Bravely Default: Final Fantasy in all but name
This game could be called FF15 and nobody would bat an eyelash. The basic system and game design is essentially FFV but with better graphics, the plot follows the journey of four kids out to resolve the world's problems caused by an ecological imbalance in mystical crystals, the map features carefully tailored terrain that blocks you from landing in any areas you're not supposed to go after acquiring transportation, and characters are named ridiculous things like Ominous Crow. The only things it lacks are chocobos and Moogles.
-The art is very pretty and done in a watercolor-like style reminiscent of the old Mana series (Legend of Mana, in particular) or Saga Frontier 2. There's a Job System that's basically the same thing from FFV and the characters change appearance based on Job rather than equipped gear.
-Music is also top-notch, as they appear to be going more for a traditional fantasy feel and there are actually melodies in the BGM as opposed to just atmospheric drums or elevator music.
-I generally consider the enjoyability of an RPG combat system to be inversely proportional to the number of status ailments it supports. It was a bit unfortunate that the 2nd dungeon involved backtracking back to town twice and some amount of money grinding to buy all the spells to correct the various common status ailments, and an inordinate amount of time is spent in the party menu correct status after combat. This lets up a bit later if only because you can abuse the Brave system to kill most random encounters before they get a chance to act, but still rears its ugly head now and again.
-As with most traditional RPGs, the challenge in BD is essentially a resource management puzzle, in which you try to make it to the bottom of the dungeon with sufficient remaining resources to fight the boss. Individual boss fights can be challenging, but the boss AI does not seem to be tuned to fully abuse the combat system at least early on.
-A number of game features want to use the SpotPass function. Given that it's kind of impossible for me to actually do anything with this it's a bit annoying to keep getting tutorials on it. Fortunately there appears to be a computer generated NPC feature to help out the socially/geographically inept. The Sim Village minigame is somewhat frustrating, however, as it is based on real time divided by number of SpotPass characters, and the "internet communication" option does not appear to work.
The game opens with an introduction of its main cast, as something horrible happens to the Crystal of Wind that causes the priestess Anniess (heroine, one assumes, with plot important pendant) to run away. Said horrible also causes Norende, a town in the kingdom of Caldisla, to suddenly be swallowed by a giant crater. This is, of course, the hometown of another of the protagonists, Tiz.
Tiz wakes up in the Inn of the capital (each fantasy kingdom will have only one main city) to discover he's the sole survivor of the incident. Unfortunately, Caldisla doesn't seem to be big on unnatural disaster insurance, and the king and actual military are busy fighting off an invasion from the
As it turns out, the reason the Dukedom is invading is because they were after one Priestess of Wind, who conveniently turns up investigating the crater. The particular thugs on the scene are conveniently named Bearing Out (Monk, probably not some sort of mechanical fixture) and Holy White (White Mage of the femme fatale variety, thus explaining why the female White Mages in this game seem to have a bit more zettai ryouiki and red leather than one might expect from the traditional FF series).
Tiz responds in the predictable manner, as RPG protagonists are always ready to fight to the death for any girl they just met three minutes ago, and drags Anniess off to the main capital. Threats are made, some fighting ensues, and we discover that it's possible to steal other people's
Who Names Their Kid That Anyway
The party wakes up up in the middle of the night to find the town being menaced by yet another Etarnia thug, also conveniently named Ominous Crow (Black Mage with a pyromania problem), who burns down a random house as a threat. The city guards are, naturally, elsewhere, or perhaps in a plot hole. The guy whose house was burned down, however, is apparently an amnesiac* named Ringabell, though unlike the previous ridiculously named characters there does not appear to be a bell on his person. He does, however, own a notebook which contains vague descriptions of future events
Ringabell fills the Playboy Fop character niche at first glance, so it's understandable that Anniess has some reservations about him joining the party, but stuff happens and he tags along anyway. Edea turns out to be a lot more principled and naive than her cohorts and promptly joins your side when Crow takes the concept of Friendly Fire a bit too literally.
After defeating him (+ Black Mage Asterisk), however, the party returns to town to discover that the friendly guard captain and most of the guards had been killed by the leader of the Airship Knights, a dude named Argent
*Having played Fire Emblem Awakening and Kingdom Hearts 3D just previously, I cannot help but notice amnesia to be something of a trending topic in RPGs.
What Was Yours is Now Mine
The correct way to deal with any obvious trap is to walk right in, so with some help from Edea the party infiltrates (for certain definitions thereof) his base and beats him up to save the king. Fortunate coincidence resulted in Thunder being my choice of Black Magic purchase (having had money for only one spell) and the knights all being weak to Thunder. Packing two Black Mages during the boss fight also helped (due to their Magic Resonance skill, Black Mages are more effective the more of them you have). It's important to note that Edea begins with a rather nifty sword at this stage.
Since the next goal is to return to Anniess' Crystal of Wind, the party commandeers the now empty airship, and Ringabell is somehow able to pilot it despite said privilege supposedly being reserved for high-ranking military in Etarnia. Also, there is a sketch in his notebook that looks suspiciously like a Dragon Knight (Dragoon) going by Final Fantasy conventions.
Afterwards, the audience (though not the characters) are treated to a scene of ominous plotting by the Etarnia high command, consisting of a blond general voiced by Takehito Koyasu, said Dragoon (?) from the sketchbook who seems to know Edea, a tiny floating female... doll? midget? named Victoria, and a nerdy-looking guy with long gray hair named Victor. As their names appear somewhat less literally descriptive than those of their henchmen, it's hard to predict what exactly they are other than "future midbosses".
Merchants Are Good, Cartels Are Evil
Poking around the world map with the airship revealed that, yes, it was carefully designed to restrict access to any points of interest other than where you're supposed to be going, though I did manage the traditional "land on random bit of land with overleveled monsters and barely manage to run away" exercise. There are, in fact, snowy mountains, what looks like a volcanic lava land, an Ominous Ring of Land, and giant forests. No floating continents appear currently in evidence, however.
The desert kingdom in which the Crystal of Wind resides, Lacrika, runs on wind-powered heavy industry and clockwork, which seemed a good idea until the Wind Crystal stopped working, causing all wind to still (not at all like FFV, really). Though in hindsight it's probably better than the seas "rotting", whatever that means, which is presumably the side effect of the same issue happening to the Water Crystal.
The king of Lacrika is, naturally, an evil doofus who's jealous of Anniess' respect and sent her off on the wild goose chase to investigate the crater in the first place. The party's job is to figure out how to restore the Crystal of Wind, which apparently involves prayer from Anniess in a special dress; it's unclear why she was not able to do this prior to leaving the country, but the monster-infested ruins of the wind temple may have something to do with it.
First, however, we'll take some time out in a sidequest (conveniently labelled as such) to rescue the beleagured citizens of Lacrika from the Bollitry Cartel, who controls the city water supply. Said water is, of course, overpriced, causing certain citizens to mosey off to the oasis just a bit west of town... and get attacked by bandits, because oases are one of their natural habitats.
After defeating the bandits (Thief Asterisk), including the party calling out the bandit leader on his hypocrisy when he tries to play the Misunderstood card, we discover that, naturally, they were paid for their illicit activities by the cartel to maintain their monopoly. Taking up this issue with Mr. Bollitry resulted in a rather annoying fight that I had to restart twice due to the boss killing one of the party just before I beat him (dead party members do not get EXP at the end of the fight). Bollitry uses a Takeover move that deals 300 damage flat, unmitigatable, twice in a row, when your max HP is in the 500-600 range, so it's really just RNG whether he picks the same target twice.
Defeating the evil merchant awards the... Merchant Asterisk? which is basically of the Throw Gil school of attacks, functionally useless when money is really tight, but also has a passive ability that increases gold rewards from random encounters, making it something of a mandatory class. It can, however, be customized with skills from other classes to make a decent fighter or mage.
Had been hoping to get the Magefighter class from Bollitry's hired goon, but as he ran away halfway through the fight one assumes we'll encounter him again later.
Fetch Me A Shrubbery
Upon reaching the Temple of Wind the party discovers that the priestess needs to wear a special Prayer Dress to purify the crystal, and said dress had been ruined by DARKNESS, which is apparently kind of like corrosion but worse. The next part of the quest is, naturally, to head off to a dressmaker/old master/dirty old man who lives by himself in a secluded forest.
The guy himself seems to have forgotten his own name, so the party calls him Roshi ("sensei" but more exotic), and to make the dress you have to, yes, go find the materials in a Dank Dark Cave of Moderate Peril. Attended by a dragon, naturally. Some amount of prayer, a boss fight with Ultros, and a giant glowing explosion of light later, the Wind Crystal is "freed" from darkness. Ultros, incidentally, seems to be the two-toned version of Cerebus, and does a lot of damage until you knock out one of its heads.
Returning triumphant from the temple, the party puts a bit of a damper on King Asshat's political campaign, and wind is restored to Lacrika. Given that the seas are also "rotting", the party assumes that bad stuff is happening to the Water Crystal too, so off we go to search for "Olivia", who is supposedly the current Priestess of Water
First, however, there's a follow up to the evil merchant's guild sidequest. It might be a bit mystifying as to what the supposed king was doing while his subjects were being menaced by the evil goons, but it turns out that the king himself was the evil mastermind and trying to convert the country to "Anti-Crystallism", and (according to the character journal) was himself in the employ of Etarnia. Naturally we beat him up for his trouble, acquiring the Time Mage Asterisk (nowhere near as cute as traditional FF Time Mages, unfortunately) as well as the Magefighter Asterisk belonging to his hired goon. The mercenary, Najit, appears to have some sort of deep motive for being a sellsword, which may get followed up on later.
Afterwards, administration of Lacrika passes to the Chancellor (normally Chancellors are evil, but I suppose they're good if the king himself is evil), who promises to create a more democratic form of government. Fantasy democracies are generally even higher on the scale of good vs evil than benevolent kingdoms.
Before the party sets off to the Temple of Water, however, we'e paid a visit by one Dark Knight (probably the dude I thought looked like a Dragoon in Ringabell's notebook) named Anazel D., who... is apparently a childhood friend of Edea's and leaves after breaking the Flight Stone powering the airship, due to not wanting to fight her.
3rd person omniscient cutscene reveals that Anazel is one of the Council of Six, the ruling body behind Etarnia, and the "father" that Edea mentions is in fact their leader. Given that Ringabell's notebook is called "D's Notebook" and it seems to be written in Anazel's voice, it's highly suspicious that Ringabell himself was conveniently absent during Anazel's attack, so maybe he's an enemy spy?
Vaguely remembered job/ability setup from FFV kicked in, in which roles are equivalent thus:
Tiz -> Bartz (Knight, Ninja, Time Mage)
Anniess -> Lenna (White Mage, Summoner)
Ringabell -> Faris (Thief, Black Mage, Magefighter)
Edea -> Klulu (White Mage, Monk)
Except for swappning Tiz and Edea's Knight and Monk classes, since Edea starts with a nifty sword. None of the Monk's active abilities are worth much, but you do get Fistfighting at level 5, which can turn squishy mages into physical powerhouses. Prior to that is the two-handed ability for Knights, a must if you're aiming for the one-turn kills that make life a lot easier when it comes to dealing with random encounters.
Also of note are Black Mage level 5's Split Damage, which splits damage from a single target attack across the party and sounds kind of essential for later game stuff, and Magic Attack +10% from Time Mage.