THERE are few artists working in the games industry as talented as Atihiko Yoshida, a veteran of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series, and Bravely Default may well be his most dazzling creation yet.
Bravely Default - Nintendo 3DS
Score: 8.6 / 10
It is a sumptuous Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) with a few inspired innovations that breathe new life into a genre in danger of becoming stagnant.
The title draws inspiration in the main from the family of Final Fantasy games, in particular 2010’s The 4 Heroes of Light. The player assumes control of Tiz Arrior, a young shepherd whose hushed existence is thrown into disarray when his home village of Norende is swallowed up by a vast chasm. He is the sole survivor, tasked with discovering what happened.
In terms of plot, Bravely Default abides by a great many of the conventions of the JRPG, yet time and again, it shows it is unafraid to flout them. The traditional turn-based battle system, for instance, offers some clarity as to its unwieldy title. The choices of attack and magic are complemented by two options, Brave and Default. The former is an offensive position, unleashing a flurry of moves at once; the latter allows you to go on the back foot, storing up moves and allowing your enemy to attack unanswered.
The choice is seldom straightforward and adds an inviting strategic element to confrontations. Lowly foes can be dispatched with aggression, but adopt the same approach when faced with a mightier opponent and you will often pay the price for rash decision making. The conceit is so straightforward and influential, it seems remarkable that is has not been conceived of until now.
As you progress through Tiz’s story, the game exhibits Yoshida’s craft. The realm of Caldisla is beautifully drawn, its landscapes brought to life with a delicate, painterly flourish, as the world opens out and the narrative unfolds. Linger a second and the camera will pan back to reveal the vista in all its grandeur. This is a portable game of grand scale - it should come as no surprise that, when asked once to cite his main creative inspiration, Yoshida named not another games developer, but the Dutch master, Rembrandt.
Graphically, it is one of the most impressive titles for the 3DS, although it is ironic that it looks at its best in two dimensions. The stereoscopic 3D complements the visuals in places, but it is often overpowering and intrusive. Thanks to Yoshida’s hand-drawn backdrops, this is not restricting. It is entirely possible to appreciate a sense of perspective without resorting to the slider.
More than just another JRPG
The script, as is customary with a JRPG release, is a pick ‘n’ mix of the entertaining and the erratic. Vast swaths of the dialogue resemble a mangled homage of Christopher Marlowe’s blank verse were it to have been translated into Finnish before being restored to its native tongue. The consequence is flowery and elaborate, though never without charm. Take one of the game’s earliest exchanges between Tiz and the King of Caldisla, who warns the young protagonist that the road to Nordende is a “gaping maw” that “has drawn beasts of all stripe to it.” We should give thanks to the perilous task of localisation for gifting us such askew poetry.
Bravely Default is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It may look like yet another JRPG and there is no doubt that it regards the genre fondly. Crucially, it offers enough in the way of embellishments to the formula to set it apart from its competitors. It is one of the year’s best role playing games and another strong Nintendo title for the festive season.