For my first review of the new year I'm going to post my thoughts on the JRPG Bravely Default for the 3DS. The game was released worldwide about four years ago and in Japan a year and a half before that, and somewhat unusually it was published by Nintendo outside of Japan (in Japan it was published by Square Enix).
Bravely Default game was developed by a company called Silicon Studios, but it feels like an old-school Final Fantasy game in all but name. The two main core gameplay components are the job system, which is pretty much straight from the Final Fantasy games, and the "brave/default" system whereby you can direct a character to take turns in advance, or store up turns to unleash them all in the future.I wasn't sure what to expect about the battle system, but it works quite well. For regular battles making use of the brave/default commands doesn't matter much, but boss battles definitely require you to pay attention to your opponents' abilities and strategize the when to attack and when to defend.
Most of the jobs fit into familiar roles (e.g. knight, thief, white mage, black mage, etc.), but there are a good number of unique jobs thrown into the mix. You earn jobs by defeating bosses, many of whom are optional, and I found that on the normal difficulty (which you can adjust on the fly) doing these sidequests put me at about the right level to progress in the main quest without grinding. If anything there are perhaps too many jobs, as you'll gain new jobs before you've even made a dent in gaining all the abilities of the previous jobs, but I suppose this helps with replayability. The game lets you switch jobs as you please and no matter what your current job is you can equip passive abilities you've mastered from other jobs, and as you progress in the game it becomes a lot of fun to mix and match these abilities and strategize which abilities best complement which jobs.
The game looks fantastic and has a sort of watercolor visual, and it also makes good use of the stereoscopic 3D effects of the 3DS. (There are also movies you can play via AR cards, which is a nice extra.) The characters are fairly cartoon-ish both in looks and personalities, but the storyline is fairly serious, and practically the whole game has voice acting, which is great. Dungeons are pretty simple maze-like affairs, and the game highlights your next objective on the overworld map which ensures you don't get lost. The random encounter rate isn't too high, and the enemies and locales are pretty nicely varied.
Overall I enjoyed my time with Bravely Default, although not enough to see it through all the way to the end. All aspects of the presentation and core gameplay are polished and of high quality, but the story is pretty average and at its heart it's still a classic RPG, which I can only take in spurts. I wouldn't mind coming back to this to play through more of the story and try out some more of the jobs, but I probably won't get to it anytime soon. It should be a good game for JRPG fans, although apparently it gets quite drawn out and repetitive towards the end.