Square Enix is a company famous for their brilliance in creating JRPG series— Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts to name their most popular. But every now and then they experiment with new IP, often drawing heavily from their previous games; such was the case with the Nintendo 3DS title Bravely Default. Initially planned as a sequel to Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light, Bravely Default saw the player exploring the vast world of Luxendarc, restoring the four sacred crystals, and unlocking a variety of jobs akin to the job systems of Final Fantasy III and V. Four years after its initial release, Bravely Second: End Layer takes that exact same game and improves on it in almost every single way.
Unlike most Square Enix JRPG sequels, Bravely Second is a true sequel to the original game. It's set in that same world of Luxendarc two and a half years after the events of Bravely Default and retains many elements of its predecessor. Familiar friends and foes—including much of the original cast—are found scattered about the overworld, and it often comes as quite a pleasant surprise to encounter characters from the previous game. Yet despite reusing characters, enemies, and locations like this, Bravely Second does not feel lazy or unimaginative. Instead, these reappearances make the game feel more like a direct sequel, as the entire world has been impacted by the past few years.
Those who have played the demo of Bravely Second will be familiar with some of the story's main characters: Yew Geniolgia, Nikolai Nikolanikov, and Janne Angard, three members of the Musketeers of the Crystal Orthodoxy. These three serve as the main characters in the demo (which, by the way, contains essential story elements for those playing the main game, so go play it if you haven't already), with Yew leading the trio in their adventure. Come the main game of Bravely Second, Yew serves as the title's protagonist. He's a foolhardy, cowardly, and stubborn character with massive dedication to his family, country, and the beliefs of the Crystal Orthodoxy...as well as a massive fan of "gravy" puns, oddly enough. Nikolai and Janne also return for the main game, serving as two of the many "asterisk holders" that can be found throughout the world.
From the beginning of the game, it's made clear that the enemy is none other than Kaiser Oblivion, leader of vast military forces and commander of a crystalline airship known as The Skyhold. Having captured the vestal Anges Oblige, Pope of the Crystal Orthodoxy, the Kaiser plans to use her to reactivate Luxendarc's four crystals (and if you've played the first game, you know exactly what happens when they're activated). Charged with the mission of protecting Anges, protagonist Yew takes it upon himself to follow the Skyhold across Luxendarc in an attempt to defeat the Kaiser and his army.
Certainly adding to the quirkiness of Bravely Second is the character Magnolia Arch, a self-entitled "Ba'al Buster" (yes, that joke is made a LOT)—a seasoned warrior once responsible for the defense of Fort Lune, a fortress on the Moon which has been destroyed by a Ba'al (a mythical, interdimensional beast). Magnolia vows revenge on the creature who ravaged her home, which, conveniently, is found aboard the primary antagonist's fortress, the Skyhold.
Not only does this lead to Magnolia joining Yew in his quest, but the ruins of Fort Lune can be rebuilt over time by recruiting others via online or StreetPass. Rebuilding Fort Lune unlocks parts for special moves, similar to the minigame of rebuilding Norende in the original game. Though optional, progressing through this minigame is essential for players wanting to make use of some of the most powerful moves in Bravely Second.
In addition to these tasks, players have the option to complete various other sidequests as the story progresses—these are important, as completion often unlocks new jobs to be used by the party. Anyone who has played the original game will be familiar with the Bravely Second's job system. Asterisk holders may be defeated as either a boss or an optional sidequest, unlocking the holder's job and allowing it to be used by the player's team. This job system is heavily customizable, as the player can combine abilities and skills from other jobs, creating an entirely unique roster for their group.
An amazing array of jobs, thirty in total, allows for each player to develop their own method of battle. Among the standard JRPG jobs such as white/black/red mage, thief, and monk, there are also scattered a variety of obscure and downright ridiculous jobs to unlock. A few examples of this include the Catmancer, which uses feline powers and cat food to obtain enemy skills, akin to the Beastmaster of many other games; the Patissier, which quite literally tosses deadly desserts at the enemy, inflicting a variety of status effects to enfeeble enemies; and arguably the most unique of all jobs, the Exorcist, which, upon KO, does not die but instead enters a ghost state that allows the player to continue using certain actions while still at 0hp. With such a sheer diversity of jobs, no two players will have the same combination of characters.
Yet another returning element from the original game is arguably its most notable: the combat system. Players can choose to "brave" to receive an additional action that same turn, or they can "default" and accumulate Brave Points to allow several actions the following turn. Fans of this innovative combat system and traditional turn-based combat will be pleased to see it return all but unchanged in Bravely Second. That said, there are several inclusions to this game which make combat a much easier, more fluid experience.
For instance, grinding for experience has become a staple in almost all role-playing games, and Bravely Second is no different. Taking a different approach, though, Bravely Second allows the player to string together battles, multiplying earned currency (Pg), experience, and job points. This feature comes as a massive convenience to those not fond of grinding, as defeating enemies in a single turn triggers the option for another battle, which not only adds on rewards but multiplies them depending on how many battles are fought in succession. This is made even easier by the auto-battle system, which now allows the entire party to assign actions that can quickly be chosen during combat. This feature comes as somewhat of a double-edged sword, however: grinding becomes a much less arduous process, but it can easily be abused to gain levels much faster than the game progresses. If repeatedly using this system to grind, the game's difficulty rapidly drops as the player becomes over-leveled, possibly even making it so most bosses can be defeated in a single turn. Use of the battle-chaining is completely optional, though, so it is up to the player whether it is used or abused.
In terms of design, Bravely Second is just as brilliant as the original game. Character models, while not incredibly detailed, have significant emotion and charm, playing quite an important role as much of the game is spent listening to conversations between party members. Towns have a beautiful storybook appearance, dungeon design is incredibly varied, and some battle screens are especially gorgeous (most notably those while fighting Ba'als). The soundtrack, now composed by Ryo of J-pop group "Supercell," makes for some epic battle themes and emotional music, though it isn't quite as polished or catchy as its predecessor. And for those wanting a break from the game's story, an additional minigame named "Chompcraft" sees the game's four protagonists taking time out to...make plushies. It's an absolutely ridiculous optional extra, but you'll likely invest a few hours into Chompcraft and make a few thousand Pg as a result, which is helpful early on in the game. Though quite outlandish, there's a certain charm in seeing your party slave away making adorable monster plushies ad nauseam.
The Verdict: A Fantastic Sequel
Overall, Bravely Second: End Layer is an incredibly satisfying return to the whimsical high fantasy world of Luxendarc. With fanservice aplenty, those who have played the original will make the most of this brilliant role-playing game. While taking approximately 50 hours to reach 100% completion, there is rarely a dull moment among its lengthy and intricate story. A highly customizable and unique battle system, an incredible cast of characters, and a sprawling fantasy world to explore make Bravely Second an essential 3DS game for any role-playing game fan.
Thanks to Ben S. for writing this guest review!