While RPG fans in the EU are having a field day with the full release of Bravely Default: Flying Fairy (and loving it), those of us in North America have to satiate ourselves with a demo. Luckily it's a brilliant demo that shows off exactly why North American gamers should have February 7th firmly marked on their calendars.
Most times I would start off by telling readers exactly what part of the final game is represented in the demo, but surprisingly that doesn't apply here. The demo is actually a unique experience that has no direct corollary with any specific part of the final product. This means that you can play to your heart's content without worrying about spoilers, but it also means you shouldn't expect the narrative to really move along. This is a time to try out the battle system, do some side quests, and marvel at just how pretty the game is.
You start out in a small town in the middle of a desert where you're asked to help the villagers with any requests that they might have. The town exists mostly in two dimensions which makes it a bit on the small side but the architectural details - like the huge clock in the center of town - help to give it its own identity. Exploring the wilds outside of town reminded me most of classic RPGs from the SNES era, where the length of your excursions was dictated by your health and other resources. This can probably be mitigated later in the game when healers have more potent abilities, but at the beginning it looks to be a major factor.
Speaking of healer abilities, Bravely Default's demo shows off a pretty interesting job system. At any time outside of battle characters can switch to a job and earn levels for that job to gain new skills. So along with experience points that increase your character's level, you also get job points which increase the characters' job levels. Abilities can be equipped from the job you are currently using, as well as from other jobs that that same character has leveled up, so there's reason to switch between a couple of different jobs with each character. I always love job-based battle systems since they allow for an amount of customization not usually seen in JRPGs and this one works just as you'd hope.
The other notable thing about Bravely Default is the battle system's use of its namesake. Each character has Brave Points which you can increase (by defaulting and skipping your turn) or decrease (by performing actions). Defaulting also acts as a guard, so it's not solely useful for accruing Brave Points. Once you've accumulated some Brave Points you can use them to take multiple actions in a single turn, but if you overdo it and go into negative Brave Points that character will be useless for a few turns while their Brave Points regenerate. It's an interesting system because it focuses on bursts of activity in a turn based battle system which would usually be pretty consistently paced.
If I had any complaints it would have to be the focus on social systems. Throughout the demo you're able to help with the restoration of a town that is in disarray. You can assign tasks to the villagers there but these usually take an incredibly long time to finish (~10 hours) which appears to only include time you are actually playing. If you want to decrease this time you have to bring more workers to the village by getting StreetPasses. For someone who never really takes their handhelds around with them in sleep mode this basically makes the village building part of the demo entirely useless. That would be fine, but the only way to improve your equipment during the demo is by using this system. Couple that with the limited number of times you can open the demo and this means I got a lot less fun out of the demo than I otherwise would have.
All in all I loved the battle and job systems that are shown off in the demo, and I'm hopeful that the issues I found with the over reliance on the social aspects of the system will not be as impactful in the full release. I can definitely see why European reviewers enjoyed the game, and I'm excited to try it for myself come February.