Like SMTIV before it, Bravely Default is a game that I've been hyped about ever since a western release was announced. I downloaded it from the eShop last night and haven't really been able to put it down since (well, actually it's been helpful keeping me awake while I monitor the bitcoin price).
Here are my thoughts on the first 5 hours:
Bravely Default truly is a modern old-school JRPG (complete with a story revolving around 4 crystals) that learns from the shortcomings and technological limitations of its predecessors.
One of the best things about it is the freedom it offers you to play the game however you want. Purists can choose to turn off the objective marker and explore the world map without ever having to wonder where you have to go. Hate random encounters? Lower the encounter rate or turn it off completely. You will have to grind at some point to catch up, but at least BD lets you do it on your own terms (you can lower the difficulty, but you'll receive less exp and vice versa).
While the overall plot might be all too familiar, the game deals with some heavy subject matter. Despite the ages of the cast and their youthful appearances, BD doesn't shy away from the topic of death and its consequences. The introductory chapter sets the tone for things to come.
Speaking of the cast, BD puts a twist on the all-too-familiar amnesiac stereotype. Ringabel, the game's designated amnesiac, has a journal that tells the future. The irony's quite hilarious.
There is a TON of strategic possibilities with the job system thanks to the ability to equip passive and secondary active skills learned from other jobs. Coupled with the equipment and you can spend ages just trying to optimize your characters.
The brave and default system makes a huge difference to how you approach battles. You'll stockpile braves for the easier encounters, but you have to tread a fine line for bosses. Imagine this scenario: the boss is almost down, you've got one person left, and you go for the kill by using up your braves. He's down to the single digits but your last attack misses and he counters to wipe you out. Yeah, tough luck.
The village-rebuilding minigame is incredibly addictive thanks to the fact that it nets you actual (and essential!) stuff to use, such as weapons.
The hand-drawn backdrops of the towns are insanely beautiful. Prepare to have your mind blown when you turn up the 3D slider in Ancheim.
Last but not least, you get an airship by the first chapter. This game does not screw around.
In summation, if you're tired of Square Enix's recent experimentation with the numbered FF games and want a throwback to the '90s without some of the frustrating mechanics, go pick up Bravely Default.