2012’s Bravely Default was a bit of a surprise hit; a handheld-only RPG that came out of nowhere and blew genre fans away with its amazing battle system and surprisingly great storyline. Stands to reason, then, that there would be a sequel. It stands a bit less to reason that it would be released within weeks of the much-anticipated Dark Souls III, ensuring that RPG fans would be focused on instead of the new release, but c’est la vie. Bravely Second: End Layer is here, so let’s check it out.
Before you start, it’s worth noting that the original Bravely Default had a couple of surprisingly intense plot twists that are spoiled completely in the first five minutes of the sequel, so if you haven’t played that one you might want to do so first. Anyway, after the events of the original Bravely Default, heroine Agnes was elevated to the position of Pope in the religious Crystal Orthodoxy. Approximately five minutes later, she’s attacked and kidnapped by the villainous Kaiser Oblivion, a bad guy who does bad guy things. He nabs Agnes, wrecks her bodyguards and takes off in a floating fortress called the Skyhold.
You control Yew, one of those bodyguards who barely managed to survive the Kaiser’s attack, as he goes on a journey to get Agnes back. As before, Yew eventually ends up with a party of four characters to accompany him, including a mysterious spacewoman and a couple of familiar faces. The journey will take you through locations both old and new, allowing you to get a sense of how Tiz’s adventures in the original Bravely Default ended up affecting the world. As before, the game’s writing varies from comical (Yew is intensely obsessed with gravy) to deathly serious in a matter of minutes. This might not have worked so well with most games, but the quality of the work here is surprisingly high. The characters are all endearing and you’ll be looking forward to finding out what happens next.
Bravely Second’s gameplay focuses on the classic Final Fantasy job system, though unlike the original game these jobs are all-new and all-weird. You don’t have a standard Black Mage anymore, for instance; instead there’s the Wizard, which allows you to customize your black magic to achieve different effects. Rather than a Warrior, you’ve got the dual-wielding Charioteer, who loves weapons so much that they eventually learn to triple-wield by wearing an additional weapon on their head…and, even later, quad-wield by wearing weapons as armor somehow. Later additions include the Catmancer, who, uh…they’re technically FF8-style Blue Mages, learning new moves by absorbing them from items, but with a crazy cat lady motif.
Nutty gimmicks are the order of the day for Bravely Second’s jobs, so there’s some degree of anticipation every time you fight a new boss and earn a new job-granting Asterisk. Every job has its own unique active and passive skills that can be combined with other jobs to form your ideal fighting force.
As before, combat is turn-based with a strong emphasis on managing your turns. A character typically gets one action per turn, but you can use the Brave command to take an advance on future turns; you’d better hope it’s worth it, though, since you have to pay these back later. More cautious players might use the Default command instead, storing up turns that can later be used with Brave without having to pay them back. This is one of the best refinements of the turn-based system since it allows for a vast number of tactical options; in a pinch, your healer can Brave up to spread the love around quickly, for instance, while they can Default on turns where healing isn’t needed so they don’t have to pay back turns later.
Bravely Second uses the same blend of anime and realistic aesthetics as the original game. Your characters are presented as chibi-fied kids in various costumes based on their job, while villains like the Kaiser and his legion of Asterisk-bearers are typically portrayed in a more standard style. While monster designs are generally fairly standard, there are a few standouts here and there like apple sprites that slice themselves into fifths, assemble into human shapes, and attack you. Backgrounds use a gorgeous hand-drawn style that lends a unique feel to the game overall.
Final Fantasy fans already know that Bravely Default was always a classic Final Fantasy game at heart and thus absolutely worth checking out. The same applies to Bravely Second: End Layer; perhaps even more so, thank to the sequel’s enhanced focus on doing wacky and interesting things with its combat system. While releasing against games like Dark Souls III might not have been the best move, this is still an RPG adventure that’s absolutely worth taking.