Bravely Second: End Layer review

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 3DS
Publisher Square Enix
Developer Silicon Studio
Release Date Apr 23, 2015

Bravely Second: End Layer is a follow-up so deeply rooted in its predecessor that it could almost be an epilogue. Whether or not that's a bad thing depends on where you're sitting.

Bravely Second offers the opportunity to experience how the world of Luxendarc has changed since players saw it in Bravely Default, peppering that journey with just enough new enemies, new activities and new classes to keep things from feeling stale. At the same time, the Bravely world may have changed, but the game itself absolutely hasn't. It revisits a lot of old enemies, old activities and old classes, meaning that if this is your introduction to the series (as it was mine) then you're going to have a lot of catching up to do.

Two years have passed since the events of Bravely Default, and Luxendarc is in a period of relative peace. Agnes Oblige — a key party member in Bravely Default and the priestess-like guardian of one of the world's four powerful elemental crystals — is now Pope Agnes, and those who once swore to tear down the crystal-worshipping faith she leads now rally at her side. As RPG worlds are wont to do when people start agreeing too much, things turn sour when Pope Agnes is kidnapped and all but one of her coterie of guards is defeated. The premise from that point forward is clear enough: Save the pope, save the world.

Bravely Second: End Layer screenshot collage 01 1200

The mechanics for accomplishing both of those things are pretty similar to those established in Bravely Default. In addition to your typical JRPG staples — like random encounters and turn-based combat — the returning 'Brave' and 'Default' options allow each character to bank combat actions or spend them in advance. Combined with the programmable auto-battle commands, this allowed me to make quick work out of the average random encounter.

Then there's the Bravely Second system, which was also present in the first game, despite sharing a name with this sequel. Using Bravely Second doesn't consume a turn, and allows a selected character to make as many actions as you have Sleep Points to spend. Moreover, attacks made while this system is active can surpass the 9,999 HP per-turn cap on damage, which can be handy when you want to take a boss down in a hurry. But SP — unlike BP, their Brave counterpart — are accrued in real time.

Specifically, 1 SP is earned for every eight hours that Bravely Second is open on your 3DS, with a cap of 3 SP total. This dramatically limits how often the power can be used. In my experience this made the Second system much less useful overall. Unless, of course, you're willing to pay for SP Drinks using very real and not-at-all-fantasy currency, just as you could in Bravely Default.

Bravely Default's combat was defined by items called asterisks, and that continues in Bravely Second. Asterisks act as jobs or classes that can be acquired by defeating powerful enemies presented to the player through the course of the story. Any character can equip any asterisk and level it up, in addition to slotting certain abilities from other asterisks that the party possesses at the same time.

Bravely Second: End Layer character art right 480

Bravely Second's boss lineup comes complete with a brand-new set of asterisks, including a wide range of options from the conventional to the distinctly less so. There are the straightforward Fencer or Wizard asterisks, for example, or the cake-slinging Patissiers and cat-slinging Catmancers for a change of pace. In addition to these new specializations, asterisks from the previous game are also made available through various side quests; it's easy enough to pick up an old favorite in case Catmancy's not doing it for you.

Anyone looking to Bravely Second for a mechanical game-changer on par with its predecessor is likely to be disappointed, because it's mostly just offering more of the same. More Braving, more Defaulting, more asterisks, more auto-battling (aka "I'm watching Netflix and hate random encounters" mode). But the familiarity doesn't end with the features list.

Bravely Second: End Layer character art left 480
I found myself lacking a great deal of context

As I mentioned earlier, the story is a direct continuation from the events of Bravely Default, and that includes many of the characters and locations. Much of the joy of Bravely Second is meant to be found in seeing how former allies and enemies have changed in the intervening years, and just about every side quest in the game is devoted to striking that "what are they up to now?" chord. Even though the party is split between returning members and fresh faces, the recaps that the former offer to bring the latter up to speed are really no more than a refresher.

As someone checking out the series for the first time, I found myself lacking a great deal of context. I'm not saying that someone who skipped Bravely Default won't find anything to engage them here, because I did. By the end of Bravely Second, the main story had grabbed me, even if I had to open a wiki page to follow some of it. The world is beautifully realized, and the writing is enjoyable — even if it tends to get wrapped up in references that didn't land very hard for me, and even if it leans heavily on dad joke-caliber wordplay and punning. You've been warned.

Bravely Second: End Layer screenshot collage 02 1200

I especially appreciated the way Bravely Second handles the concept of enmity. No one is dismissed as unredeemable; every character has their own motivation that's revised and revisited as more information about them comes to light. When someone's motivations conflict with your own, Bravely Second reinforces the idea that it doesn't make them evil in the most traditional RPG kill-the-bad-guy sense of the word, and that's absolutely something I wish I saw more often in games (and elsewhere).

Of course, there are still a fair number of evil bad guys, and some of them look incredibly neat. As in Bravely Default, players will often have the chance to fight so-called Ba'als in the story as well as in the base-building minigame. Ba'als are sinister looking and incredibly vibrant all at once, something like if a Disney theme park's nighttime parade got a demonic makeover. They're a huge departure visually from what the party's up against most of the time, which only makes them more eye-catching when you cross paths with them.

Wrap Up:

Bravely Second takes after its predecessor almost to a fault

Even as a newcomer to the series, I found the world of Luxendarc interesting enough that Bravely Second: End Layer didn't feel like it was deficient in any way. There are parallels and outright repetition in everything from the game's core systems to the narrative structuring of its story, and all those components still function just fine. Taken on their own, they don't detract from the experience. But considering all the clever mechanical twists and innovations seeded in its predecessor, it's disappointing to see Bravely Second following in its footsteps with so little deviation.

Bravely Second: End Layer was reviewed using a retail Nintendo 3DS copy provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

About Polygon's Reviews
7.0 3DS