Some Guy's Opinion
Five Spots Where Bravely Default Fails (And Five Games We Should've Gotten Instead)

All over the internet I've been reading about how awesome Bravely Default: (Insert subtitle here) is, how cool it is, how much of a throwback it is, how it's the greatest thing since sliced bread... Well, y'know what the greatest thing since sliced bread really is? Sliced cheese, sliced salami, and sliced pickles to put on that sliced bread, that's what. Get all that together, and it really cuts the mustard (which can't itself be sliced, because that would be too awesome). It saddens me to see all this hooplah over a game like Bravely Default. Sure, it's a decent game, and it's arguably better than many that Square Enix has deigned to deliver upon the unwashed masses of the non-Japanese gamership, but is it really the be-all and end-all of gaming? Smurf no. Let's list out all the spots where it fails — right here, right now.

Combat — I'll be the first to say it, but Bravely Default's battles are so dull that they take mere boredom and compress it to a theoretical Planck constant of interest, beyond which lies only the miniscule maw of the black hole of "Oh God, please make it go faster!" Every regular fight is a Brave-Brave-Brave, whack-the-smurf-out-of-the-monster hackfest, and every boss battle is a variation on the Default-Default-Brave-it-to-death strategy. It takes forever to get through battles later in the game, and that's on top of the game's native encounter rate of too smurfing frequent. Treasure that encounter gauge, you foreign saps. Some of us were forced to take on the route to the Fire Temple without such niceties.

Customization & Variety — Yeah, yeah, it's got the traditional jobs system. What everyone seems to forget is that every time a Final Fantasy title had a system where anyone could learn anything, it just put the impetus on the player to make sure everyone learned everything, and by the end of the game our natural munchkin instincts kick in and we've got a party of four near-identical badasses whacking monsters to death with four copies of the same infinity blade +1. Bravely Default then compounds the issue by doling out the job hats "Asterisks" at infrequent intervals and giving the higher job levels exponentially higher point requirements, which pretty much ensures that at any given time at least one party member will be on a job he or she doesn't need just because the player is jonesing for a bit of level-up gratification.

Exploration — Aside from the towns and obvious dungeons, most of which get pointed out to the player by the helpful quest markers, is there anywhere to go in the BD world? I'll just answer this right now and say "No." There's nothing extraneous about this game, no cleverly hidden spots to suss out through careful exploration, no real secrets to satisfy the whining hunger of our starved curiosity. The player can't even really explore the towns, because they're 90% backdrop with no real content! In a toss-up between BD and Final Fantasy XIII, I'm tempted to give a pass to the infamous corridor of monster encounters simply because it's honest about it. BD takes the standard four-to-five "continents" (if a landmass that's perhaps the size of Manhattan can be called such) paradigm of world maps and leaves it at that.

Story — Could they have made it more generic? Four crystals, blah blah blah. Evil empire, yada yada yada. Crazy twist at the halfway point... OK, BD pulled that one off fairly well, but then piled on more of the generic afterwards for double the yawn.

Style — While it's got some nifty hats, BD's character designs are a snoozefest. Something like 90% of the general populace has the exact same body plan with the accessories swapped out — and that's including the party of heroes. Of the rest, 5% are children (and thus identical to each other) while the remainder are villains. Seriously, the villains get all the non-standard body types, height types, and cool poses. If they were stuck with the same body plans as the rest of the human race I'd chalk it up to the limitations of the graphics engine, but no, the villains are proof that BD could have done so much more if it weren't for someone's laziness.

The sad thing is, there are plenty of other games out there for the 3DS that are better than Bravely Default in at least one, and sometimes more, of these areas. More after the break.

Combat — Some would say that comparing a side-scrolling action RPG like Maple Story to the traditional turn-based combat of Bravely Default is like comparing apples and oranges. Well guess what, apples and oranges are both fruit, so I can compare them any which way I please. And when I say that Maple Story has more engaging battles, more pressing action, and more innovative bosses, then that's just the truth. Suck on that orange, why dontcha? Or that apple, I'm not gonna judge.

Customization & Variety — Get this: Maple Story has four characters with set classes and more usable class skills than they have slots to fill them. Then the game makes each of these four characters play completely differently from one another. How's that sound? No class changing, no job system, but in the end the heroes all have their own unique points, which is about the antithesis of BD.

Exploration — Even though it's as linear as all smurf at times, Maple Story still sees fit to reward the player with all these little treasures in hard-to-reach corners of the maps. So when you finally make that tricky jump after fifteen attempts, the reward of candy is that much sweeter.

Story — Four heroes. Three villains. A marauding army of misfit toys. Four separate plot threads weaving together, so that by the end you're left with a coherent tapestry of narration. Need I say more?

But Gaijin! I can hear you think. Maple Story DS is, well, a DS game!

Well, that is true, but that doesn't mean it's not better than Bravely Default on many counts. More to the point, there's a second Maple Story game coming to Japan later this month, and it's already been out in Korea for almost a year. I played it at TGS 2013, and if anything it's better than its predecessor in every way.

Combat — It's got cars that turn into giant fighting robots in the middle of drag races!

Customization & Variety — It's got cars that turn into giant fighting robots in the middle of drag races!

Story — It's got cars that turn into giant fighting robots in the middle of drag races!

Style — It's got cars that turn into giant fighting robots in the middle of drag races!

Combat — There's more than one way to be traditional. Slime Quest III follows ably in the slimetracks of its predecessors in being fast, fun, and easy to pick up. Even better, it now has crazy pirate ships for a new variation on Rocket Slime's tank combat. Because if you're not enjoying the action, then what's the point?

Customization & Variety — Well, aside from all the enemy ships you can blow up, there are all the slimes and assorted other monsters to recruit, all the items you can stock the armory with, and all the general insanity that ensues. This is a game where the big boss list includes demon-controlled analogs to the Statue of Liberty, the Sphinx of Giza, and a titan-sized Russian matryoshka doll. It doesn't get much whackier than this.

Style — See above.

Combat — Here's a case of comparing apples to apples, because MM4 and BD both have a strict turn-based combat structure. The big difference is that while BD gives you new attack powers by wearing silly hats for a while, MM4 just lets you lock and load to your heart's content. Everyone carries multiple weapons, which means that your guys can be ready for just about anything. Robots giving you trouble? Haul out the zap guns for a quick short circuit. Biologicals getting you down? Gas grenades! Giant cybernetic abomination looming above you? Switch to the tanks and dish out quad-cannon missile launcher payloads full of Satan's personal sweet-and-spicy sauce!

Exploration — This game has hands-down some of the best exploration on the 3DS. Forget about tiny islands separated by the vastness of the sea; MM4 makes no bones about how this is only a small fraction of a fractured world, then compels you trek over every square inch of it just to satisfy your curiosity. The list of locations without direct relevance to the plot is about twice as long as the list of those with, and includes odd spots like a zombie-infested karaoke bar, a health spa turned bandit abode, a stranded tanker ship in the middle of the jungle, and a fashionable Hawaiian resort located up above the alpine line. Do you have to visit these spots? Nope. Will you? Yup, because they're there and they're awesome.

Customization and Variety — Every character in the game falls somewhere on an axis of Heal, Fight, Drive, or Repair, but no one has the exact same mix as anyone else. Different people are excellent in different situations, and that's reflected in their skillsets. And any cast list that includes casanova cowboys, kung-fu waitresses, bounty-hunting chanteuses, bikini androids, Korean samurai biker dudes, and a luchador were-panda has the "Variety" part sewn up tight, artistically. As for customization... if you know any other game that lets you mount a twenty-meter B-SMURFING-G rail gun onto a meter maid motor scooter, thus turning it into the world's cutest super-howitzer, let me know. I could always use another contender for my "Best 3DS Game Evar!" list.

Where to begin, where to begin? Unlike every other game mentioned so far, Dragon Quest VII actually has seen a Western release... many years ago, on a now-defunct console, with numerous balance and pacing issues. In fact, let's start there. lists this game as taking a leisurely 130 hours or so, a rushed 86 hours, or about 105 hours on average. Last spring, I finished it in 79 hours, and I was not rushing at all. We shall consider that little peccadillo solved.

Exploration — Really, this is half of what the game's about. Finding pieces of the ancient puzzle, reviving lands once lost to disaster, seeking out clues to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything the divine plan... There's really a lot to see here. Judging just from world maps, DQVII has about four or five times the total land area of BD, with an equivalent amount of adventure attached. So why does BD feel longer? Because it drags things out far longer than necessary, while DQVII is always moving on to the next adventure!

Story — Why have one long, dragged out plot involving a cliché evil empire when you can have over a dozen short plots which come together to paint a picture of the world? There are plagues to survive, curses to undo, evil robot apocalypses to overcome, volcanos to dampen, and demons to quell. Never a dull moment, nosirree!

Customization & Variety — Here, DQVII works better by limiting options. Who'da thunk? Yes, there's a job system and yes, there's plenty of multi-classing available, but all the skills that were originally only unlockable by multiclassing have been mainstreamed into regular skill lists. To balance things out, however, skills are only available for their original class and any higher level classes derived from it. This way there's a regular accumulation of skills, but the player's choices for the top jobs become much more important when it comes to assigning roles in battle.

Style — Even to this day, there's nothing quite like Akira Toriyama artwork. Every DQ world has its own sense of vitality to it, imparted by its inhabitants, and DQVII is no different.

These are the games y'all should've gotten, but for some ineffable reason the West got saddled with just Bravely Default. Sure, they fixed the bits that were obviously broken, but that doesn't mean that it's the best thing to happen to gaming in recent years. So in parting, I have one last grievance to air. StreetPass town mini-game: Square Enix, what were you thinking!? If I wanted to play a Zynga social game, I'd stick to Facebook!

The views expressed in this editorial are the personal opinions of the author and may not represent the opinions of or its staff as a whole.

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