Gaming

Bravely Default and the Big Book of RPG Cliches

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So I got Bravely Default for Christmas, and it’s pretty much fantastic. It’s a deliberately self-conscious celebration and expansion of classic JRPG tropes, and is a better Final Fantasy game than pretty much every Final Fantasy title Square Enix has put out for years. It plays great, it looks great, it sounds great and it genuinely offers up a few fresh, novel twists on the JRPG formula.

Seriously, listen to this.

There’s also neat additions like the passive bonuses of special moves being active so long as the special move music is still playing, a “Merchant” class based around using and acquiring money and the game’s namesake mechanics “Brave” and “Default” which allow you to use extra turns in advance and store up turns you don’t want to use respectively.

I was having a fantastic time, barreling through the game with a cast of characters culled from the Big Book of RPG Cliches. There’s the kid with the destroyed village, the last-of-her-kind with special powers who must save the world, the amnesiac with a mysterious past and the former soldier of the evil empire. In short, I’m trying to say that I don’t believe for a moment that in a game this self-consciously playing with classic JRPG formulas didn’t do a single thing without thinking it was charmingly retro or innovative and interesting.

Which is why absolutely everything about the Florem arc can fuck right off.

Oh, and spoilers.

With there being four elemental Crystals to save, there are the mandatory four “kingdoms”, each of which house one of the four Crystals. These Crystals have been damaged by a mysterious dark force and the world is suffering for their loss. Anchiem holds the Wind Crystal, and without the constant desert wind to turn the Great Mill, the King and the Merchantry are forcing people to work incredibly long hours and buy essentials at wildly inflated prices. I really dug this arc, especially since it gave a more human and immediate consequence to the loss of the Wind Crystal than “the air was bad”.

Florem, on the other hand, is an all-female matriarchy full of beautiful woods and wildlife that has been corrupted into a dying land. Oddly enough, this isn’t due to the Crystal’s influence (the loss of the Water Crystal “rotted” the oceans and made them impossible to traverse) but a guerilla campaign by the evil Eternian empire to turn the inhabitants of Florem away from the Crystal-based religion.

When entering Florem, you are introduced to an all-female division of the Eternian army called the Blood Rose Legion (the bestiary descriptions for whose soldiers all mention their attractive bodies and dresses). We are lead to believe that the Valkyrie Einheria Venus is its leader in the area, and the various sub quests in Florem deal with you uncovering the Eternian plot to corrupt Florem.

See, Florem was a nation of demure, pious women concerned with their devotion to Crystalism but has since become a land of vapid, mean, fashion obsessed women. Oh, the horror, women enjoying looking nice and making a conscious effort to make themselves feel good through their appearance. What corruption. Truly, the Blood Rose Legion are monstrous and wicked foes.

Ringabel, the amnesiac party member whose every other line is either a come-on or a comment on how creepily single-minded he is about pursuing beautiful women, loves this. Agnés, the devout Crystalist, is deeply troubled by this. Nice to see our “heroes” indulge in both gross objectification and femme-shaming in one scene.

Completing sub quests is how you unlock new Classes, so it’s obviously something you want to hop to as soon as you can. That means you’ll have to chase down Mephilia the Summoner, whose task was to remove the wings of fairies in order to craft them into hairpins which naturally release a toxin that dull the mind and draw out aggression. This made her snap and become a psychotic, sadistic killer who answers only to her sister Einheria.

After that large dose of ableism, you’ll be off to track down Artemia the Hunter. Her task was to slay the Orochi, magical snake-guardians of Florem whose corpses produce an enzyme that corrupts & withers the forests of Florem. This has, once again, sent her mad. She’s now a feral, Tarzan-like figure who speaks in broken English and answers only to her sister Einheria. Gotta love that ableism.

The only one of the sisters not to “go mad” is Einheria herself, who just so happens to be the only one of them who isn’t actively involved in destroying a symbol of the old Florem life of demure piousness. Funny that.

Bravely Default - Agnes

Agnés’ official artwork.

When mixed in with the game forcing Agnés to enter a beauty contest before it allows you to proceed, despite the fact there is literally nothing stopping you from saving the Crystal without competing, the Florem arc is pretty damn horrible. Also, dear Bravely Default, you don’t get to make a conventionally attractive character like Agnés and then try to tell us she’s a “plain Jane”.

But then we come to the Red Mage. Introduced as just another sleazy pickup artist who earns the instant admiration of resident sleaze Ringabel, investigating his “technique” reveals the most gross and toxic information yet. For one thing, it turns out the Red Mage (real name: Fiore de Rosa) is actually the leader of the Blood Rose Legion. So that’s an automatic downgrade for the one non-“crazy” sister.

For the rest, it turns out Fiore has been running the long game. It was he who changed much of Florem’s culture through bribing important institutions to value physical appearances over Crystalist & traditional Florem values. Then he flooded the market with the “must have” fashion items–hair dye and hairpins–which secrete chemicals that work to make the population unpleasant, dumb and obsessed with getting prettier and more stylish.

But that wasn’t enough for old de Rosa, oh no. He’s been personally worming his way to power in Florem for a long time. He uses a specially created cologne that drives people mad with desire to effectively date-rape the entire nation. Once he’s kidnapped the woman in question, he “extracts” from their bodies the ingredients needed to make more of this cologne and at the end, the woman in question is said to be so hopelessly in love with him that they’ll do whatever he says.

He explains this to the party while he rattles off such endearing pearls of wisdom as “women are fickle” and “women are creatures of emotion”. Killing him is not something I’ll angst over any time soon.

Luckily, Ringabel loses his admiration for de Rosa. Apparently, Ringabel now thinks treating women like “objects” is wrong. In that case, could you maybe stop being a disgusting creep at every turn, Ringabel?

So class, what has Bravely Default taught us today?  Femme is bad. Women are fragile and emotionally unstable. Doesn’t matter if women are there as soldiers, give them dresses and talk about their curves. Beauty pageants are so vital to the plot they must be shoehorned in even if it makes no sense (but femme is still bad). Oh, and that a serial date rapist with views on women that’d make a Republican Senator blush is a better fit to command an army legion than a competent woman.

This fire kingdom we’re off to had better be really fucking amazing, Bravely Default.

A good chap who frequently gets tea leaves stuck in his eyebrows.

13 Comments

  1. Skeptic

    January 6, 2014 at 2:30 PM

    Not to defend the writing being described here- it sounds at best extremely cliche, and I’m of a like mind to the author in regards to the sexism- but I’m a little confused by the use of the term ‘ableism’ in this article. Is the plot element of altering a character’s mental faculties through magic or drugs, and portraying that change as for the worse, in itself discriminatory? Artemia sounds like an offensive caricature of a mentally handicapped person, but I’m not seeing how Mephilia is equally offensive, as I’m unable to convince myself that psychotic, sadistic killers deserve to be portrayed as anything other than mentally abnormal.

    • THE AUTHOR (DUN DUN DUN)

      January 6, 2014 at 3:28 PM

      Author here. While showing that mind altering substances and events that are traumatic to a person causing mental health problems is not in and of itself a problem, I do believe that there are still problems here. I must admit, I’m working from memory and cannot be 100% sure that the word “psychopath” was explicitly used, but Mepihilia is portrayed as suffering from some kind of mental illness. The way the scene is framed, it makes it seem as if Mephilia’s current mental condition is the reason for her change into a cruel, sadistic and bloodthirsty person. Far too often mental illness (most commonly psychopathy/sociopathy) is depicted as a catch-all “reason” why a person is cruel, sadistic, evil, a murderer etc. Mental illness is not, in and of itself, a “reason” that a person is a bad person or does bad things, and is far more complex. If the game didn’t also feature Artemia and the deliberate mass-drugging of an entire nation in such close proximity, I might not have mentioned Mephilia. But it does contribute to the negative assumption that mental illness can somehow make a person “evil”, and that being mentally ill is a dangerous and destructive thing. My issue with Mephilia is mostly due to lazy writing contributing to the demonisation of mental illness rather than the specifics of the scene and character.

      • Rachel

        January 6, 2014 at 4:26 PM

        Elijah your display name.

        • THE AUTHOR (DUN DUN DUN)

          January 6, 2014 at 4:29 PM

          Of course, I’ll have to sign *out* of Disqus & sign back in again with Twitter whenever it’s somebody else’s article, but that’s a small price to pay.

        • Rachel

          January 6, 2014 at 7:12 PM

          I think you can change your Disqus display name ;) But in the meantime, it amuses me.

  2. Ryan

    January 6, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    That’s terrible that the story takes such a turn. I hope it improves! I was really excited for this title, now not so much. I might just pick up Lighting Returns instead or finally just do that Persona 3 play through I’ve been putting off. :/

    • Kelly

      January 6, 2014 at 9:01 PM

      I’m pretty disappointed too, but it sounds like the rest of the game is pretty on point? Even so, this sounds pretty tiring. (I also need to finish a Persona 3 playthrough, too, soooo…)

      • Ryan

        January 7, 2014 at 12:29 AM

        Yeah, the rest of the game looks so good too. (Especially the music!) From what I played in the demo it is very nostalgia driven, but a very robust and fun game as well. I agree, this chunk of the story sounds like it really sucked out some enjoyment. I’ll probably still check it out if college doesn’t crush me with work haha.

        • THE AUTHOR (DUN DUN DUN)

          January 8, 2014 at 8:30 AM

          After the Florem arc, things do get better. I still recommend it, though. I stalled on it for several days after Florem, but I’ve been playing it in pretty much every spare moment since I got back into it.

  3. Kelly

    January 6, 2014 at 8:58 PM

    I’m still boggled by Agnés being described as a “Plain Jane.” Lord, then what does it take to NOT be a “Plain Jane”? And why is she considered a “Plain Jane” anyway?

    • John Vogel

      September 20, 2014 at 10:36 AM

      She’s considered a Plain Jane because she has brown hair, brown eyes, and no makeup.

      Everywhere else in the game, everyone says she’s beautiful. In Florem, they see her has a Plain Jane because they’re fixated on neon hair-dye trends, accessories, and makeup that they ignore natural beauty.

  4. Steve

    March 31, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    The Florem situation is supposed to show how the Bloodrose Legion distracted and subdued the population with trojan horses of fashion items. There was nothing wrong with the inherent fashion trend, more that the use of mind-altering substances caused the citizens of Florem to be manipulated into taking it too far.

    The longer you play Bravely Default, the more you will find that the situations of its characters are not as simple as they initially appear. Characters like Artemia and Mephilia are more fleshed out as details of their own lives and past are revealed, helping to explain how they have become who they are today. At the least, you should be able to currently read Mephilia’s Memo, which will serve to hint at her past. This past will be further hinted at on your way to the fire crystal, if you do all the subquests.

    All I can suggest is that you play on. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

  5. SupahFemmeBitch

    April 27, 2014 at 6:14 PM

    just shut the fuck up about your desire to be better than men,
    you already are
    all you femmes should die in a fire and stop ruining the good things with your paranoia

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