It’s been a long time since Bravely Default first graced Japanese shores and worldwide soon after. Releasing to critical acclaim, Bravely Default not only ushered in new fans craving a more traditional approach to JRPG gameplay but revitalized interest in many long-time fans of the genre. Nearly nine years later, Producer Tomoya Asano and his development team (lovingly dubbed “Team Asano” by fans) have gone on to develop many other titles such as Octopath Traveler and the recently announced Project Triangle Strategy. Needless to say, expectations are high for Bravely Default II, yet I wanted to take a look back on a title that I felt was overshadowed in comparison: Bravely Second End Layer.
Truth is, we’ve already gotten our sequel to Bravely Default quite a few years back. Originally released in Japan in 2015, Bravely Second: End Layer presented itself as a continuation of Bravely Default’s story that would recontextualize and follow up on the legacy of Bravely Default’s world. The problem is, many of the criticisms levied against End Layer largely stem from this recontextualization and expectation as a follow up to Bravely Default given the fact End Layer suffers from many of the same issues that sequels in the same vein as it often has, an issue colloquially dubbed as “sequel pressure”. In a broad sense, there are two types of sequels, direct continuations of a story or sequels in name only (much like the various entries within Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy that bear little resemblance to each other outside a select few themes and symbols). The main issue here is that Bravely Second is the former. While it might seem disingenuous to claim that Bravely Second’s issues stem from being a direct continuation while many other titles in the same vein have gone on to be quite successful, what I’m trying to establish is that these sequels are at a natural disadvantage comparative to sequels in name only.
A big problem these sequels tend to face usually stems from a plot standpoint. In Bravely Default, the narrative had plenty of time to establish its world and characters making each plot revelation along with its many twists and turns feel fresh and exciting. Each of these elements from its narrative, cast, and even music helped to piece together a little bit more of the world of Luxendarc, and while Bravely Second is a welcome return its issues start to show during its opening hours and continue on until the end of the game. That’s not to say the game doesn’t have some merit to playing it though and at the risk of sounding too negative, I’d like to state that I enjoyed my time with Bravely Second when it launched initially and my replay of it recently only further cemented that while it is a good experience it is also a flawed one. Bravely Second is so deeply rooted in the game that came before it feels like an expansion to it at times instead of a full-fledged sequel.
The world of Luxendarc in Bravely Second takes place two years after the events of Bravely Default and Agnès Oblige-whose actions in Bravely Default have granted her a certain amount of influence within the region-is now tasked with cleansing the faith she once had of corruption as Pope of her newly founded organization. However, while things seem peaceful at the moment, things take a turn for the worse as Agnès is kidnapped and everyone within her entourage besides Yew, Bravely Second’s main protagonist, is defeated. From then on your objective remains clear: save Agnès and in effect, save Luxendarc. While its primary cast consists of some new faces, Yew Geneolgia and Magnolia Arch, the other half welcomes the return of Edea Lee and Tiz Arrior whose places within the party creating a meaningful connection with those who had previously played the first title being able to see how the characters themselves have changed over the years as well.. While it is nice to see some familiar faces given the context that Bravely Second itself takes place two years after the events of Bravely Default, the latter often serve as mouthpieces for a refresher course on the events of its predecessor.
A large majority of Bravely Second’s opening segment is mostly an examination of the world of Luxendarc in the wake of the events of Bravely Default and the ever changing allegiances of those on both sides. The legacy of the actions of the previous main cast are reverberated throughout the entirety of the narrative with sidequests within Bravely Second often serving to provide a glimpse of what the various other characters have done within the two years which serves as nice fanservice that helps to flesh out the world of Luxendarc a little bit more in fun and meaningful ways. As with its predecessor, Bravely Second follows up brilliantly by building upon the strengths of its character writing established previously by Bravely Default. Edea and Tiz are welcome returning faces and have several memorable character moments and quotes that are pretty similar in vein to certain moments from Bravely Default.
In terms of our new cast, Yew is our standard sprightly young protagonist with a taste for adventure but is handled with enough nuance to not come across as entirely one-note as the journey of Bravely Second serves as a sort of coming of age for Yew as he begins to learn a bit more about the world around him and the scope of the crystal’s influence throughout the region. While it may sound like standard fare for a JRPG protagonist, fear not, Yew is a fun character and while goofy at times, his frequent quirks and quips help to spice up monotony within the dialogue and overall reinforce the charming nature of his character.
As for our second protagonist Magnolia Arch, I cannot simply write enough about why she’s my favorite. Consistently entertaining and quote-worthy, Magnolia Arch is eccentric, curious, and super adorable at times. Due to her roots in being a resident of the Moon protecting it from mysterious entities known as Ba’als, Magnolia’s perspective as an outsider to the world of Luxendarc makes for a fun and uniquely captivating perspective within the story and perhaps serving as a meta-commentary on those who skipped straight to Bravely Second with a lot of her exposition revolving around adjusting to the world of Luxendarc and her fascination with its history and customs. (One note I’d like to make here is that throughout the story Magnolia will occasionally speak in what is known in-game as “the language of the Moon” which will vary depending on which regional version you play! As someone who played Bravely second during the original Japanese launch, the language of the moon in this case was English surprisingly. During my replay this year, I found out that in the English version the language of the moon was French instead. This piqued my curiosity so I later found out that the Japanese, French, and Korean translations all use English as the language of the moon while the English release and European variants all used French. “Ah, la vache!” Isn’t that neat?) Magnolia’s dynamic with Yew is also one of my favorites and definitely a highlight in all of their conversations with Yew often helping her take time in adjusting to the unknown world around her.
It’s particularly refreshing to view the familiar world of Luxendarc through the eyes of Magnolia and I think those who skipped to Bravely Second will likely find her character to resonate with them and much like Magnolia, they will find themselves captivated within the world of Luxendarc as well. Needless to say, Magnolia absolutely steals the spotlight in most of her scenes with a lot of her character moments being some of my favorite moments as well in the entire game. Edea and Tiz are here as well with largely the same personalities from their predecessor tinged with the maturity they’ve gained after the events of Bravely Default. Edea and Tiz continue to be as charming as they were in their predecessor and make for an interesting perspective on the events of the previous game as they recount the events throughout the story with their own personal spin on each set of events. In an effort to remain largely spoiler-free, Agnès’ role within the story is also a large highlight of my experience as it makes for an interesting characterization that draws from the strengths that made her one of my favorite characters in Bravely Default and to see it being expanded upon is a neat treat for anyone that found her to be as likeable and captivating as I did. All in all, the character writing presented here is just as strong as its predecessor if not more with the strengths of its characterization being developed through meaningful and gameplay contextual methods that are reflective of their personality while also building upon the previous game’s characters through neat little quips and story moments reminiscent of Bravely Default.
Character writing aside, Bravely Second’s main narrative is largely where my complaints lie. On one hand, Bravely Second is an enjoyable revisit of the world of Luxendarc and a nice glimpse into how the main cast of the previous game have situated themselves after their long adventure in Bravely Default but on the other hand, it is an experience so intrinsically tied closely to its predecessor, almost to its detriment. Given how Bravely Default benefitted from its narrative largely consisting of cleverly written twists and turns that captivated players as the main cast moved from set piece to set piece, Bravely Second has the sequel baggage of following up on those initial highs in storytelling but it does so to a lesser degree. After all, Bravely Second’s overall story structure is reminiscent of Bravely Default’s to its own disadvantage as it balances recontextualizing the world of Luxendarc for newer and returning players along with plot beats and exposition being shifted around making for poorly paced and exposition filled opening hours that overall detract from the momentum of the entire game. Bravely Second at times feels shackled by the legacy of its predecessor and although I found myself enamored with it by the end there were simply too many moments in between where you can tell that the expectations held for it only served to bring it down in terms of its ambition. It’s hard to pull the same surprises and expect a similar level of emotional response from those who played Bravely Default already and that sentiment is somewhat reminiscent in the overarching story. Bravely Second almost feels muted in comparison, playing it somewhat safe while playing up elements that were praised previously in its prior installment.
The character dialogue in Bravely Default is witty with many notable lines referencing popular culture and tongue-in-cheek humor that lands pretty well for the most part. However, Bravely Second plays up this element in particular with the Japanese release featuring a lot of references to memes and other subsets of popular culture (with the English localization replacing most of these with what can only be classified as “dad jokes”), while funny and charming at times can often feel overbearing as if the game is trying too hard to emulate the energy of the dialogue in Default. Without spoiling too much, Bravely Second’s similar story structure also comes as a detriment as certain story beats and plot thread conclusions feel predictable at times and it feels as if the story is waiting to catch up to your own revelations at times. If the narrative of Bravely Default is clear cut, snappy, and confident in its rhythm then the path that Bravely Second takes is that of a labyrinthine maze one that through trials and tribulations hits its stride as it advances towards the final stretch, taking its own time in slowly but surely grabbing your attention in what shapes up to be a compelling narrative at the end of it all.
Bravely Default wasn’t afraid to take risks with its storytelling but here it feels as if Second is playing with its cards held closely, carefully taking precaution with rewarding story moments with a certain level of nuance at the cost of these moments being far in between each other. Some of the series highest highs are here, but with the way the story itself is structured, the pacing quickly becomes a large issue when it feels as if these highs are placed to string you along until it all wraps up neatly at the end. That’s not to say however the overall experience isn’t rewarding. With its obvious influence from Bravely Default, End Layer feels like a celebration of its precursor and while dialogue is a lot goofier in this one the world of Luxendarc is expanded upon rather elaborately leading to a more varied approach to storytelling.The character writing here as mentioned before is incredibly enjoyable with each character and their motivation getting ample time within the narrative leading for a more tangible understanding of each character. A significant highlight of the narrative is its fixation on both sides of the conflict presented within its story.
Bravely Second takes time to examine each character and establishes that even those whose motivations may conflict with yours have some merit to it. This moral ambiguity further helps to flesh out characterization for many of Bravely Second’s villains often highlighting a softer side and framing them in a way that doesn’t portray them as beyond redemption. It’s a topic I’d wish more JRPGs or games in general would explore in the same way Bravely Second does by tackling the ambiguity of the other side’s supposed transgressions head on and it makes for a compelling narrative overall. It’s also worth it to note that the overall game progression is a lot more story driven as opposed to a large emphasis on exploration focused approach that the first title took leading to a journey that feels like it has a lot less room to breathe comparatively. Despite Bravely Second’s narrative pacing taking a while to hit its stride, these pacing issues aside, a lot of these plot threads do get resolved in a satisfying and emotional finale that wraps up neatly, answering a lot of questions left in the wake of Bravely Default’s conclusion and its own mysteries while still leaving enough questions to be resolved in a possible future installment.
With many elements of Bravely Second drawing from its precursor, this design philosophy is also reflected within its gameplay as well. The system here is for the most part the same with a few key changes that add for a nice quality of life update and help spruce up and draw out the strengths of its combat system. New to Bravely Second however, is the “Bring it on!” mechanic (otherwise known as “Consecutive Chance” in Asian territories), which is the ability to chain battles making for a more streamlined approach to both farming and grinding that is equally challenging and rewarding in terms of gameplay progression. The “Favorites” function (or “My Set” as it’s called in Asia) is also another quality of life feature that streamlines the process of mixing and matching jobs via saving team configurations to make it easy to switch around jobs as needed.
Bravely Second also boasts new jobs as well making a total of 30 jobs compared to the 24 jobs its predecessor had. Along with these new job additions also comes rebalancing for a lot of the previous game’s existing asterisks. Overall, the game balance feels a lot tighter with certain asterisks that were once game-changing in Bravely Default getting a much needed revamp in order to better synergize with different team compositions. This revitalization and emphasis on team synergy also forces the player to change up jobs often and experiment with new configurations throughout the game. This heavy focus on a tighter balance also greatly benefits the challenge added in a significantly tougher yet manageable hard mode that often feels like you have to play by the games rules which makes each encounter a lot more interesting with having to change up how you approach each one through the diversification of job configurations opening up limitless possibilities in how you tackle certain encounters.
The addition of new areas in Bravely Second are also another welcome addition in the gameplay department. Each of these areas feels so deeply ingrained into the world of Luxendarc and serve to further enhance the worldbuilding Bravely Default established. There’s a lot of environmental storytelling these environments offer and it only helps to make Luxendarc feel more fully realized and alive. These new areas offer up a nice variety of locales while still being deeply similar in spirit to the original settings of Luxendarc to the point that during my replay this year I had forgotten they were new areas entirely.
The village reconstruction minigame is also back this time! Instead of the Norende however, you are tasked with rebuilding a moon base ravaged by the mysterious Ba’als.This mode remains relatively unchanged relying on the various network features of the 3DS such as StreetPass. For better or worse, a large majority of the gameplay in Bravely Second remains unchanged outside of its quality of life improvements in rebalancing and new job additions. Your personal mileage with these changes might vary depending on how much you enjoyed Bravely Default’s systems but personally, I found the rebalancing and emphasis on playing by the game’s rules with an adequately challenging hard difficulty to be a satisfying and entertaining experience as I sought new and exciting team combos to tackle encounters head on.
Writing and gameplay aside, let’s talk about the icing on the cake: the art direction and music! At a glance, the changes in Bravely Second’s style have changed quite considerably. Long time character artist Akihiko Yoshida (of Final Fantasy fame) opted for more realistic proportions as opposed to the chibi-like character designs of Bravely Default in an attempt to reflect a more “mature look” that the team felt they hadn’t fully captured in the first title. This shift in art direction does help to reinforce the more sophisticated narrative the game takes. The characters returning characters of Bravely Second are two years older now and fans of the series have aged alongside it. As a result, a lot of the character designs and even outfit design feels more adult-like and refined in comparison.
The art direction isn’t the only thing that’s changed here as well though! Due to a scheduling conflict with the previous game’s composer, Revo, Team Asano sought the talent of Ryo from doujin music group Supercell to compose the game’s soundtrack. Sadly, a lot of Bravely Second’s soundtrack doesn’t reach nearly the same heights as the first title with many tracks being largely unmemorable and none reaching the anywhere near the same level as those beloved tunes such as “Serpent Eating the Ground” or “That Person’s Name Is” having a nearly unrivaled energy to them. However one particular track from Bravely Second, “Don’t Sell Me Short!” seems to be largely reflective of the soundtrack as a whole as while there aren’t as many compositions that I found myself humming there are a few standout tracks such as the poignant main theme and my personal favorite track “Theme of Magnolia.”
When all is said and done, Bravely Second will have likely wrung its way into your heart with all of its charm and captivating storytelling. Bravely Second is an emotionally exhausting experience and by no means a perfect game. Deeply flawed yet captivating, Bravely Second manages to transcend the limitations placed upon it with the formulaic structure of its storyline and quirky writing. Your own enjoyment of Bravely Second may vary depending on your enjoyment of the systems its predecessor established but I think most people who finished Bravely Default will find merit in playing this one. After all, Bravely Second is not only a fitting epilogue that serves as a nice closing chapter to our beloved cast of Bravely Default but a brilliant celebration of what made Bravely Default so great in the first place with this second visit to the world of Luxendarc having a sense of finality to it all.
Bravely Second may be shackled by the legacy of the title that came before it but perhaps it’s better as a showcase of the consequences of sequel pressure in exploring the cost of ambition taking over a more sensible project that once had a tangible scope to it leading to an underperformance in sales. Even if Asano himself states that he felt that Bravely Second did not live up to fan expectations, its legacy remains to be a significant moment for Team Asano moving forward as their projects since then have largely represented a more experienced and nuanced approach to game design. It’s for this reason that Bravely Default II is shaping up quite nicely as well as Asano’s return to the series might finally prove to be reflective of the lessons learned in the wake of Bravely Second’s reception.
My revisit of Bravely Second this year felt a lot more different with knowing the scale of how far Team Asano has gone since then but at the same time it felt like sitting down with an old friend and replaying it has only made me more excited to see what the team has in store for us with Bravely Default II. Overly ambitious and inherently flawed, yet a poignant experience and a celebration of all things Bravely, Bravely Second might not be the most thrilling experience akin to Bravely Default but if you take a look beyond its layers of narrative woes I think you’ll find the game has a lot of heart. I suspect that I’ll be coming back to Bravely Second time and time again over the years in spite of all the problems I have with it because simply put I love the world of Luxendarc. Maybe one day it’ll all click together for me. Maybe it won’t. But in the words of our own hero Yew: “As long as we’re alive, we can try again!”