Before we get started, I want to note that this post will contain major SPOILERS. For those of you still playing though Bravely Default, you may want to avoid this post until you’ve finished.
I wanted to spend a second week looking at Bravely Default because its Final Fantasy roots aren’t the only notable thing about the game. Bravely Default is a good game, sometimes very good, but it is dramatically held back by its second half which devolves into probably the laziest, most boring mess of a story I’ve ever seen. Because this is going to be a very negative post about a fairly popular game, I want to mention up front that I actually like Bravely Default. However, that fondness does not overlook the mess that sets in once chapter 5 hits, and it’s only because I was so disappointed by it that I am bothering to cover it at all. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the plane crash that is Bravely Default’s second half.
Chapter 5 begins a recreation of the movie Groundhog Day without any of the fun, charm, or purpose. Up until this point, the point of the game was to revive the four crystals and then save the world, meeting various characters and overcoming obstacles along the way. Chapter 5, 6, 7, and 8 require you to repeat this entirely, but without any new content and immediate access to your airship, which allows you to skip almost every character interaction in the game. The reasons for this is that your characters start jumping into parallel dimensions, and must revive the crystals in order to save the new world’s populace as well as to hope that they’ll manage to end the cycle.
And what a cycle it is. Each crystal is guarded by the exact same boss every time with the exact same cinematics playing before and after the battle. You have to button mash through a lengthy crystal revival afterwords before moving onto the next crystal dungeon (probably with the encounters turned off because the whole process is tedious enough as it is). There is some new dialogue parsed out in Tales series style optional cutscenes, but it consists almost entirely of the party complaining about the tedious process, as if the developers understood how bad an idea all of this was. The only other new addition to these four chapters is that you get to refight old boss battles with some new dialogue attached. While the bosses are more interesting than your characters, as I mentioned last week, having to hunt around the world just to kill these bosses for no reason is cheap and badly thought out for a game that previously weaved them into the story.
I’ve heard people on message boards exclaim that this part of the game isn’t that bad, that one can clear through each chapter in about 40 minutes and get to the more interesting end sequence in less than three hours if you ignore the sidequests. I cannot agree with this. Bravely Default commits the cardinal sin of being extremely boring for a protracted period of time. Rarely to I ever feel like giving up on a game simply because I no longer have any interest in it, but Bravely Default came dangerously close. Being able to plow through it quickly if you put a concentrated effort doesn’t excuse how bad it is. Actually, the fact that this is the solution to the problem shows how bad this part of the game is. For all of the people that complain about the first thirty hours of Final Fantasy XIII, at least you kept getting new hallways to run down over and over again.
Some people say that the story requires this boring part because we have to see the alternate universes and the team has to get increasingly discouraged while they find out why this is happening. I agree that the parallel world jumping has to happen, but it can occur in literally any other way. It is established early on that the parallel worlds aren’t exactly the same as the original world. This opens up tons of possibilities. Bad guys could become good through a single change in their past or former allies could be rounding up a legion of the dead to march on the crystals. New dungeons could arise from alternate resolutions to conflicts. For example, the holder of the Thief asterisk gives your team a sob story about being abandoned as a child and how that impacted his entire world view. What if he wasn’t abandoned? In a new universe, he might not be a thief. He could be an upstanding member of Ancheim or a dread knight hunting you down. This would allow the developers to play around with societal notions, circumstances and the like. Do Victor and Victoria need to die? Couldn’t they use their powers entirely for good in at least one of the parallel universes? But no. Everyone is always basically the same and they all just exist as optional boss battles that aren’t worth your time.
It’s this waste of opportunity that really gets to me. Why give your team access to the airship immediately? This is an excuse to have them discover a completely new world the same way your party did in Final Fantasy V’s other and merged world, and Final Fantasy VI’s World of Ruin. Even Final Fantasy VII threw in new events to a fully opened up world post-meteor. Why is it so easy to just waltz into every single crystal temple? Why not have new obstacles preventing you from achieving your goals, maybe obstacles that would simultaneously shed light on the world? For example, Sage Yulyanna forces you to march through a long, and previously completed, dungeon twice in the parallel worlds in order to give you a tiny bit of exposition. Why not have him leading a band of orthodoxy fanatics, having not had the change of heart while fighting DeRosso in one of the parallel universes? You could have him parse out new information he learned through this experience instead of just giving you bits and pieces at some times, while holding back critical information for no reason whatsoever.
Chapter 5 and onward was Silicon Studio’s chance to make a game that really made me sit up. The story in the original world was flat and boring, but the opportunities of the parallel world could have shed new light on original world events and characters that let me appreciate them in an interesting and nuanced way. Instead, we received no character development aside from Ringabel shouting exposition when his memories suddenly return. This could have been a game I would consider a must have for the 3DS as many reviewers and fans have shouted. Instead, it falters in some pretty key areas and disappoints bitterly in the end.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer