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Bravely Default Demo Impressions
I was highly skeptical going into this demo. JRPGs and I have a long history, but as I've gotten older and my tastes have shifted I found my interest for turn based cliché franchises slowly deteriorate. But hey, when it's 3 in the morning and you're bored as hell, you'll try a free demo and I'm glad I did. "Bravely Default" hits all the high notes of the turn based RPGs of old while retaining enough charm and style to be unique and entertaining.
The art style is what I latched on to immediately. Honestly, I find that the watercolor-style aesthetic incredibly overdone but the mix of muted tones and vibrant contrasting objects and characters really impressed me. The depth of field in which the world is perceived and the way the foreground is separated from the back ground makes me feel as if paintings are interacting with more solid materials. Not only that but the charm and design of the characters and their respective jobs (which I'll cover later) are flat out cool. You can tell time and creativity went into the class system's appearance.
But hey, the game can look as pretty as it wants but I have to want to play it. Well, for the first time in quite a long time Square-Enix has crafted something that really intrigues me. You control four characters (two boys and two girls) that form your party and their roles in combat depend on what jobs you assign them. Feeling very much like a remix of Final Fantasy V and Tactics, the characters progress through the games by accruing Experience for their overall level and "job points" which increase the mastery of their jobs and abilities. You're also given a few slots to mix certain abilities from jobs you've mastered with your currently selected job so you can mix and match moves and features to customize how you want you characters to play.
(The max level cap for your characters is 20 and jobs are 4 in the demo).
As I said, the job system is implemented and I find that to be the most satisfying and fulfilling to me when it comes to the RPG archetype. Freedom means a lot to me and best of all the designs are hilarious or cool looking. For example the "performer" is the name of the classic bard class, but you don Elvis like clothing and sunglasses when you select it. On the other hand, the Valkyrie (dragoon) has stark white armor and acrobatic abilities that look outstanding and bold.
Combat takes on what you would expect from something trying to emulate its predecessors, but the catch here is that all your actions cost ability points which you can accrue and spend as you see fit, but if you spend too much, your character(s) will have to stand openly. By using the "default" action your character will defend and save their ability points for another turn; vice versa, if you use the "brave" action you can que up a succession of abilities and attacks. This system adds a bit more depth and strategy to combat, especially against bosses that manage their own ability points and action ques.
The last new feature is the micromanaging of a destroyed virtual town in the game. This town has obstacles that need to be cleared and shops that need to be managed. You can assign villagers (which you accrue through the "streetpass" function with your 3DS. Every time your 3DS registers a new streepass tag a new villager will be added (or via internet with the full release). Things in the town happen in real time, anywhere from 1-20 hours, and the more villagers that you assign to the tasks the less you have to wait. This may seem superfluous, and it kind of is, but the items and gifts offered by the town usually outshine the equipment in the hub cities by a huge margin. It behooves one to dedicated some effort to the mini-game.
While this does strike my soft spot for this genre, there are a few things that drag the game down.
While visually impressive, the game seems to illicit strange ideas and provocative images unintentionally. When in battle or in the overworld the characters all look 12-14, but the cut scenes and other close ups seem to cast them as 18-20 and in rather... ahem... alluring poses. It leaves me questioning who the target audience is with such things, but maybe that's just me showing my age.
The gameplay often stagnates a bit, here and there. With the job and character experience needs being separate, a player will have to do a bit more grinding, though the gratifications for doing so are well thought out. You can see your progress as jobs level up rather quickly and abilities are unlocked. Also, some jobs are relatively useless while others are incredibly powerful, though since this is just the demo I hold judgment until I see all of them in full.
The story is a bit lack luster (again, I attribute this to the demo status as well) with little intrigue or depth provided. I felt more like I was just bouncing around between NPCs and their quests instead of having a goal, scope, and investment in the world. I couldn't tell you what was really going on or what the end was, but it didn't set my expectations very high.
My final thoughts: if you can get past the inconsistent art style and somewhat awkward feelings and enjoy an old style JRPG that has a lot of charm and entertainment, you may enjoy this a whole lot. For a free download that killed 2-4 hours, I know I did.
Also, it has been said that you can transfer over certain items and 20 villagers (but not experience, money, and equipment) from your demo data to your full version. That's a really cool idea and the prospect of hitting the ground running if you're going to invest in the full game is a great perk.
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