Square Enix's Bravely Default began life as a Final Fantasy spin-off — specifically, a sequel to 2010's The 4 Warriors of Light for DS — before being rebranded as something new because, ironically, it was too much like old-school Final Fantasy.
Despite its new name and the unique central mechanic from which that name derives, Bravely Default still felt like nothing so much as a classic Final Fantasy title. Certainly it had more in common with the likes of Final Fantasy V than the modern console-based entries in the series like Lightning Returns. From its turn-based combat mechanics to the flexible Job system, Bravely Default was very much a case of a rose by any other name.
For the sequel, Bravely Second, Square Enix seems to be making more of an effort to define the series as something separate from Final Fantasy. The brief slice of the game playable at Tokyo Game Show reveals an RPG very much in the style of the first adventure, but its world has begun to diverge considerably from its origins. Just as the Mana series began as a side story to Final Fantasy and quickly mutated into something distinctly its own, so too does Bravely Second look to be forging its own path.
So while the TGS demo still features a cast of four characters defined in part by the Job system, those Jobs have become a little less familiar. Of the new quartet, only beefy Nicolai falls into a traditional Final Fantasy Job, Red Mage. His skill set works exactly like you'd expect: He's a magic generalist, capable of wielding both White and Black magic in combat. The other classes represented, on the other hand, were harder to get a read on in a rushed Japanese-language demo.
Jan, the Sword Master, seemed the most straightforward: He wielded dual weapons and hit harder than anyone else in the party with his basic attacks. However, his standard attacks were nothing compared to the Jump command available to Magnolia, a Valkyrie. Given its gender-specific name, Valkyrie may simply be a female version of Dragon Knight, give her special command and her use of spears in battle. And then there was Yuu, the Wizard, a class I couldn't get a read on at all. Rather than simply casting spells at foes, the Wizard allows players to execute two-step magic commands; they define both an element and attack type, such as ice/single-target or fire/group-attack.
Likewise, several of the enemies in the demo seemed new to me — less like the 4 Heroes of Light carryovers so common in Bravely Default and instead more original. A surprisingly powerful dangerous enemy called Ringon (after the Japanese word for apple) began fights as a seemingly normal piece of fruit but quickly unfolded into a monster made of apple slices. And green-feathered harpies demonstrated a frustrating fondness for executing consecutive Brave attacks at the beginning of a battle, trading a second turn for a chance to hit my party members extra hard.
Of course, the Brave/Default mechanics still applies for players as well, allowing them to defend and save up potential battle actions (Default) or go all-in and perform multiple actions at once (Brave), with the caveat that going into the negative with their bank of turns would leave them appropriately vulnerable afterwards. As in the first game, the Brave feature demands caution; it's entirely too easy to overdo it and burn through both actions and expendable magic points, especially for mages.
Perhaps most impressive about the Bravely Second demo is how much more refined it seems over the original. Bravely Default is already in the running for most gorgeous 3DS game ever, and Second looks even better. More than that, though, the forest grotto in which the demo is set was far more complex an environment than anything that appeared in the original. Where the first game had a sort of two-dimensionality to its design that looked absolutely gorgeous but amounted to fairly old-school, straightforward level designs, Bravely Second's demo dungeon feels like a statement of intent. Tunnels and bridges throughout the forest made for an intricate contiguous space filled by little pockets and nooks to explore, with treasures and other rewards laying in wait for those who go to the trouble of poking around.
Square Enix hasn't announced Bravely Second for a U.S. release, but even more than with Final Fantasy Explorers it's hard to imagine them not localizing this sequel. The original game was a surprise success for the company in America (where Nintendo took up the slack of publishing), and the company surely realizes that letting the game languish in Japan would amount to leaving money on the table. And even if Square Enix declines again, there's always Nintendo. It could be another year or more before we're playing Bravely Second in English, but it seems a certainty — and based on the current demo, it should be well worth the wait.