By Ethan . February 6, 2014 . 9:30am
Bravely Default spices up otherwise familiar dungeon-crawling and world exploring with a job system. That may not seem like much of a spice, since job systems are almost as old as Square Enix JRPGs themselves, but the great thing about job systems is that they can continue to feel fresh for as long as the jobs themselves break new ground.
The first jobs you gain access to in Bravely Default are Freelancer, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage, Knight, and (optionally) Thief.
Okay, so the first stretch of the game doesn’t really break any new ground on the job front. Every single one of those jobs was an early game job in Final Fantasy III back in 1990, and although they have a few more abilities in this game, each job’s role in a party is the same as ever. That’s not to take anything away from the job system in Final Fantasy III, mind, but compared to what’s standard in the genre these days, it’s a little bit simplistic.
Fortunately, I discovered first impressions to be misleading. My choice of early game party composition was one Monk, one White Mage, one Black Mage, and one Freelancer. Tinkering around in the menus, though, I saw that Freelancers gain strength based on how many other jobs the character has mastered. So, by raising a freelancer as a first class, I wasn’t getting full utility out of it! That would not do.
As soon as I acquired the Thief job, I swapped him out. But at that same point in the game the player faces a dungeon filled with traps that a Freelancer passive ability blocks. Those traps were no fun at all, so I was torn. But wait! My Thief could equip the passive ability he’d learned as a Freelancer! That was my first experiment with mixing and matching classes, and it netted me a trap-savvy Thief. I was pleased; it was very dungeons and dragons.
This party did really well for me, but soon, another problem started creeping in. Job level acquisition becomes a pretty tall order even early in the game (one gains job levels independently of character levels), as the monster encounters don’t provide enough job points to keep up with the rapidly increasing thresholds. More advanced job level up rewards can be pretty worthless in the early game, too. Edea can use black magic level 3 now? Swell, I’m sure I’ll get access to those spell scrolls within the next 15 hours or so.
But even as the first few jobs started to seem less desirable, I was getting access to new jobs. Jobs are unlocked by defeating bosses of the same type, so there is a steady trickle of new options as main and side quests are completed. That problem I was having with mages gaining job XP just to get access to spells yet unavailable? Not a problem any more, once I swapped some classes around and got access to the time mage. Characters moving to a new job can not only use passive abilities learned in other jobs, but can also use all the combat abilities they learned in one other profession. So moving between jobs isn’t a sacrifice, it’s a straight-up utility gain that makes your party far more diverse. My White mage is still basically a White Mage, but he has a few turn manipulation tricks up his sleeve for boss battles now, too.
Ultimately, the ability to have two jobs’ active abilities—and whatever mishmash of passive abilities the character may have learned—allows the player to transcend the job system to create entirely unique characters. When my early-game Monk was feeling a little long in the tooth, I started looking for alternatives. My Thief managed to snag a cool Katana off of a boss, so I jumped her over to Spell Fencer. When her damage output wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I took her on a detour through the Knight job to learn to wield a weapon with two hands. This did mean sacrificing her shield, but I just activated the bonus HP Monk ability! Now, I’m rolling with a lean, mean, flaming samurai sword wielding machine and I couldn’t be happier with the result.
That’s just what I made from mixing and matching early in the game with more than a dozen jobs left to find. Giving players diminishing returns for sticking in a single job strongly encourages experimentation even early in the game, and I’ll bet each player ends up creating a party of strange and entirely personalized hybrids that they can proudly call their own. If ever you summon a friend from the Internet in battle and see Agnès fly into the fray with a giant burning katana and no defensive gear whatsoever, you’ll know you’ve found me. And I can’t wait to summon the characters you all come up with in turn!
1. Of all the things to cling to after dropping the Final Fantasy brand, why the term “job”? Just call them classes, please. Job is a different word that means something different. Class is a specialized term used in Role Playing Games.
2. And while I’m on the topic, why did we keep the elemental crystals and airships, but lose the Chocobos and Moogles? I am totally not on the same page with what this game thought was worth keeping and what should be left behind. If I never save the elemental crystals from poorly defined “darkness” and an evil empire again, it’ll be too soon.
3. That early game party I listed of Monk, Thief, Black Mage, and White Mage? I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was my party through most of Final Fantasy III also. I guess those are just my favorite archetypes.
4. I’m gonna be frank—toying around with all the class combinations in this game kind of just made me want a new Final Fantasy Tactics game. This is good, but it’s got nothing on managing a small army of characters through 30+ jobs, mixing and matching skills on each, optimizing stat gains and equipment on each, and then taking them to battle on a freeform grid where anything goes. Bravely Default only has two dozen jobs, four characters, and doesn’t even have a front line and back line in terms of positional considerations.
4. I didn’t make a Knight because Knights are lame.