Last year, Nintendo rang in 2013 with one of the best portable releases for its 3DS handheld to date, Fire Emblem Awakening. The publisher will attempt to make an even bigger impact with its first handheld offering, Bravely Default, set to arrive next month.

The game features a unique battle system, as well as a gripping storyline. A Great Chasm manages to rip apart the planet, taking with it the four elemental crystals that keep it intact – fire, water, wind and earth. Only the Wind Crystal manages to remain unscathed, and its guardian, Agnes Oblige, sets out on a journey to recover the other crystals and save the planet, by any means necessary.

However, an evil force – the one responsible for the Chasm vows to keep the world in darkness, which means that Agnes will have her hands full in battle, guided by a cryst-fairy called Airy.

The world of Lexendarc spreads across six massive continents, which you must explore in order to locate and restore the remaining crystals. Along the way, Agnes will deal with a variety of characters, each with their own strengths and beliefs – though they don't always match hers. From the Eternian Sky Knights to the politically charged Council of Six, each character offers something new to the story – which will compel you to continue forward.

Agnes won't fight alone, however, as she'll find cohorts that share her beliefs while providing their own benefits to the team, such as a broadsword or other means of attack. These will prove useful, as you'll battle together as a group when you run into enemies. Some characters are best on the front line, lashing out at enemies, while others are used in a support manner, passing around health and magic to make sure everyone stays balanced.

From what we've seen so far in the game's demo (which is available for download now through the 3DS eShop), the turn-based battles are surprisingly lively. Each team brings an advantage to the table when it comes to combat, forcing you to think about what attacks work best.

Once you emerge victorious, you'll accumulate experience points, which you can turn around to make your attacks stronger and eventually level up. Doing so will open up a slew of new moves to use on the battlefield, as well as increased abilities, such as stronger health or a more devastating magical attack. 

A factor that stands out from most role-playing games is being able to balance the power on your team. As the leader, you can assign which roles your team members play, whether you want someone on the front lines or backing you up. Doing this can change the course of how your attacks and strategies play out, which in turn make each fight different from the last. It's an extraordinary tactic, and one die-hard role-playing fans won't get enough of.

In addition, you can also control the speed of combat however you wish. If you prefer each encounter to be epic and drawn out, you can do so. Otherwise, if you prefer to move along and explore the six continents, you can boost the speed up to four times and watch a flurry of swords and magic spells. In addition, you’re able to increase how many times you get into battles, in case you feel like grinding and earning additional experience points.

Even though it doesn't have direct online play, Bravely Default will support Nintendo Network in a couple of ways. First, you can trade data with fellow players, either directly or through StreetPass. Doing this allows you to rebuild ruined villages, borrow items that will come in handy over the course of your quest and even call for secondary assistance in the heat of battle.

Profiles can also be exchanged in the game to great effect, through StreetPass, Internet or local play. By swapping these around, you can open up new moves for these secondary characters to use in battle. Furthermore, you can categorize them either as a Friend or Guest, in case you have a preference.

While Bravely Default sounds quite technical when it comes to its online features and battle system, it's spectacular once you play it. Some things take getting used to – balancing the team– but it all pays off in a sweeping adventure.

You can check it out for yourself in the downloadable demo, and prepare for the full adventure when it arrives on the Nintendo 3DS on February 7th.