Square Enix fans often complain about seemingly contradictory things when it comes to their favorite RPG company. "Square Enix experiments too much," say some fans, "they redesign each Final Fantasy game so much that each one barely resembles the last." Other fans complain that Square Enix's other big RPG series, Dragon Warrior, doesn't experiment enough, and that its latest entries are still far too similar to the NES games of decades past. When Bravely Default arrived in 2012, it satisfied both camps thanks to its bold, yet familiar, RPG framework. Bravely Second continues in the footsteps of its predecessor, trying again to find that magic oasis of fun which balances out the old and the new.

Much like its gameplay, Bravely Second’s story mixes modern and retro RPG stylings. As a party of four comprised of newcomers Magnolia and Yew alongside Bravely Default heroes Edea and Tiz, you’ll travel the globe in search of the kidnapped Pope Agnes (another BD hero), righting wrongs, exploring dungeons, and smashing monsters in turn-based battles. The story hits most of the beats of old-school Final Fantasy; it's light-hearted and pleasant most of the time, with exceptionally amusing wordplay and occasional bits of melodrama. Bravely Second’s core cast of four are all likeable, memorable characters, and you get to spend plenty of time with them over the course of your adventures, really getting to know them and their inter-party dynamics.

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Combat is as complex and frequent (or simple and infrequent) as you want it to be. Bravely Default’s unique combat system returns with some new wrinkles; you can Brave or Default each turn, expending or accumulating Brave Points in order to take up to four actions per character, per round. You can send your team into the negatives if you want to do an all-out attack, but you won’t be able to act until they’ve recovered. If you win a non-boss battle in a single round you’ll get the option of taking on another wave of enemies to multiply your rewards, and should you continue to annihilate your foes in one round apiece you can keep going until you can’t take them down fast enough. This turns the random battle from the test of attrition it is in most RPGs into enjoyable tests of strategy, giving players the chance to plan their moves out in order to best crush their foes and get those sweet rewards.

Bravely Second lets you take full control of your battles by letting you turn off encounters, halving them, or increasing them up to double. You can also turn off things like gaining gold, XP, etc., for the truly hardcore fans who like to do unique challenge runs. The robust job system keeps character evolution interesting, providing tons of options for customizing your party’s fighting style by letting you create a group of magic-wielding knights, fast-striking mages, or sultry quad-wielding (yeah, quad-wielding) thieves, all of whom are absolutely adorbs on your cute lil' party members.

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One downside, however, is that a number of the jobs are locked behind side missions built around interesting moral quandaries. These quandaries present two positive, but incompatible, outcomes and ask the player to choose which option they believe will be the best in the long run. The problem lies in the fact that each story outcome also provides a new job with it; whichever option you don’t choose locks you out of that job. So, in reality, rather than making any kind of a moral choice, most players are probably just going to make a decision based on which job sounds more fun to play.

Bravely Second’s titular game mechanic is a divisive point, as it lets you freeze time and automatically deal critical hits, but costs a special point which can only be recovered over long periods of time... or through spending real money in the in-game shop. This is a cheat button, plain and simple, and for a game with such versatile difficulty and rewarding battles, its addition feels entirely unnecessary.

Square Enix

Bravely Second’s audio/visual presentation is one of the finest on the Nintendo 3DS. The characters are expressive, the backgrounds blend 2D and 3D graphics to create a gorgeous storybook effect, the voice acting is vibrant, with a cast that adds great inflection to their characters, and the soundtrack is flat-out amazing. Plus the controls are flexibly designed, allowing for one-handed play for when you’re grinding battles while tweeting/texting/watching TV.

There are so many other great wrinkles to Bravely Second, like the town-management on the moon, or the customizable Limit Break-esque special attacks, or Chompcraft, that we could easily ramble on, praising each system, but the ultimate point is: Bravely Second is a damn fine RPG. It’s a love letter to the genre, written by someone who moved away, traveled the world, and learned some new things while still managing to stay true to their roots.

This review was completed based on a purchased digital copy of Bravely Second for the Nintendo 3DS.