Bravely Default 3DS

Bravely Default 3DS
Japanese role-playing games have long been considered a dying, if not dead, genre outside of where the sun rises. Even Final Fantasy, the iconic series that defined JRPGs, has been struggling to maintain relevancy in recent years.

And then along comes the oddly named Bravely Default, an exceptionally epic 3DS game that makes everyone remember why we liked JRPGs in the first place. It's been dubbed a "spiritual sequel" to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, the lukewarmly received 2010 FF offshoot, but its real success is drawing inspiration from classic early-'90s Final Fantasy titles while introducing enough new gameplay tweaks and high-end production values to make it feel current.

JRPGs are often criticized in the west for their slow-paced, turn-based combat and endless random encounters. Bravely Default brilliantly bypasses all that by allowing you to reduce or even eliminate random encounters, raise or lower difficulty levels, speed up fights and even set up an auto mode to reduce grinding. In fact, the title itself refers not to the story or setting but the unique battle system; you can be brave and use a bunch of turns at once or default and hold back to give yourself more impact in a later round, adding an extra strategic element.

Bravely Default centres on a party of four young adventurers who must save the world by protecting some magic crystals or whatever. It's got the genre's traditional unnecessarily complex narrative full of familiar fantasy tropes, corruption and conflict, though the characterization is refreshingly deep and/or amusingly quixotic while the cut-scenes and hand-painted art design are gorgeous and often ingenious, not to mention really playing off the auto-stereoscopic 3D. The score is pretty sweeping, too.

It's no mean feat to mine nostalgia without striking retro, and Bravely Default should be lauded for pulling it off. (Square Enix/Nintendo)