Bravely Second: End Layer
Bravely Default may have been a cumbersome title, but it was an apt one for a Japanese roleplaying game that spent as much time falling back on established ideas as it did attempting to streamline and refine the systems that had, in part, caused the genre to fall out of favour in the west. In most regards, this follow-up isn’t nearly so bold, feeling more like an expansion than a sequel. And yet it continues the original’s fine work with a raft of subtle but meaningful improvements that trim the grind still further, while empowering the player to set their own pace. Efficiency is rarely the first thing we look for in a JRPG, but Bravely Second’s moreishness speaks much for the shrewdness of its designs.
Like its predecessor, the game accepts that random encounters can grow tiresome over time. Once an optimal setup is found, simply repeating it over and over is enough to progress until you reach a new region and higher-level opponents, or face a guardian, where more advanced tactics are required. Here, you’re positively encouraged to find the most potent mix of jobs, skills, buffs and perks, before setting them to be automatically deployed whenever your party stumbles across an enemy. This time, you can save three preset move lists, which should be sufficient to take you through the world map to the next dungeon, while you’re also able to nominate favourite job setups for your party, completely changing its dynamic without the onerous process of reallocating secondary abilities and re-equipping weapons and gear.
Chain battles offer another opportunity to accelerate your progress. Defeat your
opponents within a single turn, and you’ll be offered the chance to fight another group, albeit with the not-insignificant handicap of a debit to your brave points from the previous skirmish. But with the chance to multiply experience, cash and job points, it’s hard to resist staying in the fight until you’ve more than doubled your prize.
If you’re merely trying to boost a character’s job level, you can turn off the XP and cash boosts, head to an area with lowlevel enemies, increase the encounter rate by 100 per cent and barely lift a finger for the next half-hour. Indeed, adjustments to the interface mean it can now be played entirely one-handed, with the D-pad and left shoulder used to select menu options. Individually, these changes may not seem like much, but the cumulative effect makes Bravely Second one of the most accessible and malleable games of its kind.
There are new jobs, of course, alongside plenty of the old ones. Wizards cast elemental spells that can be crafted into different forms to suit the type of battle, though such power comes at a cost, doubling your BP spend and greedily chewing through your MP gauge. Fencers adopt bestial stances to boost speed, attack and defence, while Charioteers can equip a third weapon to the head slot. Soon after, you’ll be deploying cats, cakes and cowboys, though ‘soon’ is relative: the prologue chapter took us five hours to finish, and there are six more, some of them substantially longer.
Sidequests, meanwhile, reacquaint you with characters such as Kamiizumi and Mephilia, and take the form of ideological dilemmas. In the first, reformed bandit Jackal wants to pilfer a special gem to provide water for thirsty desert dwellers, while Red Mage DeRosa is seeking to harness its energy for a risky experiment designed to create an equal society for all. In theory, you’re invited to side with the character offering the more persuasive case, but with the other asterisk being locked out until New Game+, you’re far more likely to fight the one whose job would benefit you most in battle.
Still, these stories are adeptly sketched, and afforded a deeper significance than a dozen identikit fetch quests. And if it’s disappointing that the main narrative should renege on the early promise of an all-new cast for this Default follow-up, there’s a fresh dynamic to your party of four that will allow most to forgive the surfeit of pop-culture nods and winks. Two chapters in, it’s a close second to its predecessor – a little too close, in truth – but those simply relishing the chance to tinker with one of the finest turn-based combat systems around will be happy to see it revert to type.
It’s hard to resist staying in the fight until you’ve more than doubled your prize
Teenage knight Yew is a likeable but archetypal lead. He’s headstrong yet naive, with an apparent gravy obsession – a localisation quirk seemingly designed to generate a meme
ABOVE There’s a narrative justification for your ability to adjust the encounter rate: a reawakened Tiz can now manipulate the weak-minded. A certain seminal space opera is referenced in the dialogue
TOP LEFT Though you’ll visit a few old stomping grounds, the dungeon design is a marked improvement over the uninspiring labyrinths of the original game.
ABOVE Bravely Default’s midgame twist suggested you should be wary of who to trust, but the sequel isn’t hanging about, revealing a shocking betrayal before the game has properly begun
You can now set the trigger conditions for special moves, tailoring them according to your current job and preferred battle strategies
Self-proclaimed ‘Ba’al buster’ Magnolia Arch is the second new party member, arriving on a clandestine beast-killing mission, prompting a return of the original’s town-building aside – though, on this occasion, home is the Moon