I've been taking a break from Final Fantasy games to play through Bravely Default, a new release for 3DS. I just finished it up in the last few days and wanted to get some thoughts out there.
Honestly, this is the best Final Fantasy game that has been released since XII. It's really funny that this isn't truly a Final Fantasy game. I can definitely tell that it started out as one. The job system, crystal story, items, and spells are all taken, almost directly, from Final Fantasy. It started out as a sequel to Final Fantasy Four Warriors of Light but at some point in development it got to break away and become it's own brand. Maybe that's why it's so good, because it doesn't have the weight of the Final Fantasy name on it's shoulders.
I love, Luxendarc, the world of Bravely Default. Everything from the art direction to the music is top notch. My god, the music! I haven't enjoyed a game soundtrack this much since I played Final Fantasy X. And the art department certainly earned their paychecks. At times it feels as if you're wandering through a stylized storybook. Other times the world is dark and imposing. They've created a fantastic world. The look and feel of the game is truly superb.
The job system is essentially expanded from Final Fantasy. I saw a lot of the jobs I've run into before, but they seem to be more fleshed out here. Characters are able to have a primary job and a secondary job at the same time. This opens up all sorts of interesting combinations and experimentation. On top of the 2 jobs, characters also get to pick up support abilities from other jobs they've leveled in. I literally had hours of fun playing around with the job system. That's probably a personal preference, but if you like playing around with systems you will love what Bravely Default offers.
The story has is a mixed bag. This paragraph will have very minor spoilers. The game is divided into chapters. In chapters 1-4 you have to accomplish a similar task 4 separate times. 4 times feels perfect for the story and it works really well. Each of the 4 tasks is similar, but unique in it's own way too. I loved these chapters. Then chapter 5 hit. In chapter 5-8 you basically have to do that same task 16 more times and it loses all sense of fun and momentum. I was extremely disappointed with this middle section of the game. It's especially sad to see after such a strong start. The final chapters of the game once again get interesting and I truly enjoyed the ending, but the middle section is a blemish on the overall story.
Bravely Default uses the 3DS features well. I played the whole game in 3D and it really added something to the visuals. That's not true of a lot of 3DS games. The streetpass feature was fun too. I was able to send and receive attacks and heals from other people playing the game and then summon them in the middle of battle. It's actually a really cool implementation of streetpass. The village rebuilding minigame was somewhat interesting too, but I got enough streetpasses that I was finished with it when I was about a fourth of the way through the game.
I can't believe I haven't mentioned the battle system yet. It's a twist on a classic turn based battle. Characters are able to Default which lets them save up actions. On subsequent turns they can Brave and spend all of their saved up actions at the same time. It really changed the way I thought about battle. Random encounters became all about Braving and launching all-out attacks on monsters. Boss battles become an intricate dance of when to use Brave and when to use Default. Bosses were more challenging and interesting than I've encountered in a JRPG in a long time.
Not to mention some of the convenience systems in place in this game. I set up a selection of good commands and used auto-battle to repeat them against random monsters. Mix that with the ability to have battles play out at 4x speed and grinding becomes totally painless. I sometimes took it in the extreme the other direction and turned off random encounters. I love this option as it let me fully focus on exploring dungeons without any interruptions. They don't advertise these convenience functions well, but they are there and I appreciated them.
Bravely Default is a good game. Despite some story pacing issues in the middle I would still strongly recommend this game. It's not going to appeal to everyone, but it's a must buy for anyone who owns a 3DS and is a fan of Final Fantasy or JRPGs in general.