By Denpa no Sekai . May 12, 2009 . 1:09pm
[ This guest post is written by Denpa no Sekai and he gives us a detailed look at the PSP remake of Brandish. Thank you for sharing this with us and highlighting a game that may not see the light of day outside of Japan! ]
Nihon Falcom’s Brandish is without a doubt a curious animal that requires extensive research in order to comprehend the undying love it receives from a small army of battle-hardened fans, despite being panned universally by the gaming press. This series of four real-time rogue-like RPGs markets itself on specific factors: intense difficulty, claustrophobia-inducing level design, sadistic traps and complex control mechanisms. Not exactly your recipe for a successful game, yet Falcom bravely stuck with it over the years. Casual gamers, meet your worst nightmare!
Starting in 1991, all four games came out on Japanese PC98 computers until the fourth and currently final entry was ported to Windows in 1998. In 1995, Koei exposed North American gamers to a graphically-reduced SNES port of the original Brandish that not only took many liberties plot-wise, but also covered up the salacious female antagonist Dela Delon in yet another tragic instance of prudish Western localization, far too common in the nineties. The game otherwise proved to be a very enjoyable experience to gamers looking for something different. While Brandish 2 was also ported to Nintendo’s stalwart 16-bit console, it never made it across the Pacific due to largely unfavorable reviews of the original as well as the SNES being on its last legs.
Flash-forward to March 2009 as Nihon Falcom just released a PSP version of the original Brandish game that made more enemies than fans on this side of the pond. Initial trailers revealed that the remake would remain largely faithful to the original, except with a fresh coat of three-dimensional paint and an arranged soundtrack from Falcom’s acclaimed J.D.K. band. But with the hope that The Dark Revenant would get in the hands of more people than just its original fans, the developers revised some of the vilest shortcomings in order to prevent financially harmful spiel from influencing game reviewers.
The story is unchanged: our “hero” Ares is still being pursued by the scantily-clad wizard Dela Delon, who is hoping to exact revenge for the death of her master at Ares’ hands. During one of their no doubt countless encounters, Dela puts on a little too much explosive heat, the ground splits open and they both plummet to the resting place of an ancient kingdom swallowed by the Earth. A number of people call these ruins home, years after they fell in themselves. Surprisingly though, all of them run well-stocked shops as if they just knew Ares would stumble in one of these days and shower them with money in exchange of some very expensive spell scrolls. Other than a few sidequests, this mostly constitutes the player’s involvement with NPCs, though they do have a lot to say if you choose to heed their chatter.
The ruins of the ancient kingdom look splendid in 3D, much better than the simple sprites of the SNES version (old-school nostalgia aside). There are no overly impressive moments, since advanced graphics were never Falcom’s forte, nor did Brandish ever need rely on such shallow crutches to stand out. Still, 3D models of enemies give a much better idea of what these monsters were supposed to look like in the first place. There are also a few moments where Falcom used the now-available camera to create dramatic sweeps that were not previously possible. The best part is that the mood of the game still remains dark and ominous despite the graphical transition. Musically, that’s a whole different story. Falcom have always prided themselves on superior game soundtracks, especially since the PC Engine CD version of Ys I & II (one of Alfa System’s first jobs) was lavished with worldwide praise in 1990. The Dark Revenant is hardly different, as players are offered an astonishing arranged soundtrack that was lovingly crafted… but nostalgia is only an option menu away as the original PC98 score is also included.
The oft-maligned overhead camera rotation mechanism returns with a few welcome tweaks. First of all, hitting L/R will immediately rotate the camera, as opposed to holding them down and then pressing a direction. Makes you wonder why it wasn’t like this all along, as this is such a simple yet overwhelming change. Secondly, given the new 3D environment, your surroundings rotate visually as you change perspective, completely removing the disorienting feeling from the original games. Better yet, you will now have to rotate your perspective a lot less, as players can now see doors, levers, switches and cracked walls from any angle!
These improvements alone redeem the existence of this remake, but they took things further by including a brand new mode upon completion of the main quest. Dela Mode lets you switch the roles as you explore a different part of the ruins with another character for nearly 10 hours of even more intense dungeon crawling than you thought possible. On top of the main quest, this means players can look forward to over 30 hours of gameplay, which is impressive in comparison to past Falcom titles. Don’t forget that unlike most RPGs, there is barely any level grinding involved in Brandish, so that’s a lot of exploration.
Other enhancements include the auto-mapping system which is perhaps as good as it can get for the PSP. Surely this feature would have been more appropriately handled on the DS, but then the game would have seen a severe drop in graphics and music. The addition of a casino is far less interesting than Dela Mode, although it offers two new pieces of equipment that players will no doubt want to obtain. Gambling-averse gamers need not worry: you can also purchase them with regular money, rendering the whole casino addition useless.
As of this writing, there are no announced plans by any American publishers to pick up Brandish PSP. The first suspect would be Atlus USA given their recent Ys DS title, but they are possibly far too busy with other games to even consider this one. On the other hand, the game is perfectly playable with little to no knowledge of the Japanese language as it includes a fair amount of English text. But whoever steps up better have a lot of courage and balls to bring this one to market successfully, as we live in an age of hand-holding and forgiving “challenges”, which is the exact anti-thesis of this game. Get ready to see the “Game Over” screen over and over again if you choose to give this game a chance. But if Capcom could do it with Mega Man 9, then surely there is hope for Brandish to return to these shores.