This review was originally posted on Nintendo Scene on 17th March 2016.
We’re now in March and Nintendo’s Year of the JRPG keeps on rolling through, next up … Bravely Second: End Layer, a game that I wanted to take a little more time with before I posted a review; so, 20-odd hours in, here are my thoughts on it. Evidently, and with good reason, the first game (Bravely Default, which I reviewed right here) was popular enough to warrant a sequel and given that Bravely Default was heralded by many as the return of the classic JRPG, it comes with very little surprise. So, time dust off those weapons, pick up your asterisks and get back to Luxendarc.
The events of End Layer take place two and a half years after the events of the first game and, importantly, shortly after the events of the demo for it. During the opening sequence, the entire plot of the first game is retold, and a brief catch-up of the time that has elapsed (excluding the events of the demo) are given. The world, since the almost cataclysmic events caused by the prior antagonists, has achieved momentary peace amongst its inhabitants. This has even reached the point that the Crystal Orthodoxy and the Duchy of Eternia were in the process of a peace treaty, however this is interrupted by Kaiser Oblivion (frontrunner for coolest-named villain ever), leader of the Glanz Empire, who then takes Agnès Oblige hostage.
What follows is the quest of Yew Geneolgia and the Three Cavaliers and their mission to rescue Agnès from the Empire and restore the peace that was stolen from their grasp. There is a lot more to the story than this, even at such an early stage as I am in the game, but I just don’t want to ruin a single word of it. Needless to say, the story of Bravely Second, the motivations of the characters and their overall characterisation, and the writing of the game in general have all been given an overhaul since the Bravely Default. That’s not to say that the first game was bad, more that the development of the world of Luxendarc and its denizens has greatly improved in the sophomore title.
Bravely Second’s gameplay is much alike its predecessor, in fact, with a few subtle changes it is acting under the “ain’t broke” philosophy. The exploration is still played out in an isometric saunter through various locales, with the exception that Second’s dungeons have more depth to them with multiple layers to explore even within individual floors. One such dungeon involves the player needing to find crystals to raise or lower the floor to create new paths. Along with this, there are even more items to find in each dungeon with there now being little orbs as well as the traditional chests to locate and acquire, each of which contains an item too. On top of this there are a host of new asterisks to find and use, giving some remarkable and unusual abilities (case in point being the Catmancer), which leads us on to …
The battle system is once again the heavily strategic turn-based model from the first game, with the requirement of using the Brave/Default system to delay turns to give the ability to execute a series of commands at once or use an attack that requires more Battle Points (BP) without missing a turn. Also returning is the ability to “Bravely Second” or freeze time to act out of the turn-based structure, which can be used to stymie a enemy’s attack or heal urgently, among other things. One new system in place is that the player can now build a win streak if they succeed in one turn, allowing to continually stack multipliers onto the EXP and JP earned for a battle if able to one turn each wave of enemies. Obviously this comes with a risk/reward factor as there is no time to heal between battles and the BP standings at the end of a bout remain too, meaning that if your entire party is -1 on BP as the next link in the chain starts, that will be the end of your chain as you won’t be able to act that turn.
In relation to the side quests in Second, the real-time town re-build quest returns from Default, albeit with a different aesthetic. So all of your StreetPass hits can still be channelled into rebuilding parts of the ruined town, getting new Special Attacks and augments, high level items, and other useful things in the process. There is also a new side quest that involves your party making cuddly toys, no I am not joking. This side quest involves minimal intervention from the player apart from dropping the occasion treat (which temporarily increases production speed, rarity and quality of the toys), augmenting the party members abilities, or selling the toys you currently have made. The whole operation uses Chomper Points (CP) and therefore any CP you earn from selling the toys can be put back into upgrading the tools the party have to use. For the most part, it can be just left running, but is a fun little quirk to the game, showing that the sense of humour in the first is still very much present in the second.
Where do I even start with the aesthetics? The fairy-tale visual style of Default is most definitely once again present and even more cleanly drawn than before. The new characters are fantastically well designed, and the new asterisk costumes are seemingly well-thought out and beautiful too. The new areas of Luxendarc you visit are stunning and distinctive and, refreshingly, the exquisite locations from the first game have been left the hell alone. Furthermore, the anime cut-scenes are absolutely stunning, but I’ll leave those for you to see. Musically, and I never thought I would be able to say this, Second completely outstrips Default. The new music composed for the game is perfect for each given circumstance, especially the new asterisk battle theme (Battle of Ordeal), and the returning music sounds just that little bit sharper. Overall, as a package, this is a stunning piece of artistry that exceeds even the lofty heights of its predecessor.
So, should you buy Bravely Second: End Layer? If you love JRPGs, yes. If you enjoyed Bravely Default, definitely. Basically, a lot of my recommendations with this would rely on an enjoyment of the genre, if you aren’t a fan of it, this will not sway you. However, if you’re a fan, this is easily one of the best examples of the genre on 3DS; I would even go as far as to say that it is one of the best examples of the genre total, in my opinion. Absolutely essential.