Bravely Second: End Layer isn’t the kind of sequel you could jump into without having played the original. Sure it gives you a full rundown of its predecessor, Bravely Default, within minutes of starting the game, and you get explanations for who all the returning characters are. But without having played Bravely Default, it would be difficult to appreciate how much this sequel has improved, even as it retains the simple old-school charm that made the original a cult hit.
The story is one thing that hasn’t evolved much. Set just a few years after the end of Bravely Default, Second starts with the kidnapping of one of the original game’s party members, Agnes Oblige (who has since become Pope), by the villainous Kaiser Oblivion and his vamped-out fairy ally Anne. Agnes’ loyal bodyguard Yew Geneolgia must reunite with her former traveling companions Tiz Arrior and Edea Lee along with Magnolia Arch, a French warrior from the moon, to rescue Agnes.
Saving Agnes involves plenty of crawling through dungeons and fighting a mix of fantasy monsters and guys dressed like World War I German soldiers with axes and wizard staves, then doubling back for treasure and plot reasons. Yew is an adorable protagonist, a bookish kid with the tendency to splice the word “gravy” into any idiom and a fanboy-like enthusiasm about fighting alongside Tiz, his equivalent from Bravely Default. Encountering random monsters lets you fill out a bestiary that takes the form of Yew’s diary entries, complete with editorializing about how scary or cute they are. None of the characters are especially deep, but the good-natured humor, peppered with some meta jokes, keeps the game from getting bogged down in the usual saving-the-world drama of these kinds of Japanese role-playing games.
Bravely Second shines in combat. It builds even more nuance on top of the titular concept of Bravely Default, which spiced up turn-based battles by letting characters be “brave” and take up to four actions in one turn at the cost of not being able to act in future rounds, or “default” to go into a defensive posture while storing up actions. You can still have everyone go all out to end a simple random encounter in a single turn, but a one-round victory now unlocks the chance to fight a second wave for additional experience points. The catch is that your action debt carries over, so you’ll want to take a more measured approach, ideally having some characters push themselves during the second fight to trigger yet another wave with even better rewards.
The game has deep skill options. Fighting bosses gives your party access to different jobs with novel options like Charioteer, which allows a character to stop wearing a helm in favor of wielding a third weapon, and Fencer, whose strengths change depending on what stance they’re in. Allies can effectively minor in a job, getting access to some of its abilities, but focusing on one provides significant advantages, like the Wizard’s ability to shape elemental attacks into versions that suit the situation.
Bravely Second also makes its title into a battle option, letting players freeze time for a second to unleash a slew of critical hits. This ability only recharges after leaving the game in sleep mode for eight hours, which adds even more of a reason to keep your 3DS plugged in when not playing. Bravely Default begged for the same treatment with its “rebuild your base while your system is asleep” mini-game, which returns here. In Second, you’re assigning workers to various construction projects on the moon to unlock special moves that add even more ways to customize your combat style. Those moves can be earned based on a number of fights won or specific actions taken and unleash a combination of buffs and debuffs to help you get through the most challenging of battles.
Bravely Second keeps Bravely Default’s ability to customize your random encounter rate depending on whether you’re looking to grind for experience or just want to search for treasure unmolested. It also upgrades the auto-battle function from Bravely Default, letting you not only repeat the last set of actions your party executed but keep a database of your favorite tactics, like having someone identify the enemy’s weaknesses while everyone else defaults. Gear and job sets can also be saved and loaded, rewarding players for doing the work to consider how they want to employ all this complexity without the chore of having to actually press all those buttons every time they want to go into maximum firepower mode.
That mix of customization and convenience allows Bravely Second to have the best of both worlds. It gives you the chance to relax and get into a rhythm at some points, and then demands your full attention to succeed at others. By piling complexity on atop the simplicity of a tried-and-true formula, Square Enix has produced a worthy successor to Bravely Default. I’m sure the developers are already thinking about what it would mean to “Bravely Third” in battle.