Bravely Second: End Layer Review
Developer: Silicon Studio
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: April 22nd, 2016
For many, Bravely Default was a breath of fresh air in the sea of mediocre that Square Enix’s JRPG output had become. Games like the initial launch of Final Fantasy XIV and Final Fantasy XIII-2 had fans yearning for a return to form. Its success is well deserved, and it was the first game in a long time to reignite my interest in turn-based RPGs. Now, it’s sequel time, and Bravely Second: End Layer has to take it up a notch. Did Silicon Studio succeed? In many ways, yes, but some may not enjoy the direction it may be headed.
For those that need a refresher, Bravely Second opens with the events of Bravely Default, where the four heroes of light save Luxendarc from the consuming darkness of an interstellar god. Now, two years later, Agnés Oblige, Edea Lee, and Tiz Arrior return. Agnés, appointed Pope of the Crystal Orthodoxy, is captured by the empirical leader Kaiser Oblivion for an unknown reason.
Edea now must awaken Tiz with the help of Yew Geneolgia, a knight of the Crystalguard and guardian of Pope Agnés, and Magnolia Arch, a strange woman from Fort-Lune on the Moon who came to Luxendarc in pursuit of otherworldly beings called Ba’als. They must chase after the empire’s flying fortress to rescue Agnés.
It’s a lot of setup, but Bravely Second does a great job with introducing its new characters, both party members and the supporting cast. It’s easy to be genuinely invested in them, more so than Bravely Default’s. Yew’s high-profile history in Luxendarc and Magnolia’s growth as a friend and companion are thoroughly enjoyable.
The actual plot has a literal moving goalpost problem, which in a way is more annoying than the later chapters of Bravely Default repeating. What matters here, though, is the journey rather than the destination. The same can be said of side quests, but let’s save those for later.
The weakest part of Bravely Second’s story and presentation is the writing. It has its moments with genuinely good quips and conversations. In fact, one of my favorite details involves Nikolai, a bishop and friend of Yew. His habit of repeating himself for emphasis is always preceded by “I’ll say it once more for good measure.” The main skill of the Bishop job is Good Measure, which enhances the power of spells that are cast in repetition.
With shining pinnacles like that, the heavy reliance on puns really brings the overall writing down. In Bravely Default, it felt mostly isolated to character names, but it goes all over the place here. In fact, I’m pretty confident that the phrase used in the subtitle of this review will be uttered at some point in the game.
One of the worst offenders is the linguistic butchering of Ba’al. Instead of being pronounced properly as “bail”, Bravely Second decided to change it to “ball” to give “Magnolia Arch, Ba’al Buster” a whole new meaning. It’s not a deal breaker, but it can be nagging when dialogue is focused around the creatures.
Besides the writing, a lot of Bravely Second’s presentation is really well done. The immediate takeaway is that I’m happy Bravely Second fully breaks out of Final Fantasy’s shadow (aside from item references, but the same can be said of many JRPGs). The first few hours fall into that rut, but it promptly changes course once the gang’s all together.
The tone feels more anime, with each chapter broken up by an anime-style OP. The style also incorporates many different cultures, from western fantasy to modern day. If you remember the bizarre moments from Bravely Default like summons, Bravely Second embraces that.
Visuals are on par with Bravely Default, with some areas returning and some being brand new. These really help to make Luxendarc feel fresh. The visual presentation is the same, with 3D environments accompanied by beautifully painted backgrounds in towns. Its only real flaw is performance on the high seas. The drop in frame rate is slight, but it is exacerbated with 3D on.
Like the visuals, the music also does some blending. Returning towns have the same music, while new area music and the new overworld theme mesh well with the previous score. The real noticeable music difference is in battle. Instead of the lighter energetic beats of Bravely Default, the battle music takes a more dramatic and serious tone, as well as each character’s’ Special Move theme. Definitely different, but by no means bad.
Voice acting is also of similar quality to Bravely Default, for both good and bad. The overall voice acting direction has seen an improvement and Edea’s “Mrgrgr” is now so ingrained the game wouldn’t be the same without it. That said, there is still noticeable dissonance when voice tone doesn’t quite match the animations. The actual sound quality is a bit grainy, with 3DS Card space being the likely culprit.
Everything else aside, what really made Bravely Default was its gameplay. To put it simply, if you liked Bravely Default’s, you’ll definitely like Bravely Second’s. While there are a lot of obvious changes, a lot of the improvements are subtle, quality-of-life ones. Features like setting favorites for party setups or a recommended level indicator for dungeons aren’t necessary, but they’re nice to have.
The battle system is still intact, a turn-based RPG with the Brave and Default mechanics letting you store or unleash multiple turns. The titular Bravely Second also returns as time-stopping turns that regenerate when the 3DS is in Sleep Mode. Special Moves can be used when a specific goal has been reached, like casting magic 10 times or triggering Brave 10 times. These can also be customized to deal more damage and apply buffs/debuffs.
Bosses are still fun and varied, more so than Bravely Default. There are still a few Asterisk battles that you can easily be overpowered for with the right combination of Jobs, but the other kinds of boss battles make up for this with patterns you have to watch out for.
The Norende rebuilding system returns with Fort-Lune, when setting workers to rebuild in real time nets you extra items and Special Move parts. Another minigame, Chompcraft, lets you craft Chomp plushes for currency to be redeemed for gold later in the game. As minigames, they’re both simple, but addicting.
As with many RPGs, grinding is a necessity to make boss battles manageable. Now, you have the ability to chain battles if you defeat the enemy in 1 turn, and the bonuses you get in the end stack. This combined with guaranteed heavy-hitting loadouts set to repeat and fast forwarding battles makes grinding so much easier than it ever was in Bravely Default.
The adjustable encounter rate also makes it easy to set how you want to play. Do you want to fight enemies in a normal progression through a dungeon, or do you want to turn it off, grab all the items, then grind by the save point that lets you regain HP/MP for a fee? Either way is totally viable, and you can easily switch between the two.
The biggest game changer in the Bravely series has been the Job system, and Bravely Second doubles down. Old jobs like the Black/White/Red Mage, Ninja, and Swordmaster return. Some of these old jobs get buffs, like the Freelancer skill Halfsies that halves the effect of an item but lets it be used on the whole party.
New ones like Wizard, Bishop, Astrologian, and Hawkeye put a nice spin on known conventions. One of my favorites is the Fencer, whose stances grant buffs that can stack due to its Muscle Memory ability. As with Bravely Default, some jobs are a bit of a misfire (looking at you, Catmancer).
A nice touch for obtaining the old Asterisks is through Bravely Second’s side quests. Each one features two asterisk users with opposing ideals. For example, do you use a gem to bring back water for a thirsty nation or do you channel its power into untapped energy for the good of all mankind?
Whichever one you side with, you fight the opposing asterisk holder and get their job when defeated. The job choice won’t lock you into an unwinnable state, it’s really just a matter of preference. It does seem weird that the game would close off jobs from you, so Bravely Second may follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and bring back parallel world shenanigans, but I can’t say for certain.
Bravely Second is a sequel that embraces its weirder bits and improves in almost every way. It’s cute, goofy, and bizarre, all wrapped up into a fun gameplay package. Even though the pedigree was never esteemed, voice acting decisions, plot elements, and many parts of the game’s writing may make some players laugh uncomfortably at best. Despite those flaws, Bravely Second stands on its own as a departure from the norm, and I love it for that.