Bottom line: Bravely Default 2 delivers a charming JRPG experience with the same nuanced turn-based combat you'd expect from the series. Just be ready for a fair bit of grinding and a cutesy art style that sometimes undercuts the big emotional beats.
Extremely complex character building and combat options
Beautiful visuals in cities and character costumes
Downtime system helps reduce some of the need for grinding
Cutesy art style can be off-putting
Some visual stutters and blurring
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Bravely Default 2 brings the Bravely Default series to the Nintendo Switch for the first time, but not much has been updated beyond the console. Since the Nintendo DS series was meant to be a throwback in the vein of early Final Fantasy titles, that old school quality is core to the appeal, but that could be disappointing for anyone looking for a deeper story or big quality of life improvements.
If what you're looking for is more of the same tricky combat and classic fantasy tropes featuring kind heroes fighting cartoonishly evil villains, Bravely Default 2 delivers an experience on par with some of the best RPGs on Nintendo Switch. While it takes a lot of patience to power up your characters, it can be extremely satisfying to experiment with their abilities to find the best ways to take on the game's tough boss battles and unlock even more character options.
Bravely Default 2 review: Get right into the action
|Category||Bravely Default 2|
|Title||Bravely Default 2|
|Developer||Square Enix/Claytech Works|
|Game Size||14.6 GB|
|Price||$60 (opens in new tab)|
You don't need to have played either of the previous Bravely Default games to enjoy Bravely Default 2, which follows new heroes and it set in a different area of the world. You also won't be bogged down in a lot of exposition about why you need to go fight monsters and save the day, meaning you'll have the whole party together and be facing down your first boss within just a few hours of play.
The writers don't seem to have met a JRPG trope they didn't like, so your mysteriously shipwrecked protagonist will be enlisted to help a noble princess rescue four elementally aligned crystals from the clutches of ludicrously wicked villains in order to prevent a terrible calamity. The plot's not particularly original, but it provides just enough set-dressing for the real meat of the game: its complicated combat system and job trees.
Like in the previous games, every boss you defeat gives you access to a new job. Every character can have both a primary job that they're leveling up by earning job points from winning fights and a secondary one that just gives them abilities they can use. They can also equip passive abilities from any number of jobs if they've achieved a high enough rank to unlock them.
The key to success is figuring out the best synergies in any given character and the party as a whole to prepare for the wide variety of enemy tactics and weaknesses. It's a really satisfying challenge that favors experimentation and the generous autosave function ensures that you won't be badly punished if a combination didn't work out or just wasn't the right fit for a particular fight.
The name of the game comes from its signature battle system, which allows characters to take a turn off and defend themselves by defaulting in order to bank turns they can use to chain together a bunch of moves. You can also just go into action debt by being brave, which is often necessary to heal up your whole party after a devastating attack or to debuff opponents so that they can be taken down more easily. The mechanic smooths some of the issues with traditional turn-based systems by letting you quickly smash through easy fights while providing a bit of insurance against bad luck by stashing actions in reserve.
Leveling up your characters and jobs requires a lot of grinding, though the game has a few mechanics of varying effectiveness to smooth things out. The best one is an exploration mode that earns your party money and items while your Switch is in sleep mode, most notably rewarding you with ways to instantly gain more XP or JP. While lower level monsters will run away from you, some items will allow you to attract multiple fights in a row that provide a solid challenge with appropriately impressive rewards. There's also plenty of side quests to pursue, but while some are charming ways to get to know your party better, others are pretty dull affairs that basically turn your heroes into a glorified delivery service.
One big mechanical change is an encumbrance system that keeps you from just rolling into town and buying and equipping the best gear on sale at the shop. You'll need to balance between weaker items in various slots based on your priorities, which can again vary based on the fight or your current job set. There's an auto-equip function if you don't want to fiddle too much, but I wouldn't recommend using it as it's focused on stat balance rather than jobs so can leave a character without a shield even if they need one to use certain abilities. I found the item weight system frustrating at times, but it's definitely in keeping with the thoughtful tradeoffs at the heart of the game.
Bravely Default 2 review: Visual challenges
While Bravely Default 2 aims to make the most of the bigger screen offered by the Nintendo Switch, the visuals don't always work. The watercolor-style backdrops of its cities and dungeons are beautiful but tend to blur at the edges which can create a feeling of visual strain. I also noticed a few visual stutters during fights with enemies flickering in and out. While the dungeons look very different from each other, they tend to be fairly internally uniform, which can make them difficult to navigate given there's no map function beyond a directional arrow that points towards your objective without heed to obstacles in your way.
Bravely Default 2 also uses the same chibi art style as its predecessors, which is charming when you're playing dress up and admiring the spectacular costumes for each of the classes. The styles are customized for each character and it's refreshing that the game avoids making the female versions show a bunch of cleavage and guys can wear eyeliner too. But that same silly aesthetic is jarring when the game tries for serious emotional beats. It really ruins the moment when a character is supposed to be afraid but has a static expression and then pops off the screen.
Bravely Default 2: Should you buy?
Bravely Default 2 doesn't deliver a particularly deep story or characters and hasn't innovated that much since the series was on the Nintendo DS. But if you're looking for another helping of the same classic RPG flavor you won't be disappointed. There's more than 60 hours of gameplay required to defeat all the bosses, complete side quests, as well as leveling up your jobs. The game delivers challenging fights that will put your creativity to the test as you try to figure out the best ways to use its complex mechanics.
While there are some visual issues and style choices that can be off-putting, the game overall looks great. You can also avoid some of the hassle of grinding by racking up items and money while you and your Switch are sleeping. Just make sure to swing by town regularly to pick up your rewards and set your characters exploring again. Fans of old school RPGs will love Bravely Default 2 but others might be better off picking up something a little more daring.
Old school adventure
Bottom line: Fans of the original Bravely Default and Bravely Second will definitely want to check out the latest entry to the JRPG series, which offers the same nuanced combat system and charming visual style.
Samantha Nelson writes about gaming and electronics for iMore, Windows Central and Android Central while also covering nerd culture for publications including IGN and Polygon. She loves superheroes, RPGs, cooking, and spending time outside with her dog. You can follow her on Twitter @samanthanelson1.