kotaku readers are totally informed, I want to give you a heads up. It could get worse!
5) The music is wonderful.
I mean, just listen:
6) Combat isn't as convoluted as it looks.
The bizarre Brave/Default system looks way too complicated from the outside, but once you get the hang of it, it's actually quite smart. During combat — which is turn-based — your characters can choose the "Brave" or "Default" commands to manipulate their turns. Default allows a character to defend and store that turn for the future, while Brave allows a character to take multiple turns in a single round.
So, think of it this way: Jason starts a battle. During round 1, he gets 1 turn, as is standard. He chooses to Default, holding his action for the next round. Now it's round 2 and he has 2 turns. He can act twice, or he can mortgage the future and act up to 4 times in this round, using those 2 turns and borrowing 2 more turns from subsequent rounds (If he does this, he'll be defenseless and unable to act for the next two rounds.)
It's a clever, interesting system that allows for some creative strategy. You can gamble on your characters, for example, by having everyone use Brave to act as many times as possible in the first round of combat, in hopes that you'll win immediately. If you don't kill everyone, your characters will be defenseless for the next three rounds.
7) The class-swapping is fun and satisfying.
I'm a sucker for good job systems, and Bravely Default has a good job system: like in many Final Fantasy games, you've got your standard classes like Knight and Black Mage, and then your prestige classes like Salve-Maker and Performer. Some are more powerful than others, and you can mix and match abilities depending how you'd like to take down the baddies. (Black Mages are way OP.)
8) There's a village-building mini-game.
It's basically a Facebook game minus the bullshit. You can assign little villagers to build shops for you in real time, and it's sort of like FarmVille except you don't have to spam your friends or give money to Zynga.
9) Microtransactions are there, but irrelevant.
During combat, you can use SP (sleep points) to activate a special mode that gives you extra attacks. These points recharge every eight hours, but if you want them more quickly, you can spend real cash on items called SP Drinks that recharge your special power right away. If you're anything like me, you'll forget this exists because you really don't need to use the ability, from what I can tell so far.
10) There's a sequel already announced for Japan...
...and the producers told me they'd like to bring it to the West, too, but that'll depend on Bravely Default's sales here. If this game resonates with people, maybe we'll see Bravely Default become a heavy-hitter franchise to stand up with the likes of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. That'd be neat.