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How Final Fantasy's Past Is Shaping Bravely Default's Future
With Bravely Second: End Layer for Nintendo 3DS's new release, we asked co-producer at Square Enix Masashi Takahashi about the sequel to the 2014 surprise-hit JRPG, Bravely Default. We wanted to find out how the game has changed during localization, what design decisions shaped the game, and where the series will go from here.
Editor's Note: This interview was published on April 13, but we're re-posting it now that the game is out.
Recently, Nintendo made a statement detailing that some dialogue at the end of side quests is being changed for the US version of Bravely Second: End Layer. Japanese players felt dissatisfied with how their party lamented the quest’s conclusion regardless of the player’s choices. What other changes can Americans expect from the Japanese version?
We made a handful of changes based on user feedback and our own internal evaluation to deliver what we believe to be a better, more streamlined gaming experience. Most of the changes are subtle, and we hope that players will be able to thoroughly enjoy this refined and definitive version of the game in their hands.
The Bravely series has a good track record of incorporating fan feedback, with the example above showing that the team is listening closely to the fanbase. Were there any stand out pieces of feedback that were considered for Bravely Second?
With the Bravely series, our main goal was to deliver an enjoyable gaming experience. We thought we put a lot of loving care into the details with the original Bravely Default, but listening to player feedback after release—as well as feedback from within our own team—we heard a lot of passionate opinions about things we could fix or tweak to make the game even better.
Based upon this feedback, we put together a survey to collect user opinions on 100 proposed improvements. Despite the sheer number of questions, a great many players took the time to answer. In the end, we were proud to implement 80 of these improvements (with seven proving too difficult to address, and another 13 deemed better as is). They were reflected for the international release of Bravely Default, and now in Bravely Second. They range from extremely fine details, like skippable logos when starting the game, to now-standard features, like the auto-advance mode for cutscenes.
In addition to fan feedback, we also had our internal QA team playtest the game for over six months to fine-tune game balance, especially in the battle system. That said, with internal discussions between team members who are Bravely veterans, you run the risk of developing tunnel vision, so we made a concerted effort not to lose sight of what first-time players would enjoy.
Bravely Second: End Layer takes place two-and-a-half years after Bravely Default, and some characters and locales return. Is it important for players to go through Bravely Default before playing End Layer?
To address any fears of new players not being able to follow the story, we added an opening movie that summarizes the events of the previous game. We figured this would also be a nice refresher for those who played the original Bravely Default a while back and don’t quite remember all that happened.
Of course, since it is a direct continuation of the story, set in the same world a few years after the first game, returning players will be able to enjoy seeing what their favorite characters have been up to, and all that’s been happening in Luxendarc since their last visit.
When Bravely Default came out a lot of comparisons were drawn between its tone and old-school RPGs from the Super Nintendo era. How influential was this era to the Bravely series, and what games did the team look to for inspiration?
This may not come as a surprise, but Final Fantasy V was a game that we often looked to for examples in our discussions with the development team. Also, on a personal note, Final Fantasy III was the first game I ever played, when I was five years old and in kindergarten. Final Fantasy V then followed two years later. Without a doubt, playing these two games was a formative experience for me as a game designer. With that said, nostalgia alone isn’t going to make a game interesting, and there’s no point in developing a new title if you’re just looking to the past.
So we kept in mind everything we loved about the games of our youth, but also added new features unique to the series like the Brave/Default system, friend summons, the village-building minigame, and so forth, refining our vision around the concept of a single-player RPG that you could enjoy with your friends.
Could you detail how the newly added mechanic of chaining battles together works?
When you win a battle in one turn in Bravely Second, you’re given the option of immediately taking on a new group of foes. You can keep going as long as you’re able, earning greater and greater rewards as your victory streak grows. To give some additional background, there are two major components to the Bravely series’ battle system. One is the job and ability system, and the other is the Brave/Default system. With the job and ability system, each player has the freedom to come up with party configurations that best fit his or her play style. It’s common, I think, to look at a friend’s party setup and think, “Wow, that’s completely different from mine!”
With the consecutive battle system, we wanted players to enjoy that sense of, “I did it!” when they find the perfect configuration to defeat a group of enemies in one turn – it isn’t easy to keep those victory streaks going! Skillful management of BP is vital to keeping your chain going. (BP, or brave points, represent how many actions your character can take, and are spent and saved by braving and defaulting.) Any BP you spend won’t be replenished in subsequent battles, so if you’re not careful, you’ll be defenseless right from the start. We think players will enjoy the challenge of balancing risk and reward, fighting on while they can, but knowing when to call it quits.
Akihiko Yoshida, who is known for his character designs in Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, returns as the main character designer in Bravely Second: End Layer. The characters look more proportionate this time around. Can you give insight into this design decision and the overall character design process?
I’m so happy you noticed the difference! Compared to the original Bravely Default, we made a point of making the characters more life-sized this time around. One part of it was, of course, that we wanted to portray the characters as a bit more adult given the time that had passed since the first game. More than anything, though, it was influenced by Magnolia, one of our new characters. Being the more mature young lady she is, her proportions just grew naturally during the design process, and we ended up adjusting the proportions of all the playable characters to match. Despite being a relatively minor change, it allowed us to add even more density and creativity to the costumes, which bring so much color to the job system. In that sense, we think we were able to find the perfect fit for the Bravely series.
Bravely Second has a variety of unique jobs, including the feline-inspired Catmancer and the dessert-centric Patissier. How did the team decide on these atypical classes?
There are two parts to the process: first we come up with the job itself, then we create a character for it. With the jobs themselves, there was a sense that we had pretty much exhausted all the traditional RPG jobs in the original Bravely Default. Any new jobs would have to be useful and powerful, or we’d run the risk of players ignoring them. So we focused on coming up with jobs that players would be excited to use and combine with existing jobs, and thought up the names and abilities accordingly.
For the asterisk holders (job bosses), we wanted to bring out the interpersonal drama between the characters, so we put them in pairs. You have the lord and servant relationship of Bella and Cú Chulainn, the lovers Aimee and Angelo, and so forth. As for what they’re like, you’ll just have to play the game and get to know them for yourself! Like the first game, we recruited a team of talented illustrators from outside the company to give these characters unique visual appearances to match their personalities.
Is the team eager to take the Bravely series to future hardware? Is it viewed as a handheld series, or is there any possibility that it could branch out to consoles at some point?
Unfortunately, I can’t make any official promises, but Bravely Default was the first RPG I worked on since joining Square Enix, and the series has grown very near and dear to my heart. Personally speaking, I’d love to see it happen. I’d also like to offer my heartfelt thanks to all of you around the world who have played and loved the Bravely series. For me, there is no greater happiness than to be able to join with you to make the world of games even more fun.
Stay tuned for our upcoming review of Bravely Second: End Layer for Nintendo 3DS, and check out our previous coverage here.