One of my favorite games of 2014 is sadly getting the free-to-play treatment in Japan. That's just one way to look this story, or we can sit back and just as easily say that one of my favorite games from 2014 is getting an extended demo which allows you to play through half of the game before having to cough up a single yen.
Square Enix is trying something a little new in order to bring in a larger audience to its handheld sensation, Bravely Default. Of course, the game is already a surprise hit, surging past expectations all over the world, but there are still many who haven't played it. For those people, Square Enix has a new demo/free-to-play scheme to get them involved.
Starting on July 28, Nintendo 3DS owners in Japan will be able to download the game and get the first four chapters for free. That's roughly half of the game, and the entire portion of the plot which makes sense before it jets off into crazy land. Afterwards, players will be able to determine for themselves if the game is worth finishing or not by making a one-time payment of 2000 yen ($20), less than half of the retail launch price.
Of course, Bravely Default is awesome, and Chapter 4 ends with a huge climactic explosion. My guess is over 90 percent of those playing will want to see where the events go if they make it to that point.
Is this a demo, or is it free-to-play? I can't really tell here. You are getting the real game through this business model, and the only difference is you pay a cheaper price halfway through. I delivers more content and better quality than the average free-to-play fare, but it's way too long to be considered a demo.
Either way, it's a brilliant little experiment and an excellent idea to keep a game profitable well after it has already reaped the benefits of its launch window. Who would like to see this approach catch on for aging games of any console or country?
For what it's worth, the original Bravely Default demo was already a brilliant original spin on the whole "idea" of a demo, creating unique scenarios outside of the game's canon and granting special items for the main game to those who completed its quests. Whoever is marketing this game at Square Enix needs to seriously be given five raises. I just hope it's not the same person who passed on the localization rights to Nintendo.