The Ties That Grind

Gaming as a kid is different than gaming as an adult. I know that sounds self-evident, but hear me out. First, as a kid I got maybe three games per year. I mean, yes, we traded around and rented games, but games that I owned that were mine were few and far between. Second, that meant that I considered my purchases carefully and I wanted the most bang for my buck. A game that was over in two hours or a game that lasted for forty hours? Talk about a no-brainer. And third, I didn’t have that many competing interests, i.e., work and wife and children. I didn’t have to worry about teaching a two year old to speak while helping an eight year old with his homework and simultaneously jumping on the trampoline with a four year old. It’s just a question of time.

And all of these things, the scarcity, the value proposition, and the time meant that when I finally did settle on a game, I went deep. All the items, all the secrets, maxed out levels, every side quest. I’ve forgotten more about Final Fantasy IV than most people will ever remember. You ever get the Imp summon? I did. Did you ever call the Nintendo Hotline to inquire about the handaxe weapon listed in the manual but found nowhere in the game? I did. Did you ever, by hand, map the levels at which Rydia learned every black magic spell? I did. Did you ever get the Adamant armor? I did … not. But not for lack of trying! Damn you, pink puffs!

RPGs in general were a natural fit for my game-buying equation. Also, my brother had no real interest in playing them, which meant he would bug me less often about sharing them. Bonus! However, starting in my mid-twenties, I began to cool on the genre. Thirty hours was a great length. But sixty? Ninety? I just couldn’t be bothered to learn all the crazy new fantasy names and words, job┬ásystems and magic rules. It just felt like a … grind.

The hero, the innocent, the pro, and the knave. Classic.

And then, somehow, that love was rekindled by none other than the weirdest-named game of them all: Bravely Default. This title makes no sense whatsoever. The plot includes multiple realities and a world-devouring Ouroboros. A job system is heavily featured as the way to build up your party and it has all kinds of new terms and rules. But, man, it sucked me in. In 2012 I put every eighty hours into Bravely Default. And I wasn’t bored for a second. Why? Because Bravely Default made some radical changes to the way you leveled up your team. Not only could you increase the literal speed of battles, you could basically put them on auto-pilot. You could pre-program your characters to follow a certain pattern, and with the 4x speed, this made learning abilities and leveling up a breeze. I could grind while watching a movie or reading a book, and then spend my attention on combining the new abilities and having fun with the story and the combat. It’s a game-changing mechanic that should be in every similar RPG going forward. It made me fall in love with the genre again.

Every town was unique and beautifully realized.

Aside from that main difference, Bravely Default is a special cocktail of things I love. For example, the world of Luxendarc revolves around the power of elemental crystal that have begun to darken and must be restored to light. Get it? “Luxendarc”? The staple RPG character who loses his memory is named Ringabel. That trope ring a bell? Aside from puns, the costumes and abilities tied to different jobs are fun and varied, the dialogue is lighthearted (mostly) and fun, the story is epic and crazy but not crazily obtuse. I had lost that lovin’ feeling, but Bravely Default assured me that it’s far from gone.