Time to bust some Ba’als
Welcome back to Luxendarc, land of crystals, fairies, apple-core enemies, and now, moon people.
Bravely Second: End Layer is a direct sequel to Bravely Default, and make no mistake, it’s definitely a sequel, not a standalone entry in a burgeoning series. Returning fans will find everything in Luxendarc familiar, from the world map and cities to the characters, both in your party and NPCs.
The story’s a new one, however: When the now-Pope Agnès is kidnapped by Kaiser Oblivion and his cryst-fairy Anne, Yew Geneologia takes up the quest to rescue her. With the help of Tiz and Edea, returned from the first game, and Magnolia, an agent from the moon, it’s up to Yew to uncover his family’s past, track down Agnès, and, with any luck, save the day.
Visually, Bravely Second is gorgeous, with a pop-up book style for the cities that actually manages to look good in 3D (and I almost never play with the 3D on). The music, while not quite as memorable as the first game’s, is still nothing to sneeze at, and the designs?from some of the incredibly unique monsters to the settings of later-game levels?are eye-catching and original. Sure, there are the standard soldier, goblin, and snake enemies found in nearly every RPG, but then there are the tiny apple-shaped monsters that slice themselves up to attack you and a massive jewelry-and-silk-strung fish alien.
Also, nearly everything is voice acted. While plenty of lines are cheesy?Yew sure seems to find the word “gravy” a lot more inspiring than I do, dropping it into the middle of dramatic moments with frightening regularity, and Magnolia’s official “Ba’al Buster” title is really only good for a laugh once? the sheer amount of recorded dialogue is impressive. With the exception of a few one-line NPCs and shopkeepers in towns, nearly every character in the game is fully voiced. Props to the voice actors, too: some of the dialogue may be cheesy and overly onomatopoeic, but they still throw themselves whole-heartedly into the delivery of lines like “Mrgrgr” and “HeahehAheheHAEHAEHAEahehaehahehaEHAHEahHehaHEahEAHHEahehaeHHAEHAEhaheaheHAHE.” (Yes, that is a direct quote.)
A bit of this cheesy writing carries over into the story, too. While far from bad, the story is probably one of Bravely Second‘s weaker artistic points, swinging back and forth from Mario levels of “save the princess” simplicity to presenting half a novel’s worth of complex backstory events. Scenes of all the characters eating lunch get about equal weight, screen-time wise, as descriptions of a devastating Plague or the dark secrets behind a family?s history. Happily, though, one majorly tedious plot device from the second half of the first game does not return. It?s a big plot point that I won?t spoil here, but anyone familiar with Bravely Default will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Dotted throughout are major sidequests where the characters can obtain Asterisks, or new job classes. While all the new jobs?including the Charioteer, Wizard, Catmancer, Fencer, Bishop, and Astrologician?are presented front and center for players to toy around with, you’ll have to quest around a bit to pick up many of the jobs from the first game. There’s a catch, however: each sidequest prominently features two Asterisk holders, usually in some sort of moral conflict with each other, and at the end, you’ll have to choose which one you’ll stand with and which one you’ll defeat. In theory, this encourages using the new jobs since the old ones are more restricted, but in practice, it creates gameplay/story conflict if the job you want is on the same side as the moral choice you support. Early on, I sided with the Jackal and his stance on distributing water, but I also really wanted the Thief Asterisk he wielded. If I sided with him and got the story I wanted, I wouldn’t be able to use the Thief job until very late on in the game; if I fought him, I’d get the job at the cost of setting the story down a road I didn’t agree with.
Even with this early limit on job classes, though, the jobs?and the battle system as a whole?are absolutely the highlight of the game. Every character can level up every job with no restrictions, and can also use two jobs at once. Gain enough levels in a job and you’ll unlock abilities which, when equipped, give benefits that apply even when the character is in a completely separate job.
This system is old hat for fans from the first game, but it just works so incredibly well. Forget anything else about the game, whether it be art style, music, story?if you have even the slightest love for optimizing characters, powergaming, or making incredibly broken combos, then this is the combat system for you. Bravely Second doesn’t just embrace the ability for players to make crazy and potentially game-breaking combos, it practically requires it to progress.
For example, take a look at one of the new jobs, Wizard. As Wizards level up, they gain different Spellcraft abilities, which shape the Wizard’s standard affect-all elemental spells into different forms (Lightning into Lightning Dart or Lightning Rain, for example). Needles hit multiple enemies of the same type at once, Darts strike at the start of a turn, Walls inflict their effect upon being hit, and Mists apply an effect to a group over multiple turns, just to name a few of the different Spellcraft types.
“Now, wait a minute,” I thought to myself, upon first unlocking the Spellcraft ability. “Can I redirect these shaped spell effects for use on my own party?”
“Of course you can,” the game answered.
“And because Spellcraft is an ability and not a job, I can equip it to a character that’s not a wizard? like, say, my healer, the Bishop?”
“Naturally,” said Bravely Second.
“So, theoretically, my Bishop can, with a single Mist-shaped spell, bring the entire team up to full health, and keep them at full health over multiple turns, and? wait, there’s another ability from another job to regenerate magic, and another to max out the effects of a spell over multiple targets!?”
“Stack the abilities,” Bravely Second said, smiling sweetly. “Stack them all. Regenerate magic while healing your allies, while saving up your Brave Points, do it again with reviving spells, cast it as a Wall to heal yourself as you slaughter your enemies, BECOME A HEALING GOD-”
(At this point the darkest depths of my min-maxing soul started cackling loudly, and things got a little incoherent.)
Anyway, I stacked all the abilities. The game let me do it, and I had an incredibly overpowered healer. The crazy healing lasted for about half an hour, where my team was all but invincible.
Then Bravely Second threw a boss at me that constantly switched sides and took advantage of my Bishop’s insane healing and resurrection Mists to heal itself back up to full health, becoming nigh-unkillable, and I had to go back to the drawing board. (The next crazy idea on the list: seeing how much damage I could get out of a quad-katana-wielding Ninja/Ranger.)
That’s probably the best part of Bravely Second: it allows for near-infinite customization of your team and encourages mixing and matching abilities to find the strongest combinations, and then manages to be difficult anyway. There’s no single strategy that’s good enough to cheese through every enemy in the game, so you?ll have to keep switching things up, and new jobs and abilities appear at a pace that kept me experimenting almost constantly to see what I could do. And as tricky as my setups could get, there were still bosses that could be trickier.
Combine all that with the sleek combat system?which, among other things, allows for chained battles for bonus XP, automated movesets, different rates of enemy encounters, customization of post-battle rewards, fast-forward speeds, a difficulty that can be changed at any time, and, of course, the eponymous Brave and Default mechanic?and Bravely Second boasts one of the best turn-based combat systems I’ve seen in modern JRPGs.
The story and characters can be a bit eye-rolling at times, and fans of the first game might get a bit tired of literally re-treading old ground when Bravely Second’s story happens to run through the same cities and dungeons from Bravely Default. If you find no joy in fiddling around with menus in order to find that perfect combination of abilities that results in eight times the expected amount of damage and poisons your enemies, then you might not enjoy the optimization elements as much as I did. But with a beautiful (if exceedingly familiar) world, good designs and music, and one of the best turn-based combat systems out there, Bravely Second: End Layer should definitely be at the top of the list for JRPG fans.
|Developer: Silicon Studio ? Publisher: Square Enix ? ESRB: T – Teen ? Release Date: 04.15.16|
If, deep in your soul, you love optimizing characters, power-gaming, and creating incredibly broken move combos while still being challenged by enemies, then Bravely Second provides the perfect playground. Fans of the original may find their return to Luxendarc a little too familiar, and the story may be a bit cheesy, but the combat system alone is worth it.
|The Good||Optimize ALL the things!|
|The Bad||The last thing I want to think about before a big fight is gravy.|
|The Ugly||I’d like to use this space to offer the NPCs of the world some free advice: don’t name your kid Revenant. Honestly, what did you think was going to happen?|
|Bravely Second: End Layer is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|