I played Bravely Default around this time last year, but I recently had a conversation about it with a friend, who happily devotes endless hours to games but was annoyed by how much time this game demands from its player. For the most part I agree with him.
To begin with, Bravely Default is tailored to the Japanese market, in which meaningful high-volume public connectivity is both a normal and a privileged feature in any game.
There’s a system within Bravely Default in which the player can develop a village that eventually ends up offering the most powerful weapons and items. Each area in the village takes a certain amount of real-life time spent in the game software to clear, but this time can be drastically reduced if the player recruits more villagers. These villagers come into a player’s game via the Nintendo 3DS system’s SpotPass feature.
You’ve got to leave your machine on (with the screen closed) if you want to develop your village, but it’s not actually supposed to take that long. In Japan, where the vast majority of the population commutes by train and makes connections at stations where hundreds (if not hundreds of thousands) of people are all at the same place at the same time, something like SpotPass makes a lot of sense. As long as your 3DS is on and your SpotPass is activated for a game, you don’t even need to be playing that game to get the benefits.
I commute in DC traffic, and I always get a bunch of pings on SpotPass on the ride home from work. I think I got something like a thousand villagers within my first month playing Bravely Default.
Bravely Default still requires a ton of time from its player, however, and most of that time is occupied by grinding for character experience points and job skill points.
The late-game optional boss fights, which are increasingly masochistic team-ups of stronger versions of the earlier bosses, require some creative job class combinations, so it’s important to be able to grind efficiently. Being completely maxed out in terms of character levels doesn’t mean anything in the endgame if you don’t use your job skills and bonuses correctly.
The Vampire (ie, Blue Mage) class is extremely useful in terms of skills and combos that can pull off one-turn kills. If you outfit one of these guys properly and set them on Auto Battle, you can also grind real hard real quick, and the game gives you “one-turn kill” bonuses to help with this.
Grinding is to be expected from a JRPG, and I understand that some people find it relaxing. I understand where these people are coming from, but only to a certain extent.
The problem with the village development and grinding-related timesink elements of Bravely Default is that they are exacerbated by the structure of the game, which requires the player to go through five almost-identical versions of the story, repeating the same conversations and dungeons and boss fights. A bit of the repetition is optional, but much of it isn’t.
I temporarily quit Bravely Default about halfway through Chapter 8 (the last segment of the story). After fighting the Fire Temple boss for the fifth time and reviving the Fire Crystal for the fifth time, I noticed that the playtime clock had hit 80 hours.
This amount of backtracking and repetitiveness is uncalled for. In the game, you do the same shit over and over and never get anywhere. This sort of fruitless repetition is accompanied by a nagging sense of wasted time.
I understand what’s going on from a narrative perspective. I also understand what’s going on from the perspective of gameplay-as-narrative. The frustration the player feels is deliberate on the part of the game designers. Bravely Default can easily be read as a critique of gaming – the player is a mindless puppet manipulated into wasting time and effort to save a world that doesn’t need saving. This message is profound, but it doesn’t make the experience of playing the game any more pleasant.
Steven Poole, writing about Shadow of the Colossus in Edge Issue 193, said the following:
The aesthetic pleasures weren’t enough, for me, to outweigh the powerful regret the game so astonishingly succeeded in engineering. If a game of violence is so effective in its message of anti-violence that you actually stop playing, does that mean it was a success or a failure?
Replace “violence” with “grinding and meaningless repetition” and you more or less have my feelings about Bravely Default.
( Header image by gimuniverse on Tumblr )