Bravely Default II vs. Miitopia: Which One Is Worth Buying?

Hey, if this title card worked for Mortal Kombat: Equestria, it’ll work for this post.

2021 is shaping up to be a strong year for Nintendo titles, and as I mentioned back in February, the Nintendo Switch seems to have claimed the title of the RPG console now that the 3DS is officially history. Two of the more-prominent titles that have graced the console in recent months are Bravely Default II, the third game in the Bravely series (despite the II in the title), and Miitopia, a port of the 3DS title from 2017. As games go, these two may technically fall into the same genre, but they couldn’t be more different, and they cater to very different segments of the role-playing game fanbase.

I’ve already spoken about Miitopia in great detail, so I’ll be focusing on BD2 for the bulk of the ‘review’ portion of this post. The bigger question, however, is this: Which of these games better fits your preferences and experience? The answer depends on your personal preferences and RPG experience: Miitopia is a simple, fun experience that is best played in byte-sized chunks and is perfect for new or casual RPG fans, where Bravely Default II is a deep-cut title that is best suited for rabid/hardcore fans of the genre that are looking for something suitably epic and complex.

First, let’s discuss some of the revelations I’ve had since my discussion of the BD2 demo:

  • The game’s biggest surprise has nothing to do with the gameplay or story: This thing runs really badly on the Switch. Square Enix had better hope that all these “Switch Pro” rumors turn out to be true, because if any game could benefit from a hardware upgrade, it’s this one. Transitions between locations and into cut scenes are as slow or slower than Animcal Crossing: New Horizons, button presses can sometimes take a second or two to register (usually when entering a ‘Party Chat’ vignette), and combat animations will occasionally freeze and skip to the end of the action. (On one memorable occasion, an enemy teleported across the overworld screen to land on top of my party for a surprise attack! This is irritating but understandable in an online game like Splatoon 2; having it happen in a single-player game is simply inexcusable.) For all of the technical blemishes Miitopia had in its move to the Switch, they were nothing compared to the issues I encountered here, and the fat that neither game ran especially smooth makes me worry about some of the Switch titles currently in the pipeline, especially *gulp* Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  • The job/ability/battle mechanics seemed to fit together better the second time around. While I’m still not a fan of certain aspects of the game (*cough* the weight mechanic *cough*), the job and combat systems seemed to make a lot more sense when I started playing the game. I stuck with the default jobs the demo gave me originally, but with the way the job level system maxes out at Lv. 12, the game encourages you to continuously rotate jobs onto different characters in order to keep growing and receive certain useful perks (it reminded me a lot of how the “Superfresh” designation in Splatoon 2 encourages you to try out all sorts of weapons). In addition to your main job (which receives job points for each battle), you also have a sub-job that does not gain experience but still lets you access the perks you’ve unlocked, letting you grind new jobs without losing all the benefits of the old ones. (Experience points are a separate system that you receive regardless of the jobs you’re using.) While some of the jobs don’t strike me as all that useful, there are enough interesting ones that you can use to piece together abilities (which can be assigned at any time regardless of what job you’re using) to create the ultimate brawler/healer/magic user for wreaking havoc in boss battles.
  • Speaking of battles: The fights aren’t necessarily difficult, but they can drag on forevvvvvvvver. In the demo, you were encouraged to try different strategies and job combinations until you found one that proved successful. Given my tendency to over-level my characters while playing, however, boss battles boiled to down to giving each character their strongest job, figuring out what attacks would do the most damage, and then spamming said attacks until the enemy caved. (There doesn’t seem to be any feedback mechanism besides winning or losing fights, so unless you’re looking strategy guides up online, going in with your best team comp every time seemed to be the most effective way to win.) I didn’t lose any fights like I did in the demo (besides the fights you’re supposed to lose to further the story, and even then I ended up timing out some of those rather than actually losing), but it meant that tough battles were often 30-minute slogs that tested your patience more than your skill. (There are also super-hard enemies scattered around the map that you can take on in you want a tougher challenge, but after one took me an hour to complete, I decided the payoff just wasn’t worth it.) Random battles aren’t usually too bad (especially since you can swing your sword at the enemy in the overworld and bank a free Brave point at the start), but they can add up in the surprisingly numerous and expansive dungeons, forcing you to get creative with abilities and item use to sustain your squad (‘Solar/Lunar Powered’ and other regenerational perks are a must). In other words, traveling around the world is along and arduous process that is only recommended for those who are really invested in the story.
Lies, delusions, credulity, and isolation…and that’s just in the halls of Congress!
  • However, the story is really good and really easy to get invested in. The twist in the Savalon tale after the demo ends is worth the price of admission by itself, and while I feel like the Wiswaldian final boss could have been tied back to the story a bit more closely (they’re just some random person who didn’t get enough love from their parents as a child), the game does a great job making her a despicable villain that the player will enjoy smiting (it reminds me a lot of Helgenish from Primrose’s story in Octopath Traveler). Each of your travel companions (and even the protagonist Seth to an extent) is well-written and just bursting with personality (Adelle is my personal favorite), and they do a great job drawing you into the story and making you want to complete their quests and see their problems resolved. The many cut scenes and copious voice acting do slow the game down, but they make the game much more immersive and interesting, and they help inspire you to grind through the long, arduous processes from the prior point.

So after all this, would I recommend Bravely Default II to the general public, and more importantly, would I recommend it over the wild, irreverent, and enjoyable game that is Miitopia? The answer really depends on what you’re looking for out of an RPG:

  • Miitopia and Bravely Default II are polar opposites when it comes to combat: The latter gives you a smorgasbord of specific options for each character’s turn, while the former doesn’t even give you control over your entire party, limiting you to the actions of the protagonists and some general healing options in the form of sprinkles and the Safe Spot. In other words, Bravely Default II is for people who want to be overwhelmed with customization and strategic options, and Miitopia is a more straightforward experience that requires minimal experience or preparation on the part of the player.
  • Similarly, the depth of each story is dramatically different: BD2 provides a wealth of lore and backstory, and weaves together elaborate and serious plotlines for each chapter that leave the player guessing until the very end. Miitopia‘s story is longer than you might think at first, but there’s no real lore or depth behind anything, and it’s really not meant to be a serious tale (in fact, the less serious you take it, the more fun you’ll have). You won’t get the tragic tale of a lost kingdom and its stolen treasures in Miitopia, but you’ll never get to play as a language arts textbook in BD2 either.
  • Bravely Default II is a serious time investment every time to sit down to play, as you’ll be battling through dungeons and tackling marathon boss fights without an easy off-ramp. Miitopia, in contrast, actively asks you every couple of levels (which are shorter to begin with) whether you want to stop and take a break (and given the repetitive gameplay, it’s probably best to consume it in smaller bites), and is much more in line with the ‘pick up and play/put down and chill’ mantra of the 3DS (in contrast, I couldn’t make it out of one dungeon in BD2 without having to plug in my Switch charger!). Throw in the many cutscenes of BD2, and Miitopia winds up being the faster and more action-packed experience despite the levels being mostly on rails.

In other words, I see Miitopia as a gateway to the role-playing genre, a good first step for players who want to dip their toes into the water (maybe not as good a first RPG as Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars, but probably the best ‘starter RPG’ I’ve run into outside of the Pokémon series). It’s a game that you can take as seriously as you want, one that places you more in a managerial role when it comes to combat and doesn’t make you sweat the small stuff, and one that provides a bit more action in favor of slow, drawn-out attempts at world-building. If you’re into more active gametypes such as platformers, Miitopia is a good way to try on an RPG for size before committing to it.

Bravely Default II, in contrast, is a deep-cut game for RPG veterans, ones who want more exploration, more elaborate storylines, and more control. The game is longer and slower (and it may not run that well), and it will either overwhelm newer players with its battle strategies and or put them to sleep with it relative lack of action, but it also rewards those with the patience to sit through it with a engaging story, charming characters, and lots of ways to approach each and every fight. Longstanding RPG fans will really enjoy this game, and if you play through Miitopia and decide you’re looking for a game with more depth, than you might enjoy it too.

So if you’re curious about seeing what a role-playing game is all about, start by giving Miitopia a shot and seeing if it’s a genre you want to explore further. If so, you’ve got a lot of great options for diving deeper on the Switch, and Bravely Default II should definitely be on your radar. No matter your experience level, the Switch has an RPG that’s right for you.

Never change, Adelle.

Bravely Default II: Early Impressions

I’ve been a sucker for role-playing games ever since I first rented Super Mario RPG and stuck it in my Super Nintendo (yes, I know, I’m old). Give me a solid battle system with a semi-deep story and the promise of character progression, and I am there. However, I was a bit late to the 3DS party back in the day, and wound up missing Bravely Default‘s debut. Thankfully, like seemingly every other gaming franchise in existence, Bravely Default is getting reintroduced to the masses through the Nintendo Switch, and instead of going the easy port route, Square Enix is delivering a full-blown sequel in the form of Bravely Default II (not to be confused with 2015’s Bravely Second).

As part of its pre-launch push, Square Enix released an initial demo last March right around the time the world fell apart due to the coronavirus pandemic, and then dropped a clean-up “final” demo late in the year. With the game releasing today, I figured now was as good a time as any to give the demo a try and see if the game could fill that RPG void that had been empty since the end of Dragon Quest Builders 2. What I got was an intriguing but uneven experience from a game that seemed to try to cram every RPG mechanic ever devised into a single title, and while I enjoyed the game, I wouldn’t recommend it as a gateway to the genre.

The BD2 final demo only gives you five hours to hurry through the campaign, but the story hooked me pretty fast (even though I had mostly forgotten the overall plot of the game from the original trailer). The kingdom of Musa has been destroyed and its precious plot devices elemental crystals stolen, and you have to lead a team of four intrepid heroes (why they team up is left unspecified) on a mission to reclaim the lost treasures. The story came across as a bit cookie-cutter at first, but it got much more interesting as the intrigue and interactions starting happening (who got saved, who got shafted, etc.) and the characters (especially Anihal) gained a lot of depth over time. While I’d heard complaints about the voice acting in other previews, I actually found that the voices gave the characters some personality and charm, helping cover for the lack of a truly cohesive backstory. In addition to the crystals, however, there are also Asterisks, which are never really explained beyond their ability to unlock roles (mages, fighters, thieves, bards, etc.) for your characters to take on. I got two of these (bard and beastmaster) through winning boss battles in the demo, but ended up sticking with the default main/sub jobs that the characters started with.

The first thing that hits you when playing the demo is just how…complex the mechanics are. The game gives you an incredible amount of customization options for your characters (main jobs, sub-jobs, abilities, weapon proficiencies) as well as a number of possible actions to take in battle (physical attacks, offensive/defensive magic, items, and of course the Brave/Default ability to either store up actions or borrow against future ones to let you act multiple times in a turn), and while I normally enjoy this sort of creative freedom, it honestly felt a little off-putting here, even though it really isn’t much different then what you might find in, say, Octopath Traveler. (The sheer number of ‘memories,’ i.e. tutorial documents that explain all the various mechanics, should have been an early warning sign.) Unlike OT, you don’t get Brave points automatically – you’ve got to deliberately pause and store them up to future-proof your strategy, and for a ham-handed ‘see ball, hit ball’ tactician like myself, this was harder than I thought. (And then there’s the frustrating way your battle entrance impacts the battle: If you’re lucky and run into an enemy from behind, you’ll sometimes get an initiative boost, but this felt inconsistent at best, and if the enemy saw you and had any momentum when it caught you, it would gain initiative even when you were running directly at them.) There’s a real chess-match feel to the combat, especially when the enemies not only have access to the same Brave/Default mechanic you do (reminiscent of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle), but also have the HP reserves to burn a few turns while you’re constantly trying to keep your party upright. I also wasn’t a fan of the ‘weight’ mechanic: Instead of being able to load up with the latest and greatest gear, you had a carrying capacity that would crush your stats if you exceed it, so you had to be super careful when choosing your character loadout, which added more annoyance to the game rather than strategy. Having so many options can be a bit overwhelming when you only get a few hours to experiment with them, so I’m hoping that getting more time with the game will make everything fit better and seem more intuitive.

Another thing you’ll notice is that the game’s pace is slow, even from an RPG perspective. These sorts of games are rarely known for their action, but the frequent cut scenes and use of voice acting makes it feel like you’re standing around more often than you’re in motion. As someone who loves getting swept up in a story, I didn’t have a problem with this, but for gamers looking for a bit more action, I imagine all these static moments would get old quickly. While the early demo was criticized for its difficulty, the moments of action here felt a bit more inconsistent. Random encounters were not that hard to brute-force your way through, but boss battles turned into twenty-minute-long affairs in which enemies would max out their Brave capacity and unload several consecutive attacks, decimating your party and forcing your healers to play proactive defense for the entire match. (If your health bar wasn’t full, you weren’t safe, and even when it was full you were only a nasty triple combo away from a team wipe.) I managed to beat Orpheus in on shot, but the Anihal battle took me three attempts and one irritated Google search to get through (pro tip: poison her early and hang on tight). These sorts of long, drawn-out near-misses are the kinds of things that will turn off anyone who isn’t totally committed, so I was very surprised to see such clumsy difficulty balancing.

Visually, the game has some nice 3D environments for you to explore (and even gives you full camera control in the overworld), and the character models have a clean, stylized look that you might expect from an RPG. Running around the world could be a bit slippery if you had always-run enabled (gotta make the most of your five hours!), but there were enough cues and markers to keep you oriented…with one annoying exception: There was no indicator for whether you could pass through a door or not. Instead, you just had to walk into the wall and hope that you went through it and could see the building interior. You got used to it, but it felt a bit jarring when seeming everything else around you offered a helpful hint that it could be interacted with. In terms of the music, it was…there, I guess? The battle theme was suitably energized, but everything else pulled a Chris Young and quickly went in one ear and out the other.

On the whole, Bravely Default II seems like an okay game, but when compared to a game like Octopath Traveler, what it gained in story cohesiveness it lost in battle mechanics, enough so that I think I would rank OT as the better game for now. Then again, I really didn’t appreciate OT until I got to play the full game either, so BD2 may grow on me as I get more time with it. To me, it’s the sort of game that seasoned RPG players will appreciate, but newer players might want to avoid in favor of something more straightforward (on that note, it’s long past time to bring Super Mario RPG to the Switch Online app). For now, I’ll be moving on to the Project Triangle Strategy demo, and I’m curious to see how that game compares to this one.