Innovation is hard to come by with Japanese role-playing games. It's a genre that remains stubbornly fixed, with its turn-based battles and class systems.
But with "Bravely Default," the innovation in turn-based combat was so important that it's in the title. Players can be "brave" and use up future actions to frontload an attack. Or they can "default," which allows them to defend and bank a turn for later.
The concept did so well that Square Enix turned it into a series. "Bravely Default II" helmed by Claytechworks carries over the hallmark battle system but introduces a new cast and story. It mostly takes place on a continent with five kingdoms — Halcyonia, Savalon, Wiswald, Rimedhal and Holograd. A sixth kingdom called Musa was destroyed and its elemental crystals were stolen.
The campaign focuses on Musa's Princess Gloria, who is trying to recover the lost treasures. She meets the male lead, whom players can name, and two others: Adelle and Elvis. Together the foursome embark on an adventure to gather the Wind, Water, Earth and Fire Crystals, which are at the heart of internal conflicts inside several kingdoms.
In traditional JRPG style, the squad travels to each kingdom and solves problems there while also uncovering the back story behind each of the heroes. Despite its cutesy character design and bright colors, "Bravely Default II" is a dark tale. Players will come across piles of dead bodies, religious fanaticism and political murder. It's a strange contrast for a game that looks like it stars animated Precious Moments figurines.
The first three chapters are linear and episodic but "Bravely Default II" opens up in the later chapters as Gloria's crew have to hop around helping other kingdoms and fight a bigger threat. Players also have extra content with side quests and party chats that offer more depth to the narrative and characters. That part of the game can be disappointing, but the combat and character progression are top-notch.
All in all, this is a 60-plus-hour JRPG that requires more strategy than its peers, showing that the genre still has ways to surprise players.
Bravely Default II
Platform: Nintendo Switch.