I’ve mentioned that I’m working on playing Bravely Second: End Layer, the highly-anticipated followup to SquareEnix’s surprising and excellent Bravely Default. I absolutely loved Bravely Default. I sank over a hundred hours into the game, max-leveling my entire party and every job. I enjoyed combining my jobs, secondary abilities, and support abilities in endless permutations of kick-assery. I relished the complex strategies that were often required to get ahead in the game, particularly in the more punishingly difficult side quests.
Bravely Default wasn’t perfect. There was an absurd amount of backtracking, and even if it was justified by the plot in an admittedly clever twist, it was still tedious as fuck. Jobs leveled separately from party levels, and they took a really long time to max out. Some of the voice acting was painful to listen to, even in the Japanese vocal track. Many of the attempts at “humor” were forced and awkward.
Overall, however, the game was charming, well-balanced, challenging, and fun. That’s why I played it so damn much. The only other games I think I’ve played more are Final Fantasy X and Ni No Kuni.
So of course I pre-ordered Bravely Second. I was excited to continue my adventures in Luxendarc and see where everyone in the first game had ended up. I was irritated that one of the female characters got damsoled within the first ten minutes, but once I got the snarky, ass-kicking Edea back in my party and added the moon denizen Magnolia to the crew, I felt somewhat mollified (although I am still trying to figure out why the moon people speak French).
I’ve also been trying to figure out why Bravely Second just isn’t quite as enjoyable as the first game. The mechanics are largely unchanged, but I liked the mechanics a lot the first time, so that can’t be it. The dialogue is goofy, ridiculously hammy, and frequently un-funny and awkward, but this is a quality that also remains from my initial foray through Luxendarc. The plot has been largely uninteresting so far, but the first chunk of Bravely Default was simply a standard connect-the-dots and save-the-crystals affair, so I don’t see much of a difference there. I suppose one could argue that some of the new jobs in this iteration of the franchise are completely bonkers…
…but the last game let you play as both a BDSM vampire bat and a dude with a clock on his head, so maybe the chef isn’t that much of a stretch. Also, to be fair, the developers used pretty much all of the usual Final Fantasy job classes last time, so they had to add something.
Perhaps the charm of the previous game has simply worn off, or perhaps the devs are just trying too hard and reaching too far this time around. Whatever the reason, the game isn’t quite as exciting as Bravely Default, though at least a few reviews have indicated that the story eventually picks up. Either way, I pre-ordered the damn thing, I still love the battle system, and I’m going to play it.
…Which brings me around to the question of how I am going to play it, and whether or not I am going to play it using what is essentially an in-game cheat system that I accidentally activated by playing the game too slowly.
See, just as Bravely Default had a village-rebuilding mini-game, Bravely Second tasks you with rebuilding Fort Lune, Magnolia’s home on the moon, which was destroyed by Ba’als, which are some sort of extra-dimensional demon creatures that have yet to be fully explained at this point in the game. In the same vein as the rebuilding of Norende, you recruit moon denizens through Street Pass or the internet, you assign them to rebuild things, and then Fort Lune periodically showers you with free items as things are restored.
I’m guessing that a normal person who plays games all at once would not find this game-breaking, but I have a habit of playing for thirty minutes to an hour, then closing my 3DS and forgetting about it for a day or two. So I had only played about ten hours of actual game by the time I max leveled everything in Fort Lune. Once you have everything reconstructed, the Ba’als start showing up. These optional bosses occupy the same niche that the Nemesis bosses did in Norende in Bravely Default — many of them are high level, difficult to defeat, and offer copious amounts of sweet, sweet XP.
The first time I tried to take on a level 15 Ba’al, I had my ass handed to me on a silver platter. Although my party was level 15-16, I figured that I needed to level up a bit before I could take it on. Or, I realized, I could assign my moon ship, the mighty McPewpew, to blast it down a few levels so that it would be more manageable.
As is my wont, however, I closed my 3DS, forgot I was playing, and only came back to it a few days later, when I discovered that the McPewpew had blasted the Ba’al’s level down to 1. Well, damn, I thought. Now it’s not going to give me any XP at all, but I might as well put it out of its misery. I attacked it with my party and killed it in one turn. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that I received over 6,000 XP, 3,000 gold, and 300 job points for killing a level one monster. My party gained three or four character levels and two to three job levels apiece.
This sequence of events happened three or four more times, and at this point, I have a level 34 party at 18 hours into the main story. My last two boss encounters have been startlingly easy, and now I wonder if I have seriously unbalanced the game.
Is this cheating? I don’t know. The developers built this system, although I’m not sure that I am using it quite as intended. Can it be called cheating if you’re using an in-game system without an exploit? And if it is cheating, do I really care? It’s a single-player game, and I’m not out to beat any records or compete with anyone else. If it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game, does it matter? After all, it’s exactly that: a game. It’s supposed to be fun. This is what I chose to do with my leisure time to unwind. If I’m already unsure of how much I’m actually enjoying retreading Luxendarc this time around, doesn’t it make sense to make things as painless as possible so that I can experience the story and get on with my life? Certainly, I have a lot of other games I could be playing. Why not cruise through this one and get on to some others?
Beyond this, a great deal of the challenge of the last game existed in the side quests and the endgame content, much of which was punishingly difficult and required strategic ability allocation and battle tactics rather than the mere muscle of a high-level party. Perhaps the developers have upped the ante even more in the latter part of this game, forcing players to take advantage of this system. Surely they wouldn’t have put such a blatant shortcut to level 99 into their game otherwise?
In the end, dilemmas like this one force me to think about why different people play and enjoy games. Some people play to get the highest score. Some people play to beat others with their superior skills. Some people (like Boyfriend) play games to collect all the achievements. I do like high scores and achievements, although I’m really not one for competitive gaming (unless it’s Dokapon Kingdom), but what I value most in a gaming experience is the story being told. That’s why I play RPGs, after all.
And if a little extra-curricular Ba’al-busting helps me experience the story more efficiently, why the hell not?
Now, please excuse me while I go back to summoning cats with kitty treats, who pop out of glowing crayon drawings to use the attacks of other monsters against my enemies, a sentence which contains absolutely zero things that I made up.