Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia, out June 25, 2020 on the Nintendo Switch eShop, is the return of a little-known PlayStation strategy series with a distinct appeal. We asked the game’s producer, Happinet’s Kazuhiro Igarashi, about what it’s like to bring back a niche classic and how the gameplay translates to today’s strategy landscape.
Graham Russell, Siliconera: Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your work in games?
Kazuhiro Igarashi, Happinet: I’m the producer and game designer for Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia. I was in charge of the game design, plot and flavor text. First of all, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the Western fans who played the first Brigandine game released over 20 years ago. We’ve created another game that will draw you in and make you forget the passage of time. We really hope you’ll enjoy it!
The Brigandine series has been dormant for decades. Why is it coming back now? What makes this the right time for the franchise to return?
Igarashi: Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena was released 22 years ago in 1998 by E3 Staff, a subsidiary of Happinet. This also happened to be the year I began working at Happinet. I was very proud of the work done on Forsena and hoped to one day join the development team. Unfortunately, the E3 Staff team was disbanded before my dream became a reality. I spent some time working in marketing, and about 10 years ago, we were finally able to reopen the game development department! We spent a few years gaining experience as game developers and decided to revive the Brigandine franchise with a new game.
Naturally, we considered the route of doing a remake of the first game, but that would have had its own challenges. Nojima, the producer for the first game, and Matsui, who was in charge of monster designs and the Iscalio scenario, were both affiliated with Happinet. Neither still worked in game creation, and the director was no longer with the company. Therefore, rather than attempting a remake without all of the original creators present, we decided to go with a completely new team and game that would nevertheless inherit the unique Brigandine identity.
Western audiences haven’t had much of an opportunity to play a Brigandine game, with the first game’s limited print run and the well-regarded Grand Edition never seeing international release. Is the West ready for The Legend of Runersia? What about the game has been adjusted to account for this new player base?
Igarashi: For Runersia, releasing the English and Japanese editions simultaneously was our top priority. In addition to the planning required to achieve this, we also put considerations into ensuring that the official website had an English option and that updates would be in both languages at the same time.
While we were extremely happy to reveal Runersia during the Japanese Nintendo Direct, it was unfortunately not picked up for broadcast in North America, as we would have loved to have shared our excitement with the Western audience too. So we’re sharing as much as we can in these interviews.
How much was creating an experience faithful to the original Brigandine a priority?
Igarashi: It was key that, at its core, Runersia had the feel of what made the original so enjoyable. If we changed too much, there would be no point in giving it the Brigandine IP, and that Brigandine-ness is what would make it unique among other games currently on the market.
While the original team was unavailable, the wonderful creators who took part in bringing Runersia to life are a very talented team with background in excellent RPGs such as Final Fantasy, Xenoblade and Disgaea. We have Kenji Terada writing the script, Raita Kazama on art and character design and music from Tenpei Sato, who also worked on Brigandine: Grand Edition. I’m proud of what we’ve created together on this joint project between Happinet and Matrix.
The Legend of Runersia has a heavy application of aesthetic and atmosphere. Were there concerns in development that this approach could make the game harder to parse and play? How did you decide when looks or playability should come first?
Igarashi: We didn’t think a focus on aesthetics would make the game harder to play.
What was it like to work with Kenji Terada?
Igarashi: We worked together on this for a long time, and it was really enjoyable! I was already a fan of Kenji Terada’s work to begin with. I was lucky enough that when we first met, I was able to explain Brigandine to him and express my desire for him to take part and write fantasy for games again.
Terada has an original drawing of Astro Boy in the studio from when he worked with Osamu Tezuka early in his career, and we had countless meetings sitting on the sofa set underneath it. It took many hours, but when we finished the script for Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia, he said that I was the only one who could inspire him to work so hard, and that he enjoyed it. To this I replied that I also had fun and was sad we were finished, and that I was honored to have worked with him. Finishing our work with a smile moved me, and I had even more respect for him than when we had first met.
Terada truly is a wonderful script writer.
What was the team’s goal in the creation of this new world and cast of characters? How much did these nations’ tactical capabilities influence their knights’ personalities?
Igarashi: Each of the six nations has their own ideology and history, and it’s up to the player to choose which one they want to be. Who exactly is the main character? Which nations are in the right, and which are in the wrong? That’s all up to the player. It’s not just the rulers; each knight’s true character is up for interpretation as well. Our goal was to create a diverse world like that.
There’s a lot of potential diversity in play style. For example, if you are playing as the Norzaleo Kingdom and avoid direct contact with the Republic of Guimoule, they will grow in power until the ruler Eliza Uzala changes classes in an event and takes an even greater role. However, if another person plays as the Mana Saleesia Theocracy and quells Guimoule early on, Eliza Uzala will meet a completely different fate.
There are over 100 Rune Knights, each with their own tactical abilities and settings. When nations are viewed as groups of these knights, they all have their own features. For example, you could have nations with many knights who are strong attackers, or have a good balance of knights belonging to different classes, or nations led by knights with a few specific strong stats, or perhaps nations populated with young low-level knights who have great potential.
Which is your favorite nation to play? Why?
Igarashi: That’s a very difficult question. Since I built up the nations and rulers of this world from the ground up, they are all special to me. If my daughter were to ask me, “Do people prefer peace or war?” I am certain I would answer peace. But if she were to then ask why I make war simulation games, or why FPS games are so popular, my answer would need further explanation. When you take into consideration evolution and biology, the question becomes even more complicated.
The world of strategy games has changed drastically in the time since the last Brigandine game, both mechanically and in wider acceptance and accessibility. Did you look to other strategy franchises for inspiration during development? What games were influential to the team?
Igarashi: I won’t name any specific titles, but I’ve played many games since I first encountered a hex-based strategy game in the 1980s. As a player myself, I experienced the birth and decline of country conquest games like Brigandine, and saw how the trend for strategy games changed from turn-based to real-time. There are quite a few strategy game fans on the development team as well.
Even with tutorials and difficulty settings, there’s a lot going on in Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia. It can be intimidating to figure out how things work. How much work went into lowering the barrier for new players?
Igarashi: If you were to compare chess and bowling, which do you think is easier for someone who doesn’t know the rules to pick up? I think strategy games are the type where you need to have at least a rough idea of the basics before you can start. Since this game isn’t structured like a traditional JRPG with a linear story following a single protagonist, we didn’t include a hands-on tutorial that plays out along with the main game. At the first organization phase, the player is given full control. Inserting a tutorial here delays the player from this control and possibly frustrates them. To resolve this problem, we created a tutorial mode that’s separate from the main mode.
Is Challenge Mode intended as the long-term option for those who want to keep playing the game? Are there other elements that keep the game interesting and varied past the initial campaign?
Igarashi: I’m confident that once you get into the game, you’ll be able to enjoy it for many hours. While it will depend on the player, we estimate that it would take around 30 hours to complete the main mode. When you take into account that there are six nations to choose from, that makes for a total of 180 hours. Additionally, even if you keep playing one nation over and over again, game progression changes every new playthrough no matter what difficulty you choose. There are always new things to discover, which will add to your enjoyment. This alone should be enough to satisfy most players, but we have also added Challenge Mode to lengthen the game’s playability.
As you progress through the main mode, a number of story events will take place along the way. This adds a collection element to the game settings under Records. Story events, battle conversations, battle records and data on the knights and monsters are all collected here, for a total of over 700 items.
That being said, some interesting surprises may pop up in the second half of the continental conquest. We haven’t shared this with Japanese media yet so you won’t find any more detail out there, but keep your eyes peeled!
What is it about Nintendo Switch that makes it the right fit for Brigandine? What challenges did you have in bringing the game to the platform, and does The Legend of Runersia take advantage of any of the console’s special features?
Igarashi: Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia has enough content to fill many hours of gameplay. To that end, I think the portability of the Switch will broaden the range of styles in which people play.
The graphics and specifications were decided after extensive testing during development. The battles in Brigandine utilize troops consisting of one Rune Knight and up to six monsters. Each side in the battle is allowed six troops, which equals a total of 42 units. This meant we had to maximize the hardware’s full potential to ensure 42 units of 3D models could be displayed comfortably on the battle map at the same time. For this, Nintendo’s Japan headquarters provided a lot of support during the early days of the development process. They were wonderful partners who always offered support with the goal of improving the game’s quality.
Thanks to Kazuhiro Igarashi for taking the time to talk with us. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia releases on the Nintendo Switch eShop on June 25, 2020. The game’s also getting a physical release through Limited Run Games. Check back soon for our full look at the game.