When the original Bravely Default released a couple years ago, it was notable for a few reasons. First, it proved that Square Enix can still produce a damn good RPG in the same vein as classic Final Fantasy. It also illustrated that it was a viable and profitable venture for them in the west (even though it took Nintendo stepping up to the plate to get it localized). So when Bravely Second: End Layer was announced to be in development, most people expected that it too would see localization based on the success of the original, and they were right.
That very localization effort has been the subject of controversy as of late. The discussion of what is and isn’t acceptable to change when bringing games overseas has circulated everywhere from Twitter to NeoGAF and Bravely Second was one of the unlucky targets caught in the storm. I won’t detail the changes (as they’re somewhat numerous), but as someone who grew up in a time when the quality of localizations were questionable and inconsistent at best, I’m willing to give it a pass. Really, my only concern from a review perspective is: do said changes compromise the enjoyment of the final product? And in this case the answer is, no, it does not. I think the fact that I maxed all of my character levels, jobs, and knocked out all of the optional content is a testament to that.
Bravely Second is a direct sequel to its predecessor. Meaning, if you haven’t completed the original and intend to, it’s best to do so before even thinking of diving into this one. Hell, I wouldn’t even turn it on since the opening sequence spoils pretty much every plot thread that matters (and on that note, I would tread lightly when reading this review in case I let something slip). It takes place roughly two and a half years later during a time when Agnes is a pope and is in the process of negotiating a peace treaty between the Crystal Orthodoxy and the Duchy of Eternia. These proceedings are interrupted by a being known only as Kaiser Oblivion as he takes Agnes hostage and escapes in a flying fortress. The new protagonist and leader of the Crystalguard, Yew Geneolgia, takes it upon himself to give chase while meeting comrades both new and returning along the way.
The new cast is actually much more likable than the previous combination, despite some often cringe-worthy dialogue (such as Yew’s fascination with working the term “gravy” into every sentence or Edea’s weird “mrgrgr” grunt sounds). Yew in particular make for a dorky main character, especially for someone who we’re supposed to believe is competent enough to lead a team responsible for guarding the pope. But you can’t help but root for him regardless. Magnolia I had suspected would be an annoying pest from the little bit I played of the demo, but her presence is entertaining, even if I don’t understand what she’s saying when babbling in Moon French (yes, that’s a thing).
The overall plot is far better paced this time around too, which was one of biggest detriments of Bravely Default. There was a good story happening, but it unfortunately its message got buried in an unfortunate whirlwind of repeated dungeon visits and boss battles. Thankfully, that approach was not taken this time and although some of the bigger plot points can be telegraphed based on the patterns put in place by the previous game, they’re still exciting to watch play out.
In terms of presentation, things are near identical to the prior game. In fact, you’ll be visiting a lot of the same locales (just at different points in time) and many of the returning characters look exactly as they did before. This isn’t to say that there aren’t new places to visit, but just be mindful that as a whole, exploration won’t feel as fresh as it once did. The English voice cast new and old do a solid job with their roles, but for some reason the sound quality hasn’t been corrected. Many of the lines, particularly from characters like Agnes, sound like they recorded in the bathroom. The soundtrack is pretty rad though, with some old tracks making a triumphant return and the new ones fitting perfectly alongside them. I especially enjoy the new vocal theme.
The graphics aren’t the only thing that made the transition almost entirely intact. The combat system utilizes the same risk/reward turn-based affair that we’d seen before, though if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Want to default for multiple turns and unleash one big onslaught at the end? Or brave several times in a row and crush your foes on the first turn? All are possible and just as enjoyable now as it was then. Likewise, burning up SP gained from sleep mode (or micro-transaction purchases) will initiate Bravely Second mode, earning additional attacks in the middle of turns. Friends can be “abilinked” with your characters to gain all their job levels and have their best attacks summoned one time. Instead of Norende, you’re now rebuilding the moon, using StreetPasses as a means to grow your population. Pretty much every major feature in the original returns in relatively unchanged form.
There have been a few enhancements, however. Defeating an enemy party in one turn will allow you to engage an additional enemy party in order to up the multiplier on the rewards. For example, taking out a second group of foes will net 1.5 times the reward, but a third party would earn 1.8 and so on. The downside to doing this is that you will have the same number of brave points you left off with on the turn before, so you could be at a severe disadvantage if you’re the type of player that expends all your BP in one go. Of course, if you end up losing one of the subsequent fights, you’ll lose out on everything gained, but it’s a helpful way to gain more cash and experience for the time spent in battle.
Another new feature is the way new jobs/asterisks are handled. In the previous game, a side quest would eventually send you into battle with an enemy and felling them will net you their corresponding job. While the quests in Bravely Second most certainly conclude with a job earning fight, they often present you with a morally ambiguous choice and the one you make determines which job you end up with. What this means is that you’re left with deciding what character class is most important to you, as you’ll miss out on the other until you begin a new game plus.
Speaking of jobs, there are certainly more of them this time around and the ones that were added are rather… outlandish. Joining the likes of classics like white mage and knight are newcomers like Catmancer (effectively this game’s blue mage with cats that have to be summoned to perform attacks) and Patissier (better known as a pastry chef). The new characters that carry the asterisks for these jobs are just as whacked out, such as Minette who talks entirely in cat puns or Geist that is covered in… is that blood? Why is he so zombie looking?
A new minigame makes its debut in the form of Chompcraft, an activity seemingly inspired from things like Cookie Clicker. Each of your party members has a role to play in constructing stuff animals for sale and the money made can be reinvested into such things as better scissors, glue, etc. You can temporarily boost the abilities of any one of the members at any time so long as there’s money to spare, and feeding them will push this up even more. It’s an entertaining diversion and one that can translate into actual cash for the real game if given the time.
While I appreciate that the collector’s edition for this game came with my standard favorites (art book and soundtrack), what I don’t like is that it somehow grew in size from its predecessor. I don’t know if it was Square Enix or Nintendo that had the final say on the size of this package, but someone needs to ask them how the hell anyone can consistently put such a massive boxes on display. That being said, the art book is a good quality for not being hard cover, though I was perplexed that there were only ten tracks on the audio CD. It’s absolutely worth the money as it stands, but please for the love of gravy, dial it back on the next one.
Bravely Second: End Layer is one of the easiest games to make/not make a recommendation on since it relies so heavily on knowledge of the first game. Did you like the original title? You’ll most certainly like this one. Or did you find that it was not to your liking? Then it’s safe to say you’ll want to stay away from this one as well. It corrects many of the sins of the past while drip feeding the same addictive gameplay mechanics that fans originally grew to love. Many aspects may come off as samey, in particular the locales you visit, but such is the destiny of direct sequels. I, however, absolutely give it a thumbs up.
Short Attention Span Summary
If you enjoyed any part of Bravely Default, then you’ll absolutely want to give Bravely Second: End Layer a shot. It has all the same gameplay mechanics, visuals and, well, most everything that it had before. It improved upon many aspects though, such as better pacing, more likable characters, and even more jobs and abilities to play around with. Just be wary that the opening spoils the entirety of the first game, so this isn’t worth your time yet unless you’ve finished. All told, unless you have some deep seeded hatred for its predecessor, there’s absolutely no reason to pass on Bravely Second.