Bravely Second, the appropriately titled sequel to Bravely Default, was released on March 27 in Australia, but was only released in North America today. Like its predecessor, Bravely Second is a smart, lighthearted role-playing game with killer combat and enough customisation to keep curious players occupied for quite some time. I've spent around ten hours with Bravely Second, and I like it a lot so far, although I wasn't expecting so much of it to feel so familiar. There are some new ideas, yes, but many of the mechanics, characters and even the towns and dungeons are reused from Bravely Default, where they felt a lot more novel. Two of your four party members -- a wimpy savant named Yew and a French alien who calls herself Magnolia -- are new characters; the other two -- Tiz and Edea -- return from the first game.
Still, the story seems fun and the combat is just as addictive as it was in Bravely Default. Some thoughts and impressions, bulletpoint-style:
- Bravely Second's core rhythm won't surprise you very much. You'll visit towns, meet NPCs, fight through dungeons, find save points before every boss, unlock new character classes and so forth. Why change a formula that works?
- The story is also fairly simple, from what I've seen so far: Bravely Default's Agnes, who has been promoted from Crystal Priest to Sexy Pope, is kidnapped by an evil masked emperor. Your party's job is to save her, which means travelling around the world map and revisiting the same cities and dungeons you saw in Bravely Default as you try to track down her whereabouts.
- The brilliant random encounter slider returns, and it's oh-so-pivotal for a game like this because it lets you set your own pace. You can breeze through dungeons with combat off and then do some quick grinding to get your party levelled before each boss, or you can crank up the encounters and turn every enemy maze into a challenging gauntlet. Up to you!
- There are also a couple of new features that make level-grinding way more palatable, like a chain encounter system that Stephen detailed here. (In short: beat a group of enemies in just one turn and you'll be approached by a second group that you can challenge for bonus XP.)
- The bosses and even some regular baddies can be pretty damn tough, requiring effective use of the Brave/Default system -- a mechanic that lets you borrow or store future turns in order to execute multiple actions at once -- to make progress.
- It's a smart mechanic that fits well with Bravely Second's class system. There are times when you may want your heavy-hitting Wizard to use all of her turns while your healing Bishop reserves turns for future use, and vice versa. Sometimes you'll just want to gamble on an all-out blitz in hopes that you can defeat your enemies before the turn is over.
- Like Bravely Default before it, Bravely Second has a bunch of sidequests based around so-called Asterisk holders -- bosses whose classes you can unlock once you defeat them. These sidequests present you with decisions that the game hopes will be morally ambiguous. One early quest, for example, surrounds a gem that creates water for a village of starving children. Do you want to leave the gem for them or give it to the neighbouring university for research, where it could theoretically be used to end hunger and create world peace?
- In theory, this could be an interesting way of telling stories, but in practice, it's not, because each choice also has an effect on gameplay. Each choice revolves around two Asterisk holders -- in the gem's case, the Thief and the Red Mage -- and you'll have to fight whichever one you pick against. Beating that boss will get you his or her job. The other will disappear. So if you're anything like me, you'll be making these moral decisions not based on what you think is right, but based on which class you want for your party. Swing and a miss for Bravely Second.
- The character Magnolia, who comes from the Moon, explains several times to the party that her job is to defeat a race of malicious aliens called the Ba'al. Her title, she explains with no irony, is Ba'al Buster.
Bravely Second is a silly video game. I'm looking forward to playing more.