Delving Into Brandish: The Dark Revenant

By Denpa no Sekai . May 12, 2009 . 1:09pm

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[ 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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.


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  • pedrron

    So, no chance in hell of this coming over to the US? Because this looks great. :(

  • conchobhar

    we really need to see more Falcom games here. I want to play Zwei :(

  • Malek86

    Oh my, a real time action rogue-like?

    I must get this as soon as possible.

  • Dais

    what the hell.

    1. it’s not a roguelike by any stretch of the imagination
    2. “not only took many liberties plot-wise,” – I have never heard this
    3. Few people in the US have even *heard* of the PSP remake, let alone played it
    4. (opinion) The 2D enemy designs are a lot clearer than the 3D ones
    5. considering the original had an auto-mapping system, some description of the ADDITIONS which made the automapping system better might be warranted

    • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

      1. It is to me and to most fans I’ve talked to. How’s this: emphasis on the LIKE? What do you call it anyway… I opened by saying Brandish is one hell of a curious beast. The best comparison I could give is Nightmare of Druaga without the turn-based gameplay that makes it rogue-like. Hence real-time rogue-like. I honestly believe this is the best description.

      2. I was specifically referring to the huge differences between the Japanese and English versions of Brandish 1. Most of the names and are completely different. The biggest offenders are Varik instead of Ares and Alexis (a guy’s name!!) instead of Dela Delon. To me that’s insulting enough. But then the name of the kingdom’s different, the king’s, most people, etc. But since we’re talking about the SNES game, I will admit that the localizers used impeccable grammar and generally charming shop chatter.

      3. Your point being? Mine was this: do a quick Brandish search. Most of the reviews, youtube videos and articles completely lambast the game for being what it is. It doesn’t matter that it sold less than 5000 copies, the idea is that it was completely torn apart. In fact, until Opoona, Koei never released a proper RPG after this Brandish “fiasco” (unless you count Saiyuki). Yes this is extremely far-fetched, but do you finally catch my drift?

      4. If you’re talking about the PC98 version, agreed in some capacity. The SNES sprites are kinda on the blurry side.

      5. Sure. You can place something like 20 different markers on your map (akin to PC98 Brandish 3, possibly 2, only played SFC). This helps tremendously with locked chests, doors and cracked walls (when you don’t have a sledgehammer). Perhaps the best improvement is that the map is displayed ON your screen, unlike the Nintendo port. You don’t have to press Start and go “OK, where am I exactly and which direction am I headed in” every time. Oh, here’s the kicker. You can scroll through ALL maps you’ve previously visited. SUPER useful when you need to backtrack and make sure you’re jumping into the right pit.

      Hope that’s clear enough now. Also a bit of a personal mea culpa, since you seem to want to nitpick this article anyway, is that the Casino WAS in the PC98 version, but was REMOVED in the 16-bit port. Clearly that was too mature for a Nintendo game of that era.

      • Dais

        I’m not really trying to bust your balls, but I have uncommon insight into very few things in the world, and Brandish is one of them, so when I see something I think is wrong, I jump on it. It’s a bad habit of mine that tends to lead to nasty confrontations.

        (I was going to say the casino was in the -98 version, but I wasn’t sure, and couldn’t find it at Wanderer’s Lodge where I thought I had seen it before)

        You say most of the names in the US SNES version are completely different, but I wouldn’t really consider that as taking “many liberties” – in the majority of games, names really have no actual significance (and when they do, it’s usually very shallow). If you have some information on actual dialogue being altered in a meaningful way, though (other than perhaps some language being toned down), I’d love to hear about it..

        I read your sentence about ‘enemies on this side of the pond’ wrong, I thought you were commenting on reactions to the PSP version. That was a mistake on my part. However, I think it’s a bit misleading to cite things like Youtube videos and such as examples of how poorly the game was received, though – most stuff like that is from people who heard about this “really shitty SNES game” from a friend who heard about it from a friend who heard about it from a guy who was randomly downloading ROMS.

        Emulation has done wonders for preservation and history-keeping, but it’s also led to some unfortunate distortions of how games are perceived, as the negative reactions people have to games today are projected backwards and mixed with the genuine memories of people who actually played the games when they came out. While it’s true that Brandish doesn’t have a good reputation, I think it’s unnecessary to sell it as having much of a reputation at all – it barely made a dent in anyone’s mind. I understand that it’s hard to attract much attention to the game without mentioning the negative perception, but the temptation to oversell that aspect should be resisted.

        I’m also going to be a wikipedia-style asshole and ask a few cites for it’s “universal panning”. I’m not saying you’re lying, but there’s not much reliable record of scores like that left on the internet.

        As for what I’d call Brandish…well, that’s a bit tricky, but I’d call it a “deliberate action-RPG” or something like that. Personally, I’ve always seen it sort of as someone taking an early first-person (Wizardry, Eye of the Beholder, etc), single-character dungeon crawler and then changing the perspective to directly overhead (which I think was Falcom’s original intent). It shares some similarities with the Chunsoft-derived console-style roguelikes like Shiren and stuff, but a lot of the things that roguelike fans considered inherent to the genre – random generation of dungeons and/or items and/or monsters, extra emphasis on resource management and item identification – simply aren’t present in Brandish. That’s not to say there aren’t some definite things in common (unlike an unfortunate amount of regular and action-RPGs, not paying attention in Brandish will get you killed quickly, like a roguelike), but I really don’t think you’re presenting the right image when you call it a roguelike. I’m a real stickler (in the stick(ler)-up-the-ass sense) about these things.

        Finally, if you have the ability to edit the news post, I’d go and add some youtube videos to it – the PSP trailer, videos of the PSP gameplay, maybe even videos of the older versions.

        • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

          I don’t know where to start, but let’s get this straight: I’m a hardcore Brandish fan, you’re a hardcore Brandish fan, so we should be throwing down a big party instead of doing this little “who’s right” game. The main point of this article was to present this gem of a game to an entirely new audience. So forgive me for “walking out” but I don’t really have the patience to refute each and every single one of your counter points. I don’t really care, because I have more fun things to do — playing Brandish for instance. And I’m sure we can agree on that one.

          That said, here are some concessions, just for the sake of pleasing each and every Siliconera reader, as this is by and far the best gaming blog in the galaxy [citation required]. Replace “many liberties” with “ill-chosen liberties” (those names are vomit-inducing). Replace “rogue-like” with “rogue-like inspired”. But I still think the “action” part of Brandish is basically what all those Chunsoft games would be doing if they ditched the turn-based system. In fact, unless you’re being attacked from behind, Brandish essentially becomes a turn-based RPG when you encounter enemies that can defend themselves. It’s just that you can hit more than once per turn, with the right timing. (I know you know this, but think of the children!!!)

          And citations… c’mon. They were never on the internet in the first place. Gaming mags (including NP) at the time were more than happy to slap anything below 5/10 on this one to make sure their other bloated reviews didn’t look as suspicious. I’m sorry but I won’t be forcing my mom to rummage through my old boxes I left at her place, just to have her scroll through every copy of Nintendo Power, GameFan and EGM until she finds those Brandish reviews. How about this piece by J. Parish himself. But interestingly, note how he’s now completely in love with the remake. That right there is a testament to how good this new version really is.

          • skyewelse

            I agree, Brandish fans should unite not make war. : )

  • Wonder

    I was really interested in this game until I saw the T&A cover. Pass.

    • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

      Same cover as 18 years ago, pal.

    • skyewelse

      Eh, people shouldn’t judge the game by it’s cover anyway or you’d surely miss out on some great titles like ICO and Beyond Good and well… Phalanx.: )

      Besides, Brandish isn’t about T&A, it only happens to have a side-character who happens to be an antagonist of all things, that has a personality to match the style of outfit she wears. Her character wouldn’t be the same unless she dressed that way.

      Anyhow, I’m a new fan to the Brandish series and TDR was nothing short of amazing in terms of gameplay, level design and game mechanics, music and haunting atmosphere. So if you are passing it up based on a cover, there’s no telling how many other great games you’ve been passing up all this time for the same reasons.

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