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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bravely Default

I hope that you're all looking forward to another edition of the "Whatever Wednesday" portion of the week.  As many of you know, this is the blog entry that is decided entirely on fate. 

In most cases, the six suspect cards of the board game Clue could be considered some of the most dangerous fictional characters you could ever come across.  After all, in any given game of Clue, you know that at least one of them murdered Mr. Boddy.

In this case though, the Clue characters are our friends, and each card represents one of the theme days that are present in the blog.

So, which direction will the blog be going this time around.  Will we draw the card with the scarlet hue and talk about music?  Will I spill my guts with a plum coloured suspect?  Or, will I colour this blog a nice shade of mustard yellow with a movie review?

Well, for some reason, I'm seeing green.  Mr. Green, to be exact.

And, because I've selected Mr. Green, this obligates me to use this space to talk about a toy or game.  Green after all is the colour that represents the first two weeks of the Saturday Smorgasbord.

And, well...for today's blog entry, I'm going to be talking about a video game.  If video games aren't your thing, you're free to skip this blog if you like.  But, for those of you who are looking for a decent (and recent) video game that is hours of fun and is quite challenging without being impossible, then I think I have a recommendation for all of you.

Before I continue with this entry, I want to tell you a little bit of a story about my own experiences with video gaming.

Ever since I was a little kid, I always remembered loving video games in all their forms.  I think the first time I ever played a video game, I was four years old.  My mom had signed me up for a computer class and I was clearly the youngest kid in the whole room.  But I don't think anyone really cared all that much.  I honestly don't remember too much about that experience anyway except for a few major details.

I remember that my photo was taken and published in the newspaper, but unfortunately I don't happen to have a copy of that photo as my parents can't seem to remember what they did with it.

(If any of you reading this blog entry are from my hometown and happen to have any old issues of the Brockville Recorder and Times from 1985 lying around, and remember seeing a picture of a four-year-old boy playing on an extremely retro computer, let me know.  I'd love to get that picture back.)

But, that is beside the point.  I'm just saying that when I was a kid, I was fascinated by video games.  I would go to the corner store to check out the new arcade games, I got my first video game console at the age of eight (which admittedly was one that was manufactured years before I was born but still loved), and I admit that I love to play video games whenever I have a free moment.

But there are some video games that I love playing more than others.

I'll be the first one to admit that some of my favourite games to play are role-playing games.  A really good role playing game has a complex, but rewarding storyline, lots of puzzles and sidequests to figure out, and characters who are sympathetic, yet powerful at the same time.  And, of course, the longer the game takes to play, the more enjoyable it can be.

Seriously, I played a game of "Final Fantasy IX" a few weeks ago, and by the time I completed the whole thing, it took me a total of 71 hours, 12 minutes, and eight seconds.

(Of course, this was not in one sitting.  Trying to play a video game for nearly three days straight would kill me.)

Of all the role playing games that I have played (and believe me, I've tried all of them at least once), I was always a huge fan of the "Final Fantasy" series of games.  I played the first game when it was released for the original Nintendo system when I was nine years old, and while I didn't quite understand how to play it at first, I did like the mechanics of the game, which was to discover new areas of a mystical world and slaying beasts and monsters in order to get further in the game.  By the time I played the fourth installment of the game, I had a handle on how to really play the game, and despite tweaks here and there, I followed the game series and was a loyal fan...

...well, at least I was up until a few years ago.

I always said that one of the reasons why I loved "Final Fantasy" so much was because it often had a really rich, complicated, and rewarding storyline to accompany all the random battles and somewhat linear pathways in the earliest stages of the game.  And up until the tenth installment of the game (which was released twelve years ago), I would say that all the "Final Fantasy" games were like this.

But then they started tweaking with the formula with "Final Fantasy XI", making it more like a multi-player online game - which I'm not a fan of.  And, "Final Fantasy XII" was a huge disappointment in that the game seemed to throw storyline out the window and made it a complex mess of random battles and open sandbox exploration.  Some people might like sandbox type games, but I am not one of them.  I was so frustrated with "Final Fantasy XII" that I gave up playing it midway through and never bothered finishing it.

Although, I suppose a huge part of why I don't like the newer versions of "Final Fantasy" games is that they have lost all their charm.  Part of the reason why I loved the earlier games were because of the story.  I also liked the fact that the setting of most of the earlier games were in olden times from medieval kingdoms to steampunk villages (though admittedly I didn't mind the modern day setting of "Final Fantasy VII", as the plot of that game was captivating).  The newest games lack the warmth and the depth of their parent and grandparent games.  There's no plot development, the characters are one-dimensional, and the ultimate goal of the game is pointless.

I was left feeling a little bit crushed.  I wondered...would there ever be a "Final Fantasy" like game released ever again?  One that was fun to play, had challenging puzzles to solve, and a storyline that had more twists and turns than an episode of "General Hospital"?

Actually, there is.  And in North America, that game was just released twelve days ago.

Of course in places like Japan, it's been out for a couple of years.  But the version that was eventually released in North America on February 7, 2014 is all sorts of awesome, and it really reminded me of the old-style "Final Fantasy" games that I used to play as a kid.

Ladies and gentlemen...I present to you "Bravely Default".  A game with a lot of story, a lot of action...and one of the most bizarre names that I've ever seen for a game.  Yet, given how the battles are, the name does make sense.  But, of course, I'm getting ahead of myself.

This game - which is as of right now only available for the Nintendo 2DS and 3DS systems - is what classic "Final Fantasy" used to be for me.  And, I suppose it makes sense, given that the game was developed by the same company that created the "Final Fantasy" series over a quarter of a century ago.  If I had to give a game that "Bravely Default" closely resembles, it would be almost similar to "Final Fantasy V" in that you control four main characters, you have to protect crystals, and you can change job classes midway through the game.

So, what's the ultimate goal of the game?

Well, I just mentioned it in the previous paragraph.  Obviously there are crystals - four in all - and each crystal represents an element.  There's an earth crystal, fire crystal, wind crystal, and water crystal.  In the world of Luxendarc, the four crystals are being protected by sacred guardians known as 'Vestals'.  And, naturally you would expect that the four Vestals would be our main characters.

Well, you'd be only 1/4 right.  Sure enough, the Vestal of Wind, Agnes Oblige (Agnes' name actually has an accent over the "E", but I have no idea how to make them pop up on this keyboard - I tried the ALT codes, and it isn't registering for whatever reason)...

Um...where was I?  Oh yeah, Agnes Oblige.  Anyway, when the game begins, we learn pretty quickly that Agnes is the Vestal of Wind, and for whatever reason, we learn that a group known as the Knights of the Eternian Sky is pursuing her with the intent to capture her - dead or alive.  We also learn that the crystal that Agnes is supposed to protect has been taken over by darkness, as have all the other crystals in the world.  And, the fates of the other three vestals is not known.  Meanwhile, the Knights of the Eternian Sky have taken matters into their own hands, storming the city of Caldisla in hopes of trying to capture her.

But Agnes will soon discover that she is not alone.  Also staying in Caldisla is a man by the name of Tiz Arrior, who is staying at the Caldisla Inn after suffering a loss of his own.  A great chasm opened up not too far from Caldisla, which completely destroyed Tiz' hometown of Norende, and killing all of Tiz's family and friends.  When Tiz learns of Agnes' plight, he joins Agnes in her quest to rid the crystals of darkness while confronting other forces of evil.

There are other characters who join the party as well.  You have a character who goes by the name of "Ringabel", who seems to suffer from some sort of memory loss.  He can't even remember his own name!  But he carries with him a journal that seemingly tells the future.  It's a handy tool to have when trying to figure out where to go next, or how to defeat a certain boss.

And, there's Edea Lee, who actually begins the game on the side of enemy territory but has a change of heart after being disgusted by the Sky Knights behaviour and seeing that Agnes is not as evil as she initially thought.

Oh, and Agnes also has a companion with her in the form of a fairy named Airy who is introduced as Agnes' protector and who aids the party in determining where the locations of the crystals are.  But throughout the game, Airy's main goal is to help Agnes restore light to the fact, she seems a little too eager to make that happen.  Let's just say that things aren't always what they seem...

The gameplay of "Bravely Default" is standard for role-playing games.  Enemies try to come at you and hurt you, and you try to kill them first by jabbing pointy things at them, or casting a few elemental spells at them, or summoning a monster that will turn them into sushi.  But there are a couple of tweaks to the system.

For one, the reason why the game is called "Bravely Default" is because it implements two commands that you can use in battle.  "Brave" allows you to take up to four turns at once in one go, but the con is that you have to miss the next three turns in battle.  "Default" allows you to defend yourself from enemy attacks, lessening any damage taken.  Depending on what kind of battle you're facing, knowing when to "Brave" and knowing when to "Default" is key to success.

And the second bonus is that you can change job titles.  Of course, the four main jobs that you can practice are White Mage (healing magic), Black Mage (offensive magic), Monk (physical fighter), and Knight (swordsmanship techniques).  But there are other jobs that you can learn along the way by defeating mini-bosses.  You can manipulate time with the Time Mage job, steal items with the Thief job, and exploit enemy weaknesses with the Ranger job.  There are twenty-four different jobs that can be learned in "Bravely Default" - half of which you learn within the first twelve hours of gameplay.

That's all that I have to say about "Bravely Default".  If anything, I hope that my review will make you check it out.  And, just on a personal note, that game has been sold out at my store for several days now.  So, I would think that means that the game is a hit...

...or they didn't send us enough copies. 

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