Bravely Second: End Layer Review

It seems like an excellent year for JRPGs. Trails of Cold Steel was released. Persona 5 and Final Fantasy XV are on their way. The recently announced I Am Setsuna will apparently have combat much like the legendary Chrono Trigger. All in all, it’s a good time to be a fan of JRPGs. So here’s another bit of good news, Bravely Second: End Layer is a damn good game. It feels highly reminiscent of classic JRPGs like the first six Final Fantasies, or the Dragon Quest games, but it’s made with all the benefit of modern design ideas to make it faster, smarter, more streamlined, and more user friendly, without dumbing anything down in the process. While End Layer might not be the same breath of fresh air the first title was, it’s a great JRPG that’s nostalgic but also new.

Set in the fantasy world of Luxendarc, home of monsters, magic, magical crystals, and strangely uneven technology like airships and guns, Bravely Second is set a few years after the events of the first game. With the war between the religious Crystal Orthodoxy and the secular Duchy of Eternia over, the Orthodoxy is being rebuilt and a treaty is ready to be signed between the two factions. When the treaty signing is attacked by a new villain named Kaiser Oblivion – real subtle villain name there – and Agnes, one of the heroines of the previous game and the leader of the religion being kidnapped, a small team of four plucky heroes have to save the day. Yew, a naive and earnest young man who serves as the pope’s bodyguard, Magnolia, a cheerful and flirty young woman who came from the moon, and two heroes from the previous game; Tiz, the nice guy former protagonist who has recently awoken from a deathly coma, and Edea, the slightly older, slightly wiser, but still brash and hotheaded warrior princess. Of course the plot and the mission seems simple enough, but much like the first game, the enemy and their motivations aren’t quite what they seem. Throw in some dark plot twists, time travel related shenanigans, and a surprising amount of fourth wall breaking and what seems like a simple and maybe even cliched plot soon gets a great deal more complicated.

Gameplay wise, Bravely Second continues the same formula which made the first game so refreshing. At its core, it has classic JRPG mechanics. There’s a job system which allows you to swap classes and customise your party into mages or fighters or other, completely weird character types. The combat is turn based, with your actions picked from a menu. The battles are randomised, with you bumping into unseen enemies while running around on a world map. Seems like an old school JRPG right? But all of these have modern twists. The job system, while allowing for one active job, allows you to pick a secondary job to add those skills in. So made your character in a damage dealing black mage, with all the bonuses to spellcasting and a large pool of magic points? Well add the skill set of a white mage and be able to heal or damage with your magic. Or add a magic skill set to a physical attacker, giving you magic options for your physical tanks. Each job also gives you passive abilities, like MP or magic buffs, or increased attack. Once you’ve levelled up your characters and unlocked those passives, you can mix and match them to your benefit in the most amazingly broken of ways. It’s fantastic coming up with the most effective power combinations to steamroll your foes. Of course, with something like thirty different jobs, many of them new, all of which need to be mastered for four characters, this means you’re going to be involved in a lot of combat to level up.

Combat however isn’t a problem at all. The basic combat system plays similarly to classic JRPG turn based systems, but with an interesting twist. The Brave, and Default system, which allows you to expend or stock up on four actions at once. You have action points and performing any attack, spell, ability, or item expends an action point. You can “Brave”, which allows you to perform multiple moves, but puts you into negative action points, leaving you unable to perform any actions until they return. So in essence, if you brave four times in a row, you can attack four times in one turn, but you are unable to do anything for the next four turns after that. Default increases your defence, and more usefully, it allows you to stock up on action points. So if you default four times in a row, you stock up the action points, allowing you to brave four times in a row, and still be able to do something the next turn, because you’ve only used up your stored quantity of action points. It adds an interesting strategic dimension to things. Brave allows you to rush enemies and kill them very quickly, but if you fail to kill them in those moves, that’s a few turns you’ll be helpless against their attacks, unable to heal or defend yourself. It’s both classic and new in execution.

A few extra modern gameplay additions also make the combat even better. For instance, you can increase the speed of battles so that they move much quicker and you don’t have to spend five minutes a battle due to spell casting or summons. For convenience, you can change the instances of random encounters. Turn them off entirely to save time backtracking or allow yourself to get to an inn when you’re out of potions or MP to heal with. Turn them up to double to increase the number of battles and make things faster come level grinding time. You can map out character moves and strategies and execute them quickly in battles. So for basic level grinding, you can set all your characters to brave four times, attack, and repeat, allowing you to mulch through random battles extremely quickly. Finally, and new to Bravely Second is the “one more” system, which if you end a battle in a single turn, allows you to continue with the same health, MP, and action points into another battle. Keep wiping them out in one turn, and you’ll enter a streak, the more wins you get, the greater the multipliers applied to the experience points, the job points, and the gold you’ll get for winning those battles. Grinding levels is an absolute necessity in this game, but Bravely Second tries to make it as fast, as streamlined, and as enjoyable as possible. Because seriously, who has the time any more for one of those truly old school, glacially paced JRPGs? Not many of us sadly.

Presentation wise, Bravely Second is a sharp looking game with an excellent art direction. The settings are varied,  and the cities wonderfully drawn. Many of the character designs, and the costume swaps due to Job classes are unique and outlandish. The sound design is pretty good, but not as good as the first game. The script can be… Surprisingly bad at times, and the voice acting can be get rather irritating. Yew, and Magnolia both aren’t particularly well voice acted, and Yew has some pretty stupid lines at times. While the soundtrack is actually quite good, compared to the masterful work Revo did for the first game, End Layer falls rather short in comparison. It doesn’t have anything quite as iconic as the songs in the first game, but it’s still a damn fine soundtrack regardless.

Bravely Second: End Layer is a great JRPG which, in some aspects, builds on the already great Bravely Default. It feels both old and new, with style and mechanics that are heavily inspired by old school nostalgia, but with the addition of clever new gameplay and design ideas. While it doesn’t have the same refreshing impact the first game did when it came out a few years ago, and while the characters and plot aren’t quite as good, and the soundtrack nowhere near as impressive, the formula still works wonderfully. Highly recommended for fans of both old and new JRPGs.

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