[Review] Bravely Second: End Layer

ブレイブリーセカンド エンドレイヤー

Okay, so imagine playing a classic turn-based Final Fantasy game and there’s this boss that’s giving you a hard time. But then you go ZA WARUDO and shove your battleaxe up its ass (blade first) while time itself grinds to a halt. And then there’s gravy and puns and Chelly sings a really badass song four times in a row to make sure you learn the lyrics and can sing along with her. You know what, I take it all back, please don’t actually imagine any of this because it’s a pretty terrible and awfully confusing summary of Bravely Second, which, by the way, is the sequel to a game I’ve never played because lol whoops. But don’t worry, I still enjoyed it quite a bit! As it turns out, it actually works reasonably well as a standalone title.

Anyway, so you may be wondering why I played this and not the first game. Honestly, there’s no earth-shattering reason behind it, it’s just that this game seemed way cooler. I tried the demo of Default and found it fairly lackluster and borderline sleep-inducing, while Second’s demo was actually really damn fun to the point where I basically did everything there was to do in it (it’s also essentially a standalone Prologue and you should definitely play it before starting the main game). And seeing how both titles are like 60-100 hours each, I figured I’d start with the one I was more likely to enjoy to avoid burning myself out. Oh, and Second has Magnolia, who is cute and probably made of cinnamon shortbread. Default does not have Magnolia. This is of paramount importance so I’ll say it again: Default does not feature best girl Magnolia. Anyway, the bottom line is that while Second seemed to drop some references to Default’s events and maybe the Tiz + Agnes romance has more of an impact if you’ve played the original, this game is still more or less a self-contained story that you can understand without the prequel. That’s the impression I got, at any rate.

Having said that, it’s worth noting that the very first scene of Second literally spoils what I assume is one of the biggest twists from the original, so… you know. That may or may not bother you. And while we’re on the topic of Default, a common complaint I see about Second is that it recycles a lot of locations from the original. Which makes sense, since it takes place in the same world, but I can see why this would be frustrating for returning fans. I guess that’s one bullet I managed to dodge by jumping into the second game first.

You get a brand new main character in this, by the way: Yew, a young knight who goes on a quest to save Agnes (one of the heroines from Default) after she’s kidnapped by a masked dude in a black coat called Kaiser Oblivion. The mask, of course, will not help the poor bastard at all because you’ll figure out who he is five hundred years before the actual reveal (it’s that obvious), but we all have our hobbies and I guess dressing up as Count Dracula is his. Look, I ain’t judging. Now, when you’re going up against a guy called Oblivion and neither Patrick Stewart nor Sean Bean are around to help, you have to weigh your options and settle for the next best thing. And the next best thing in our case is:

  1. A girl from the moon called Magnolia who occasionally throws out English phrases (it’s the native language of the Moon People, apparently) but otherwise talks in Japanese. What’s that? You wanna know how she breathes on the moon or what they even eat up there? Oh wow, that’s actually a very interesting question so I’m just gonna move on now and never address it, okay?
  2. Edea, the tomboy Food Princess and supreme authority on all things culinary. I like a girl with a healthy appetite and as such, I like Edea. I like her a lot. Her mugugus are also very adorable. She was one of the main characters in Default, btw.
  3. Tiz. Yet another main character from Default. In fact, he was kind of THE main character of Default. Right? I should probably describe him now but honestly he was a little boring so I’m just gonna keep typing more words in here to make it look like I said something of value.

And there you have it, that’s the adventuring party Yew assembles to save the day. For the most part, the story actually doesn’t offer anything mind-blowing, as basically all you do in the first few chapters is chase after Oblivion and his sky fortress to save Agnes. Oh look, the sky fortress went that way, let’s follow it. Oh no, some random shit happened that got us sidetracked so let’s take care of it first and THEN continue chasing the sky fortress. Oblivion’s plans and motivations aren’t exactly original, either. In fact, most of the villains have pretty whatever-tier backstories and motivations, including the real final boss who kinda just does evil shit because… he’s evil and evil shit is what he does, I guess. The last couple chapters do throw a bit of a curveball at you, though, which probably won’t come as a surprise to Default fans because from what I’ve read online, that game had its fair share of expectation-subverting shenanigans as well. There are a few pretty cool moments and the final boss fight in particular does some …interesting things. Not particularly original things, especially if you’ve played similar games that pull the exact same shit, but it was neat and unconventional and I enjoyed it. For those wondering, I’m talking about the part at the end where [rot13 spoilers for Second] gur svany obff fgnegf gnyxvat gb lbh, gur cynlre, naq rira guerngraf gb qryrgr lbhe fnir qngn orpnhfr vg jnagf gb srrq ba lbhe qrfcnve, yby. The story then culminates in a touching and overall satisfying finale with a great insert song and one extra surprise at the very end. So I think I can definitely add Bravely Second to the list of games that end on a high note and manage to go out with a bang, even if the plot as a whole was sort of all over the place.

I also thought the Altair/Vega thing wasn’t handled nearly as well as it could’ve been. I won’t explain who those characters are for spoilery reasons, but let’s just say I felt this entire thing wasn’t fleshed out enough considering its general importance to the overall plot. I was like, okay this is neat but I barely know these characters so why should I care. The game sort of just dumps all this new info on you near the end and it makes the whole thing feel pretty rushed.

While the plot, despite a few cute moments here and there, isn’t anything to write home about, Bravely Second still managed to hold my attention for almost 100 hours because of two things: the battle/job system and the characters. The latter might be the more controversial of the two, as the overall tone of the game and the way its characters act may not jive with every player. To put it simply, this game rarely ever takes itself seriously. There’s a truckload of quirky comedy and campiness jammed into the narrative that just screams Saturday morning shounen anime, and while I personally found it pretty amusing, it may very well be off-putting for others who want a more traditional, straight-laced experience. I mean, hell, one of the villains is literally a loli catgirl with an axe who ends every sentence with “nya” as she tries to murder the fuck out of you. The heroes also name their group アニエス様たすけ隊 for its extra spicy pun-tastic flavor, the term がんばリベンジ (localized as Coup de Gravy) is a major recurring thing and Magnolia’s own catchphrase is GOOD GRAVY so… yeah. Expect that level of camp. Personally, I found it sort of cute and endearing, but I can only speak for the Japanese version.

There are also side quests, and the way these work is that they present a moral dilemma between two job-holders, and the person you don’t side with is the one you’ll have to fight. And then you get their job (class) as a reward. I dunno about you, but I basically ended up taking sides based on the jobs I wanted to acquire, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with the person in question. This is probably the one part where I kinda regretted not playing Default, as all the job-holders appearing in these side quests are returning characters from that game, and Second only gives you very brief summaries of who they are and what they did. Still, that didn’t stop me from becoming an instant lifelong fan of Praline. The song she performs during her side quest is a musical masterpiece and no amount of muscular pirates can convince me otherwise.

But anyway, the game has plenty of heart and I just really enjoyed the characters and their various comedic interactions, from the lively tent conversations to Magnolia and Yew’s numerous blushy-blushy-hazukashii moments. Hell, even the in-game bestiary is executed in an interesting way, with every main character getting a colored pen and adding their own little comments to each entry. There’s tons of flavor text to read if you like that sort of thing, and it definitely adds to the main cast’s characterization. And the chibi-esque character models are great, even if they sort of make the more serious scenes a little difficult to take seriously, especially when the characters start crying and they weep these huge, cartoony orbs for tears. But really, you shouldn’t go into this game expecting it to be super dark and gritty. That’s just setting yourself up for disappointment.

And this is where the “THAT JOB SYSTEM THO” segment of the review starts. Yes, the battle system is so fucking addictive it’s unreal. You have your basic, run-of-the-mill jobs like Black Mage, White Mage and so on, but Second also adds like a dozen new ones that weren’t in Default at all. One of the more unique jobs is the Exorcist, whose entire deal is that he can “undo” things. In practice, this means he can roll back a character’s HP, MP or whatever to how they were a few turns before, and you can probably see how powerful this can be in the right hands. Another great new addition is the Wizard, whose unique skill, Spellcraft, is probably the most useful thing in the entire game. What this does is let you modify a spell’s effect in a number of different ways: the Needle attribute will make the spell target identical enemies; Mist will make the spell auto-cast at the end of every turn (which is super useful when combined with healing magic), and so on. There are just so many options to play around with, especially if you factor in that the abilities of one job can be borrowed by another. In essence, this means every character is a dual-classer. For example, you could be a Dark Knight (another one of my favorite jobs) but also set Fencer as your secondary job to have access to its skillset. This lends the game some pretty juicy customization potential, letting the player find the combinations that best suit their needs. Even I often found myself coming up with interesting pairings as I looked through the skills in one job’s repertoire to find ones that could benefit another job’s play style. In the end, it’s an addictive and well-designed system that will encourage you to try as many jobs as possible to build your very own dream team.

The option to chain battles together is another addition in Second that’s gonna make your life so much easier. Basically, if you manage to defeat your foes within the first turn, you’ll then be able to immediately jump into another battle that will net you a larger amount of XP, money and Job Points. The modifier increases with each consecutive battle, so at first you have 1.5, then 1.8, then 2.0 and so on. If you play your cards right and keep winning battle after battle, you can rake in an insane amount of XP, money and JP, making it very easy to grind up your characters in a timely fashion. The game also reintroduces the same QoL features that Default had, so there’s an auto-battle function, a turbo mode and an encounter rate modifier as well.

The battle system will look familiar to anyone who’s played Default. It’s basically a classic turn-based system with a twist that incentivizes a high-risk-high-reward play style. More specifically, you can essentially spend your turns in advance and act multiple times in a row. Wanna lay a major beatdown on some enemies? Sure thing bud, spend your turns and you can attack four times in a row… but then you better pray they don’t survive the attack because by doing this, you won’t be able to act for four turns afterwards, essentially making you a sitting duck while the enemy retaliates. In essence, the battle system hinges on the player figuring out when to take things slow and when to confidently bum rush an enemy. Bravely Second also throws another ingredient into the mix, which is called… well, Bravely Second, lol. This lets you spend SP to immediately freeze time and deliver a free attack of your choice. SP can only be replenished by waiting (8 hours for 1 SP, though putting your 3DS in Sleep Mode also counts) or via microtransactions. Yes, that does sound an awful lot like something straight out of a mobile game, but this is Square Enix we’re talking about, so yeah. Thankfully, you can absolutely, 100% get by without ever using SP and it’s in no way an integral or necessary part of the battle system, so feel free to just play normally and use it whenever it naturally regenerates. Or don’t use it at all. It’s up to you.

Other things worth briefly talking about include the soundtrack, which will probably be a bit of a mixed bag for most people. It’s a different composer this time around, although some of Default’s music is recycled. Overall it’s okay, though most Bravely fans seem to agree that it’s a step back compared to the first game. Nonetheless, I still found a few tracks I greatly enjoyed, like the opening and ending songs, Magnolia’s theme and the battle music that plays during Maou/Ba’al fights. Moving on to dungeons: they very much fall into that typical “meh” category. There are a handful of chests to open, some extremely easy puzzles to solve and a few field hazards to avoid (like poison puddles), and that’s about it. Visually, some of them actually look pretty good, but you’ll also find many samey-looking caves and ruins with boring layouts. Similarly, the towns look absolutely gorgeous, but most of them are very small with only a few shops and NPCs and not much else.

Anyway, I had fun with Bravely Second. It’s no masterpiece; the story takes ages to get anywhere and still ends up being largely bleh, but the characters are super charming, the world/art style is pleasant to look at, and the job system is rock fucking solid. There were times I found it boring, and times I couldn’t put it down. And it made me actually interested in going back to play Default one day. Final rating: Decent Gravy.

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