Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bravely Default Makes Grinding Fun

I've been playing Bravely Default, the latest 3DS JRPG from Square Enix. It was developed by the same team who ported Final Fantasy III and IV to the DS, and it shows all of the same polish and charm as those ports did.

What's cool about Bravely Default is that it shows that Square still knows how to make a good Final Fantasy game. Sure, it doesn't have the FF title, but it might as well. Everything about the game is a throwback to the original Final Fantasy through Final Fantasy VI, including a job system, turn-based battles with multi-hit attacks, a storyline featuring four heroes on a quest to restore balance to the world by freeing four crystals from the clutches of evil, and so on. If they had stopped making Final Fantasy games at VI, Bravely Default would be Final Fantasy VII.

But Bravely Default isn't stuck in the past, either. Yes, straight turn-based battles are a bit out of style these days, but this game does a number of significant things to update the formula.

First, the Brave and Default system allows you to store up extra turns for yourself by guarding, which rarely seemed like a useful thing to do in previous Final Fantasy games. Now, instead of just wasting your turn, it actually gives you an extra one to use later, in addition to reducing damage taken. Once you have a few extra turns saved up, you can unleash them all at once. Or, on the other hand, you can go into the negative and sacrifice your future turns in order to use more turns up front. This doesn't come with the defense bonus, but it means you can quickly defeat enemies that would otherwise be whacking you during those future turns. In a way, that's another type of defense bonus.

The job system in Bravely Default is also probably the best I've seen in any FF game, including Final Fantasy Tactics. Every job level comes with a new ability, and those can either be active abilities that go into a list of things you can do in battle, or passive abilities that you can equip with a limited number of ability points. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, each character can have two active ability categories at once, one corresponding to their current job and the other chosen from any other job. Passive abilities can be equipped regardless of what job they correspond to.

All of these abilities react to each other in some really amazing ways. For instance, you can combine the Ninja's active Utsusemi ability, which guarantees that the next attack against your character will miss, with the Red Mage's passive Turn Tables ability, which grants an extra BP (turn) when the character dodges an attack. Give another character the Damage Dispersion ability from the Black Mage job, and every time that character is attacked, it will distribute the attack to the entire party. Now, the Utsusemi/Turn Tables combo will activate when either of the two characters are attacked. And why not tack on an Evasion +30% ability to your Ninja? Then you might be able to activate Turn Tables more often, even when you haven't used Utsusemi.

See where this is going? It almost seems broken, but the enemies are just tricky and powerful enough to keep you on your toes anyway. It's a lot of fun to gather all of these abilities and combine them in new ways. For gamers like me who love to customize their characters and collect things, this is heavenly and borderline addictive.

And Bravely Default enables that addiction. There are a few other mechanics that makes grinding and random encounters, usually the two biggest downfalls of the genre, much more bearable.

You can speed up the animations in battle to something like 4x their original speed, making each battle round pass by in a flash. You can do this on the fly, meaning you can slow down or speed up any given battle as much as you want to.

You can also set the game's general encounter rate at 50% intervals between -100% and +100%. Yes, you can disable random encounters at any time, without even needing to find and equip some kind of accessory. This also means you can turn encounters up to the maximum level and avoid wasting a bunch of time running around while you're trying to grind.

And finally, Auto-Battle. Glorious Auto-Battle. This was included in the Final Fantasy IV port, and it was useful then, but Bravely Default puts it to even better use. Instead of just spamming your basic attack, this Auto-Battle feature will actually repeat exactly what you did on your previous set of turns until you tell it to stop or you can't continue (for example, you could cast a spell every turn until you run out of MP. At that point, you would just default back to your basic attack until you got more MP, which would actually cause your character to switch back to the spell).

When taken all together, you can actually program up to 4 turns for each of your characters (by using Brave 3 times as soon as the battle starts), set them on Auto-Battle to repeat that set of 4 turns indefinitely, and turn up the encounter rate and battle speed. Auto-Battle sticks between battles, too, so you can literally set it and forget it. As long as you have a sustainable set of actions queued up (you won't run out of MP, for example), your characters will continue whacking the crap out of every monster they run into, and they'll do it quickly and often. Each battle only lasts a few seconds, and it only takes a few steps to run into the next one. All you gotta do is sit back, grab a snack, and watch your EXP and JP bars fill up.

So, yeah. Bravely Default makes a lot of really smart changes to the traditional JRPG formula. The game respects your time by making things quick and allowing you to automate grinding. I hope we see more of these mechanics in future games.

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