I’ve been playing Bravely Default II, and although I’m not far enough in for a review I’m far enough for a hot take. I consider myself a JRPG dork among the best of ‘em, and to be frank I’m on Team Random Battles.
That said I understand why others really hate them, and I’m always up to try alternatives. But I have never been more certain about anything as I am this take. Bravely Default II is actively suffering as an experience without the first two games’ random battles.
I guess this isn’t truly a hot take, because I’m actually gonna explain myself instead of tossing a grenade out and running. Bravely Default as a series is a very particular kind of game.
Most folks out there latch onto all its nods to classic JRPGs of SNES yore, but there’s a lot more happening under that surface. Yes, Bravely Default and its sequels are interested in the good ol’ days, and that’s been apparent since the “original” game, Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light.
Bravely Default is practically a JRPG-flavored management sim. This series seems to have been designed to give players as many options as possible, and that’s only grown more complex as we’ve arrived at Bravely Default II.
In the latest game you pick a job, a sub-job, abilities from both and passives from every job you’ve ever leveled. And you’ll need to go in and tinker to maintain a level of comfort as the game’s challenges shift focus.
You can also make tons of adjustments on a power user level as well. You’ll see the usual stuff like text speed or camera controls, but you’re also given several options that tailor your experience.
Think the Auto-Saving and Objective Markers make things too easy? Toggle. Depth Blur for the game’s whimsical visuals? Toggle. Difficulty settings? Whenever you want. You can even turn the Job outfit changes off. I don’t know why anyone on this planet would ever do that, but it’s there.
One option is missing, though.
In the other two games, you had multiple levels of control over battles. If you needed to grind, you could crank the encounter rate all the way up. If you wanted to just run around unchallenged, you could do that too.
And options in-between, of course. This really helped guide the experience to suit your needs, moment by moment. Now, you find enemies by cruising around like in many other, similar games.
Usually it’s fine, like in Dragon Quest XI. But here, it totally messes with Bravely Default II’s overall pacing. And I’m not just talking about the frame rate. In Bravely Default II, enemies spawn in specific areas. It’s a little more loosey-goosey on the world map, but in dungeons the monsters are all planned out.
For example, once you get to the end of a desert ruins dungeon, you have to run to specific corners and corridors to fight monsters. Also, it’s highly encouraged to attack monsters on the field for an advantage.
And it gets awkward fast, especially if you need a few more levels to take down a boss. By that time half the dungeon’s monsters will run away from you, so you’ll be spending extra time chasing them down.
In any other JRPG with systems like this, it wouldn’t be a huge deal. But Bravely Default, by design, is grindy as hell. That’s part of the reason why the Brave/Default system exists and why you can fast-forward battles by several speed multiples.
It's why the Job system only gets more options with each new title. And, most importantly, it’s why you could customize the encounter rates whenever you wanted. I could set the games up to my immediate needs, then adjust as needed.
That loop, which made Bravely Default so strange and interesting in the first place, is severely hampered. I understand the need to try new things, and there’s always the random battle naysayers creating demand for this stuff.
But the reason people don’t like random battles is because they impede your progress, especially if they’re tuned up too high. That’s… that’s why the other Bravely Default games let you change it.
I’m still enjoying Bravely Default II as a big ol’ Job system toy box. The way passive abilities mix with chosen Job abilities and all the various other options you have is better than ever. But now I can’t grind efficiently.
And I can’t really avoid monsters unless they’re scared of me. At least, not as well as I could by just turning the critters off. And when I do need to grind, now I even have to chase enemies down. It’s a small thing, with a huge ripple effect on what I get out of Bravely Default compared to other JRPGs.
Bravely Default II still has a lot going for it. I’m not sold on the storytelling or character models yet, but the production values otherwise are great and the world is pleasant to run around in.
I’ve mentioned Jobs a million times already, but it’s like having the whole world at my fingertips. But the way combat works now is super jarring, especially since the other systems haven’t really been adjusted in turn. It’s so slow now!
As I continue to make my way through Bravely Default II this could change as the game grows. Or, perhaps, grinding will be just as necessary as it is painful, and that won’t ever change.
It’s almost ironic that nixing random battles has somehow made a JRPG slower, but that’s what we’re looking at here. Bravely Default as a series has always felt like an anomaly, but here it isn’t totally a good thing.