Bravely Default also drip-feeds you a massive selection of 24 character classes--unglamorously called jobs--which are unlocked by defeating the deliciously evil bosses. Jobs range from standard fantasy fare such as knights and thieves to more surprising stuff like the merchant--a class that adds further tactical riches by letting you squander in-game currency in exchange for offensive oomph, all while wearing a snazzy top hat. There’s a rewarding feeling of having earned each class, and the option to mix and match skills allows for endless tinkering and pleasingly unpredictable results.
The superficial nature of some jobs meant that I still found myself falling back into more comfortable RPG archetypes--particularly when staring down the biggest bosses--but if you ever wondered what happens when you mix pirate and ninja, Bravely Default has you covered. This emphasis on variety also extends to the characters. Their may only be four playable heroes, but they’re supported by an eccentric cast that includes bumbling kings, avaricious businessmen and lecherous, thigh-rubbing sages. Better yet, compared to monosyllabic alternatives like Fire Emblem: Awakening, the amusing, fully-voiced cut scenes add meat to the game’s already endearing bones.
Even bosses you despatch with murderous efficiency are well established enough to be convincing and memorable. It’s a typically overblown story of staggering vastness--don’t expect quest items to be retrieved without at least some grind--but the appeal of Bravely Default often comes from the quieter moments. A particularly unflinching opening sees hero Tiz lose everything when his village is consumed, but it’s the final seconds with his brother that hit you with the feels. The roguish Ringabel--no, not the guy from The Wire--fulfills three JRPG tropes in one as a womanising amnesiac who provides comedic relief, but he’s a necessary foil to the doom-tinged backstory. The only misstep comes with heroine Agnes: the vestel keeper of the game’s magical crystals is rather too much of a ‘whine aficionado’.
The weight that comes from these characters is well supported by some unusually lavish presentation. The world looks meticulously hand-drawn, bristling with tiny but imaginative details. You’re drawn in by cracked mortar and cats reclining on walls, before the camera pulls back to reveal gently twinkling seas, lazy clouds, and cities filled with tumbling, enticing buildings--it’s a world that comes alive through scale and detail. If it’s not the most technically impressive 3DS game, it’s certainly one of the most artistic, and the swirling, varied score stays inside your head for hours after you’ve stopped playing.
Add to this some cunning use of StreetPass that lets you turn friends into labourers in order to rebuild Tiz’s village, and this feels like the very definition of a modern JRPG: pushing to try new things but openly informed by the venerable titles that came before it. Unlike those, Bravely Default perhaps isn’t a game that’ll we’ll be talking about in 15 years, but there’s enough invention, charm and depth here to prove that--on the 3DS at least--the genre doesn’t need the Phoenix Down just yet.