Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
This weekend, I’m going to continue playing the demo for the upcoming Bravely Second: End Layer. I’m thankful that this sequel to 2014’s Bravely Default is offering audiences a playable sneak peek, because I had mixed feelings about the original. It was tremendously innovative in several ways—the complex strategy of its battle system was beyond reproach—but it was also a game with many failings. Its story and characters aimed for “archetypal” but only managed to hit “cliché,” and it built to a frustrating plot twist designed to deliberately waste players’ time. Aevee Bee of webzine Zeal has an insightful take on how its level design failed to reach the heights of the golden age Final Fantasy titles it strives to evoke. Between the broad characters, recycled plot, and unchallenging dungeons, my interest in the game slowly died, and I eventually put it down without finishing it.
Despite those objections, Bravely Default had enough good ideas and talent behind it that I was curious to see if its sequel could correct the series’ course. The short answer, based on this demo, is that it doesn’t and doesn’t even want to. Bravely Second’s freshest ideas all improve what was already good about Bravely Default, but few of that game’s problems have been addressed. The new cast are a pack of blandly righteous royal guards with one personality trait each, and the only familiar face so far is Agnes, the first game’s least interesting character. The dungeons, likewise, are exactly as short and straightforward as they were last time around. The user interface and menu designs are all totally unchanged, and a good deal of the art assets from the game are reused too. Efficient, perhaps, but also lacking some of the creative spark you can usually expect from Square Enix sequels.
The good news is that everything that was already great about Bravely Default has been made even better. The game still looks and sounds incredible, and the soundtrack appears to consist of entirely new tracks, breaking from the rest of the demo’s “hand me down” feel. Even the already near-perfect battle system of the original has been improved. As in Bravely Default, characters can “Default” to save up actions for later or “Brave” to take additional actions right away. It’s a great system, but in the first game, it meant random encounters could be squashed by having your every character take four actions on their first turn. In Bravely Second, finishing a battle in one turn allows you to fight an additional wave of enemies for a chance at an increased bounty of cash and experience points, turning every additional battle into a dangerous, but thrilling, gamble.
So far Square Enix appears to be taking an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach with Bravely Default’s sequel. The problem is that plenty of stuff about that game actually was broken. If I end up playing Bravely Second, maybe having an even more ludicrously deep combat system will be enough to keep me hanging on to the end credits. Maybe this time the story won’t be strung together out of shopworn fantasy tropes and the characters will actually change and grow more complex over time. Or maybe, and this is the most likely scenario, the fact that one of the characters claims to be from the moon and is taken completely seriously by everyone else will be enough to sustain my interest. I guess we’ll have to see. Bravely Second: End Layer comes out April 15th on the Nintendo 3DS.