I won't lie; I was a little bewildered by how Reggie Fils-Aime chose to present Bravely Default in the Nintendo Direct just before Christmas.
For those who missed it, Fils-Aime opened not with an exploration of the game in general or a focus on its intriguing story, deep job system and excellent music, but with an explanation of "Sleep Points." These form the backbone of a mechanic called Bravely Second whereby for every eight hours you leave your 3DS in Sleep mode with Bravely Default running, you earn one "Sleep Point" which can subsequently be used during the turn-based battles to sneak in an extra action when you wouldn't normally be able to have one.
Controversially, Fils-Aime also introduced another means of acquiring Sleep Points: microtransactions. Yes, you can purchase a "potion" from the eShop that immediately refills your Sleep Points up to their maximum of three at any point, and by "purchase" I do indeed mean "with real money."
We'd known about the fact that Bravely Default had microtransactions prior to this explicit explanation and demonstration, but it was interesting to see it placed front-and-center like this, even before any discussion of the game itself or the now-available demo -- which is, incidentally, well worth a play if you haven't tried it already, since it doesn't spoil anything from the main game.
Sleep Points are there as an "in case of emergency" option, but they're not a game-breaking pay-to-win button.
Given the controversy over the amount of microtransactions in a number of next-gen console titles -- particularly those on Xbox One -- a number of prospective Bravely Default purchasers found themselves feeling somewhat more cautious about the new game now they knew it had the option to effectively buy your way out of trouble. And ordinarily I would be right there with them -- I loathe microtransactions in games, and would much rather be able to play something safe in the knowledge that I've paid for it once and can consequently play it forever without any further charges.
But this time around, they're thankfully wrong to worry. I've spent about 20 hours with Bravely Default to date, you see, and in that time I've used Sleep Points precisely twice. In both instances, I'd been carrying around a full stock of three Sleep Points at all times thanks to leaving my 3DS in Sleep mode with the game running as suggested, and in both instances if I had handled the battle in question a little better I would probably not have got myself into the situation where I'd need to use a Sleep Point.
The biggest worry that people (including myself) have with microtransactions in general is the fear that the game content has somehow been rebalanced or skewed to subtly -- or, in some cases, not-so-subtly -- nudge players in the direction of the various payment options. But in Bravely Default's case I can say with some confidence this absolutely isn't the case. The Sleep Points are there as an "in case of emergency" option, but I'm confident that the game can be beaten without using them at all if you so desire. And they're not a game-breaking "pay to win" button, either, as I discovered to my cost last night: if an enemy is in the middle of a lengthy Summon spell animation -- yes, all reports you have heard of this being a PS1-era Final Fantasy in all but name are absolutely true -- then using a Sleep Point isn't going to do anything until the animation is over, by which point your party may well already be wiped out. Besides, with a maximum of three Sleep Points on hand at any one time -- that's just three extra actions -- you're probably not going to win a fight using Sleep Points alone.
What I'm most pleased about with the Sleep Points system, however, is that they're not obtrusive. After the game has introduced them to you once, you never hear about them ever again. It never once nags or badgers you into spending extra money, and the on-screen display of how many you have available during battle is subtle and easy to ignore. The game's business model never once intrudes on the core game experience, in other words, and that's something which should be celebrated.
The game's business model never once intrudes on the core game experience, and that's something which should be celebrated.
With that in mind, let's also talk about the game's social features, because these, too, are somewhat interesting.
Bravely Default is a single-player traditional JRPG at its core, but through the use of Internet connectivity and StreetPass you can involve other people in various ways. For the uninitiated, here's how it works.
Once per day, you can upload your save file to the Internet and receive a number of "Net friend invites" from people who have done likewise in return. Your uploaded file includes your characters' stats and equipped jobs along with a single move that you've chosen in battle specifically to send to other players. This can be anything from a basic attack to the Limit Break-esque "Special Move" abilities, and can be used by other players with the "Summon Friend" option from their battle menu. If you're friends with high-level players, this can effectively become something of an "instant win" button, but there are limitations on how often you can summon each person to prevent abuse.
Alongside this, 3DS friends playing the game or people you StreetPass with can be added to your in-game friends list. These players have all the benefits of your "net friend invites" but you can also perform an action called "Abililink" with them, which allows you to make use of job skills from any jobs they have at a higher level than you. Each friend may only be Abililinked with one of your four party members, though, so to get the most out of this you'll need at least four friends, each of whom has levelled at least one job higher than you have.
Are these features necessary? No, of course not; Bravely Default would be a top-notch old-school JRPG without them. But fear not; this game has its priorities straight.
The core of the social features, though, comes in the form of a minigame where protagonist Tiz is soliciting the help of everyone he can find to help rebuild his village, which is wiped out during the game's introduction. Every player you "net friend invite" or StreetPass with is added to the village's population, and can then be assigned to unlock or level up various structures in the village, with each task taking a certain amount of real time to complete which may be reduced by assigning more than one person to the job. Eventually, through unlocking and upgrading buildings, you'll be able to purchase helpful equipment and items at any save point in the main game, and you'll also unlock new special abilities for the characters.
The interesting thing I find about the village-rebuilding minigame in Bravely Default is that there are mobile and social game developers out there who would put out that minigame by itself and call it a complete product. In the case of Bravely Default, however, it is much more sensibly used as a means of supporting a rock-solid core game experience rather than being the focal point. Like the microtransactions, it's unobtrusive and easily ignored if you so desire -- but at the same time it's also so easy to gather population for your village through net friend invites (four or five of which you'll receive per day) that you may as well engage with it at least a little and enjoy the spoils. There's no obligation to actually interact with other players and not even any obligation to send them a good battle action to get them out of a pinch -- but it can be strangely satisfying to know that somewhere, someone else in the world is also playing Bravely Default and enjoying the witty custom one-liners you assigned to your characters' special abilities.
Are these features necessary? No, of course not; Bravely Default would be a top-notch old-school JRPG without them, and it's debatable how much they actually add to the experience as a whole. But if you were worried that they might actively detract from the experience, then fear not; this game has its priorities straight. More than anything else, Bravely Default is a loving homage to the PS1-era JRPGs of the late '90s and early '00s -- and in that respect, it succeeds admirably. But that, I feel, is a story for another day; watch out for our full review nearer to the game's North American release on February 7.