Bravely Second: End Layer (3DS)

This review's a long one.  Want the short appraisal? 

If you're not a fan of turn-based JRPGs, especially those where you have no impact on the attack once you've selected it, BSEL won't change your mind.  If you want to play the prequel, Bravely Default, but haven't yet, play that first: BSEL spoils its entire plot in its opening cut-scene.  Then leave it a couple of months so that you aren't ruined by familiarity.

Otherwise?  Buy this game.

BSEL does what it does almost perfectly.  Its only real flaws are inherent to its genre, and its status as a sequel.

 From left to right: Tiz, Magnolia, Yew, Edea, in the most sensible outfits available to them.  They'll look much sillier before we're done.

From left to right: Tiz, Magnolia, Yew, Edea, in the most sensible outfits available to them.  They'll look much sillier before we're done.

Now Gypsy It's Your Turn

BSEL, like its prequel, is a love letter to the Final Fantasies of old.  Like them, it employs a turn-based battle system.  But in an age where series like Mario's RPGs, or even Mother 3, have shown how a turn-based system can be made interactive, there's no doubt that BSEL's old-fashioned takey-turny ways take away from the combat somewhat.

That's not to say that the combat isn't good.  BSEL uses the Brave-Default system from its predecessor to inject some freshness into the turn-based formula (see 'Default in Our Stars' if you're not familiar with that).  Only it's a bit less fresh because it's been done before, natch. 

Nonetheless, it's this reviewer's opinion that there's an unavoidable disconnect between fighters and player as a result.  You don't make the moves happen, you tell the characters to make the moves happen.

The game's other major flaw, and it's equally debatable, is the game's reliance on its prequel.  While it's perfectly playable and understandable in isolation, several bits of writing are clearly for players who have played Bravely Default.  Non-Defaulters might feel like a newbie in a social group who doesn't get all the in-jokes.

The trouble is that BD, although a fine game in its own right, just isn't as good as its sequel.  In the first half the writing was a bit testicles, but in the second half the gameplay was repetitive and plain bad.  Notoriously so.  To the extent that many gave up on it there - and in doing so would have missed one of the great plot twists in gaming (which BSEL gleefully reveals at the off).

Here's the thing, though: those are BSEL's notable flaws.  Yup, that's it.

 "...a fashion revolution.  Anne, dahling, do you think this mask is  royal  enough?"

"...a fashion revolution.  Anne, dahling, do you think this mask is royal enough?"

Kaiser Used Nasty Plot

The plot is set in motion by Kaiser Oblivion and his black-and-purple fairy Anne kidnapping Pope Agnès, stopping only to open an account with the Bank Of Evil, kick a kitten down the stairs, and stab a baby.  Chasing them down are Yew, a spunky student-swordsman with a gravy obsession, and his mates not!Athos and not!Porthos/Aramis.

Hi-jinks and plot twists ensue.  The end-of-prologue party consists of Yew, moon-lady Magnolia, and the best and worst main party members from Default, Edea and Tiz.  Magnolia speaks in French and likes Yew; Tiz speaks in anime-hero and likes Agnès; Edea speaks in grumbles and likes food.

Okay, so the opening "battle" is stilted as all hell, and three of the four main party members don't immediately fill the heart with optimism.  Thereafter, the writing/localisation is superlative.  A lot of reviews I've seen single the plot out for criticism: I can only assume they're playing a different game to me. 

(Puns aside.  This reviewer loves puns, but whoever named the PE teacher "Swetti Tracsute" should be pushed out of the office window with their P45 for a parachute.  Unless they also came up with using pigs to "telepork", in which case, haul 'em back in.)

The main characters are developed through "tent" scenes and party chats, and while there's a heavy food focus (of course the rather dull Tiz only uses salt and pepper for seasonings), these bring the main characters to life nicely.  A side-quest party chat had Magnolia and Yew acting like giant kids together, and immediately made me more endeared to them.

It's all backed up with some very good voice acting, although I'm not sure why all the female characters seem to have a lisp.  Cost-cutting on equipment?  Anyway, the narrator sounds like Bayonetta, which is always a recommendation.

 "Step aside, milady: I'm the centaur of attention here!" "..."

"Step aside, milady: I'm the centaur of attention here!"

Meanwhile the side-characters are a wonderful collection of personalities.  The asterisk holders (they who you defeat to earn their jobs) particularly so, such as creepy goth Bella, oily dessert-maker Panettone, and one character who is absolutely terrifying and who is my favourite.  I personally found one of them quite annoying - until the late game, and then was made to feel terrible for doing so.  Well played, game.  Also, damn you.

That's only the new job-characters.  Many of the previous game's sword-fodder turn up in side-quests, where they too get some time in the spotlight (a particular favourite being Black Mage Ominas Crowe making baby noises at his pet dragon).  They come in pairs, fighting over an ethical issue: scientific advances vs. helping in the present, property preservation vs. development, fiscal conservatism vs. liberalism.  Thorny issues, and you get the job of whoever you disagree with.  If you're anything like me, you'll struggle between your feelings towards the characters, the causes, and the jobs.

Catmancer?  I 'Ardly Know 'Er

Let's talk about the jobs.  They're worth talking about.

If you've played the prequel, you know more or less what you're in for (if you haven't, see 'Job's Your Uncle').  BSEL has removed six of Default's jobs, and included twelve new ones.  The result is definitely a net positive.

Many jobs are old ones with new touches.  The Bishop uses the traditional White Mage as a starting point, but their healing power doesn't depend on magic, and they have next to no methods of offence.  The Wizard is the new Black Mage, but relies on variants of fewer spells (Mist is gold).  Charioteer and Fencer are your standard physical attackers, with their own tweaks.

Then things get weirder.  The Exorcist can undo moves, or even entire turns (up to three of them, using the ability "Undo Trois".  Groan).  The Guardian has what is effectively a fighting game's Super Bar.  The Patissier bungs foe-weakening desserts. 

My favourite job was Hawkeye, a cowboy (or American Indian - more on that later) who wields guns, and takes over the "elementising attacks" role from the previous game's Spell Fencer.  But the best job - indisputably - is the Catmancer.

 Meow, with emphasis on the "ow"

Meow, with emphasis on the "ow"

Like the traditional Blue Mage, they can learn foes' attacks.  Unlike the traditional Blue Mage, they use them through means of cats.  They can also talk to cats, and can use some jolly powerful weaponry as well.  And they get adorable cat hoods and ears.

Best job.

More Dungeons than Medieval Fifty Shades Fanfic

The great writing and excellent job system are the two biggest reasons to pick up BSEL, but they'd be nothing without an interesting place for the story to happen.  The kingdom of Luxendarc returns for its second airing, with a host of new towns and dungeons.  (That said, some dungeons do return from Default, mostly in side-quests.  It's a major reason why I'd suggest leaving a couple of month between playing the two games, to prevent familiarity breeding contempt.)

The new dungeons can generally be told apart, on the grounds that they're better.  The dungeons from Default were largely uninspired: while BSEL's aren't going to set the world alight (not even the lava dungeon), they do introduce new ideas more frequently.  Battle-affecting mists, invisible walls and floors, switch puzzles...  They won't give Zelda any nightmares, but they're better than your average turn-based RPG's featureless corridor expanses.

The towns, meanwhile, are more of the same, and that's no bad thing.  Like Default, BSEL is a pretty mediocre-looking game apart from its towns, but they have some beauties.  The university town of Al-Khampis is pretty enough, but the pseudo-Japan of Yunohana is a lovely massage for the eyes.  As for Sagitta, well...

 In the Yunohana bathhouse, the site of the game's gender-neutral fanservice scene.  You know, for those who lust after chibi characters.

In the Yunohana bathhouse, the site of the game's gender-neutral fanservice scene.  You know, for those who lust after chibi characters.

They all make jolly good use of the 3D too.  If the visuals are a step up from the prequel, however, then sadly the music is a step back.  Don't get me wrong, the music is good (the final dungeon and lackey duo themes stand out), but it's not the fifty shades of rocking brilliance that the previous game had.  I miss Revo.

That Frenchwoman Came From the Moon

One great thing from the previous game that did make the cut (see that seamless segue I pulled there?) is the Streetpass village.  This time, it's Magnolia's moon-village of Fort-Lune, wrecked by space-monsters called Ba'als (and oh boy are there some "hilarious" puns spun around that name). 

You collect workers from Streetpassing the five other people in your country who have this game, or more likely through the Internet.  Then you put the 3DS to sleep, and over time the workers repair the village from the ground up, giving you more special moves, items, and weakening yet more attacking Ba'als.  It's a free-to-play game in a real game where you don't have to spend money, and it is very rewarding, in the same petty way that levelling up is.

(If you'd rather leave the 3DS on, you can instead set your party to make plushies of the game's most irritating enemies for cash.  It's the sort of random thing I'll barely ever use and wouldn't have cared about if I'd never known about it - and yet I'm glad it's there.)

 Chompcraft.  An entirely necessary and integral part of the game.

Chompcraft.  An entirely necessary and integral part of the game.

You'll probably finish the village before you finish the game, which for me was a solid sixty-four hours.  That's without pulling a cheap lengthening trick like the first one did, without all the boss retries, and with all of the user-friendliness.  From button shortcuts to Brave and Default in battle, to saving favourite job setups for later, to the series' greatest trick: adjusting the frequency of random battles.  The game loves you, the RPG fan, and wants you to know it.


It probably also wants you to buy from its shop too.  Okay, let's address the two major controversies. 

The first is simple: Fort-Lune may not contain microtransactions, but BSEL does.  You can earn up to 3 Sleep Points, which allow you to pause the flow of time and get some (always critical) hits in.  This is the eponymous Bravely Second, and the game would have you believe it's a major and crucial mechanic. 

As in Default, you earn one SP from leaving the 3DS in sleep mode for 8 hours, which is a long time.  Alternatively, you can buy them for real money.

I didn't.  I wasn't ever really tempted to.  Never mind that I never had to spend any SP all game, just doing so once on an optional boss, or that I racked up sufficient SP while building Fort-Lune.  The game pokes you about the shop... maybe twice early on?  Then never mentions it again, despite banging on about SP.  I simply didn't find it an issue.

The other controversy is that some changes were made to the game during localisation.  The Hawkeye job, originally based around American Indians, became a cowboy.  I don't see the issue, especially since Hawkeye's primary weapon is guns.  Instead of moaning about this, I'd rather wonder that a Nintendo-promoted game contains guns.  Not to mention lots of religious imagery.

 Edea has had enough of your tripe, Internet.

Edea has had enough of your tripe, Internet.

The job's pretty great either way, I had one in my party for the final battle.  Also some endings of the asterisk choice side-quests were changed: Nintendo's come out with a statement about this, and it sounds jolly sensible to me. 

("But CENSORSHIP!" cries the Internet.  Sigh.)

End-Layering it on Thick

Phew, long review huh.  It wasn't meant to be that long, but I have a lot to say about BSEL.  Think of it as one of NGamer's six-pagers from back in the day, which for a sixty-hour game sounds reasonable. 

Of course, some will see that as a review length to be reserved for a Zelda or a Mario.  BSEL remains a niche game.  Without much marketing, there's a real danger that this will be viewed as just another JRPG among the smog of them on the 3DS.

It shouldn't be.  BSEL is one of my very favourite games on the 3DS, indeed in the genre.  The ending hints at a Bravely Third, and I'll be buying that bad boy on day one should it come to light.  So should you.

Also it has a fourth-wall-breaking bit that blows Psycho Mantis out of the water.  So there's that.

+ The best job system I've experienced
+ High-quality writing and voicework
+ Big yet user-friendly

- Disconnect from battling
- Better if you've played Default
- Music... good
, not mind-blowing


 "Hang on, where's the last member of our party?" "Yew?" "No, I'm right here." (Picture taken moments before Tiz was slapped unconscious.)

"Hang on, where's the last member of our party?"
"No, I'm right here."
(Picture taken moments before Tiz was slapped unconscious.)