Bravely Default & Me

Bravely Default begins exactly the way I was afraid it would, with an overly-long cutscene of characters I don’t know or care about doing things that don’t make any sense to me, and doing it in a way I find mostly annoying. Vaguely infantilized women speak in high-pitched voices, an annoying, amnesiac lothario woos some girls who fawn over him for reasons that, given a thousand years and the processing power of a million minds, I could not possibly fathom, and some sheep fall into a giant hole. Also, there is a kid. I think, actually, the kid is the important part, not the sheep.

This is not starting well for my effort to break through on a genre that has long-since seemed impenetrable at best and childishly silly and self-involved at worst. I am not what they would call a "fan" of JRPGs.

Actually, I’m not a fan of most games out of Japan. There must be some kind of filters you have to clear from your mind to be able to respond positively to these games in their intended form, and those filters are just lodged stubbornly in place for me. The list of historically revered games from across the Pacific that I either haven’t played or haven't enjoyed is a fully fleshed indictment on me as a semi-professional games blogger. These are games that others talk about in terms of sacred texts. I’ll avoid detailing the exhaustive list and simply put this here, and live with the consequences.

I once tried to play a Zelda game; I didn’t care for it.

Well, that should run just about everyone off effectively. I can almost hear you hitting the ol' Ctrl+w. I never would have guessed that people could make a keystroke sound like pure contempt, and yet, there it is.

It's not that I've always disliked these games, though I’ve never been a true fan, and would never position myself as any kind of connoisseur. Still, I was once able to find a soft spot for JRPGs. I don’t have a poster of Cloud Strife on my wall or any-such, but there’s a lot about the genre that should and has appealed to me. I’ve always been a fan of progression games, where there is a tangible and measurable difference between what your character is capable of accomplishing in the beginning and where they end up.

And, for whatever other complaints I can levy against these games, there’s no denying that they strive for a sense of epic wonder. Almost to a fault, these games bestow upon your character the burden of glorious purpose. By the end, I almost wouldn’t be surprised if I was called upon to fight a planet or a god. Subtlety does not appear to be in the lexicon of the JRPG, though cliché and trope certainly are.

But, this isn’t about Zelda. This isn’t even about JRPGs, at least not directly. This is about me coming to terms with the almost troubling realization that I kinda like Bravely Default.

I’ll never finish Bravely Default. Heck, I’ll be pretty happy (and surprised) if I get in the ballpark of halfway through. I feel like a penny spinning on its edge — I’ve got a lot of momentum right now, but I’m already sensing that tiny bit of friction that is slowly diminishing my energy. It’s only so long until I start to wobble and fall to gravity, air-resistance and fate.

But at least I’m enjoying the spin. I can’t really say why that’s the case, though. In general the story is the same kind of story that usually annoys me in JRPGs: a bunch of metaphysical nonsense wrapped in a candy-coated shell of vapid small talk and people whose primary form of communicating is through the clever uses of ellipses. Paper-thin motivations and one-dimensional characterizations run typically rampant through the crux of the story, at least in the first few hours. It’s exactly the sort of thing that should make the game inescapably unapproachable in my eyes.

But, if I’m honest, for reasons that I can’t explain, in this case there is an endearing innocence to the delivery that is tenuously connecting to me, just a thread of a connection like two balloons with their strings tied together by a six-year-old who just learned how to make a knot. The whole thing could come unraveled at any moment — just the wrong tone set at the wrong time and I’ll fly off, captured by some eddy of wind, and sent spiraling and untethered in a different direction.

But for now the game is walking an impressive balance, delivering a combat system that is just interesting enough, a progression system that is just unique enough, a flexibility in game systems that is just conciliatory enough, and a story that is just interesting enough for me to stay attached.

I’ve always suspected that my alienation from these games probably says more about me and my slowly crumbling sense of innocence and wonder than it does about the games themselves. I play games like these, and I wonder why I can’t overcome my own sense of disconnect, though honestly I probably need to stop worrying so much about things like that.

Still, not only am I enjoying my time with Bravely Default, it makes me happy to be doing so. I want to learn to enjoy things that I don’t usually enjoy. I want to see through the eyes of other people whose experiences, prejudices and interests are different than mine. And even if I know it won’t last, even though I know that the me that isn’t sustained by these kinds of games will come crashing down on this parade in time, it will have been consolation enough having broken through and seen a game like this with slightly different eyes for just a little while.

Because, for a short time, for a few days, I get it.

Comments

You're a braver and kinder man than I, Mr. Sands. In retrospect, that probably went without saying.

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Speaking with a friend of mine years ago, he noted one of the great things about JRPG's is that they are designed to be broken. When you speak with people about Final Fantasy 7, you'll inevitably hear stories about getting just the right Materia combinations to cast the strongest summon that attacks like 13 times or so to, in fact, cast five, six, seven, I don't even know how many times in a row. So you're essentially hitting a "Win" button and then watching the game play out for ten minutes or so, gleefully looking at the number "9999" over and over and over again with some strange satisfaction.

Then you have someone set to "Mimic" and they do it again (assuming there's anything left other than a puddle of mush).

I've a lot less experience in Western RPG's than Japanese, but the approach to character building is very different. There's a purpose each character class serves and they're all balanced. While you can have impressive builds, you're not going to have as devastatingly broken a build as is possible with a lot of JRPGs.

Bravely Default is this concept taken to the next level. By using the Brave and Default system, combined with the jobs, Sleep Points and special abilities unlocked by rebuilding Norende, you can essentially defend for three turns and then unleash an over-powered Hell upon your foe. While there's a lot less of it early on in the game, I can certainly see it happening later down the line thanks to the demo.

This is basically where the appeal comes, I think, or at least in the Squenix vein of games. It's about more than overcoming a challenge, it's about breaking the system (by using the tools available in the game, oddly enough).

How much you can enjoy that, I think, determines whether you'll truly be able to enjoy the mechanics of a JRPG (at least, the traditional Squenix vein).

It is good to know you're enjoying the game, though, and it has thus far been more of a success than TWEWY (which, as a watcher of anime and player of JRPG's, still makes me cringe at the thought of playing. I must wonder what people saw in it that drove them to recommend it to you)

I'm a fan of JRPGs but not of Final Fantasy games, and it's interesting how closely your experience tracks with my own, despite our different tastes and biases. I knew going in that this was an intentionally nostalgic experience and was an SNES-era Final Fantasy game in all but name, but I was still disappointed to see the curtain lift on a mysterious magical girl, an amnesiac ladies man, and an utterly boring shepherd cum world savior.

But there's a charm and wit to the character interactions that's kept me going, and the combat system, while still somewhat woefully basic and shallow, still has just enough to drag me along to the next encounter. There's a level of polish and grace that has kept me engaged in a storyline and set of mechanics I would have probably otherwise abandoned.

So that Venn diagram of our tastes? Apparently it overlaps right here, for a dozen hours, and nowhere else.

ccesarano wrote:

Speaking with a friend of mine years ago, he noted one of the great things about JRPG's is that they are designed to be broken.

I wouldn't say that's true at all. It might be true of a particularly spectacle-driven style of JRPG, but I don't think that's the case for most or even all of them.

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ClockworkHouse wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

Speaking with a friend of mine years ago, he noted one of the great things about JRPG's is that they are designed to be broken.

I wouldn't say that's true at all. It might be true of a particularly spectacle-driven style of JRPG, but I don't think that's the case for most or even all of them.

Yeah, I did emphasize the Squenix aspect of games as that's where I have the most experience, and truth-told, that started after the SNES era, really. There was a bit of it in some of the SNES Final Fantasies and such, but otherwise it sort of became an appeal during the PSX and PS2 years, and for a certain kind of game.

I imagine the SMT and Etrian Odyssey games you play are quite different.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

Speaking with a friend of mine years ago, he noted one of the great things about JRPG's is that they are designed to be broken.

I wouldn't say that's true at all. It might be true of a particularly spectacle-driven style of JRPG, but I don't think that's the case for most or even all of them.

Turns out, all sorts of people can like a game for different reasons.

Sean Elysium Sands wrote:

I’ve always been a fan of progression games, where there is a tangible and measurable difference between what your character is capable of accomplishing in the beginning and where they end up.

Which Zelda did you try and not enjoy?

wordsmythe wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

Speaking with a friend of mine years ago, he noted one of the great things about JRPG's is that they are designed to be broken.

I wouldn't say that's true at all. It might be true of a particularly spectacle-driven style of JRPG, but I don't think that's the case for most or even all of them.

Turns out, all sorts of people can like a game for different reasons.

I wasn't suggesting otherwise. I'm disputing the idea that JRPGs are typically designed around unbalanced classes and powers and whatnot. You know, the substance of the rest of the post I was quoting.

I'm not willing to try and scry the intentions behind a thing. I'm just saying that breakability might appeal to some, might not appeal to folks who love a game for another reason.

Elysium wrote:

I once tried to play a Zelda game; I didn’t care for it.

You do know we have a thread dedicated to just that kind of confession in the forums, right?
Gaming Confessions & Blasphemy

ClockworkHouse wrote:

shepherd cum world savior

Surprisingly disappointing google image search.

wordsmythe wrote:

I'm not willing to try and scry the intentions behind a thing. I'm just saying that breakability might appeal to some, might not appeal to folks who love a game for another reason.

Thanks for the reminder then, big bro.

Keithustus wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:

shepherd cum world savior

Surprisingly disappointing google image search.

In honor of JRPGs, let me just say: ...

I once tried to play a Zelda game; I didn’t care for it.

If it was something like Spirit Tracks, you're doing it wrong. If it was something more along the lines of A Link to the Past, there is no hope for you.

By the end, I almost wouldn’t be surprised if I was called upon to fight a planet or a god.

That second one happens more often than you probably think.

Your initial experience with the game mimics my own. I was told this was an RPG for those who remember the "classic" RPGs of the SNES era. So far I'm having that same bit of disconnect as you describe. I'm still very early in the game so I'm hoping I will get into it.

I have the same barriers up in regards to JRPGs.
To my mind there are plenty of great games out there that I know I'll like, so it isn't worth the cost, or risking my valuable time sticking my face into a genre I know little or nothing about.
"Yatta!"

Elysium wrote:
Begin Horizon Broadening Project 2014!

Next up: The World Ends With You.

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... danger zone.