The Return of an Obscure Franchise - Brigandine: The Legend of Runeseria (Nintendo Switch)
A bit of backstory for those unaware, the first Brigandine was a PSX RPG that came out in the states around 2000, and while it has a cult following around here it was never a real success. It's just an obscure little gem that had pretty much no hope of ever seeing the light of day again. Brigandine: Legend of Forsena was a Strategy RPG that played nothing like any other SRPG out and not a game that created nearly enough of a splash to cause anyone to try to emulate the things it did. I couldn't even find out what the actual sales for this game were. It's a shame because the things Brigandine did were really fun and great, but it seemed that in the modern-day the only way a person was ever going to be able to experience it was to emulate the game.
Then, out of nowhere, there was an announcement that there was going to be a new Brigandine game. Not a port or remake, but a brand new game. The very idea that something like this could even happen never really occurred to pretty much any fan, as much as they'd have wished for it. It even got a worldwide release, not just a Japanese release with a western one coming.
All that said, this is a Strategy RPG that features six different playable countries. The continent is currently in the beginning of a war to gain control of it all. Each Nation possesses a powerful Rune Stone called a Brigandine, each one representing some kind of Value: Sanctity, Glory, Justice, Freedom, and Ego. Uniting under the symbol of the Brigandine, each country fights. The Sixth country, however, does not possess one. Their very lands lack the same density of mana as the rest, making their lands infertile. Two countries represent different sects of the religion of the land, there is a nation of pirates formed of former brigands, a tribe of Shinobi who recently declared their independence, and others. It is a very varied cast of countries, all with pretty good reasons to be caught up in this war.
Where things get fun is each country has a different number of Knights, Bases, Monsters, and Location to start. Depending on who you choose you will have to adjust your strategy based on all these factors. Arrange your knights, gear, locations, and upgrades during the first phase. You can also send extra knights who you don't feel you'll need in the attack phase on quests. These quests change based on what city the knight currently occupies, and success is based on their class and level. You can find new gear, monsters to join your ranks, special items, or even knew knights to join your army.
Where things get interesting is how you build your units. Each Knight acts as a unit captain. In addition to their abilities, they have a Rune area and Rune Power. You assign monsters to a Knight, each monster having a certain Rune Cost, and the total of all monsters cannot exceed that of the Rune Knight's power. The Rune area is how far away a monster can be from their respective knight without suffering penalties. Each Knight's Rune Stat's are going to be a bit different based on class and level. Considering the vast number of monsters at your disposal, you are going to have to make some hard choices to get the best out of all your units.
A thing to note, certain abilities of classes can be made permanent after mastering a class (Gaining five levels in it basically, bit more to it than that at times), so you can also tweak how characters grow. Units that start at a higher level have less flexibility, but an example is Selphie starts as an Archer if you have her in your army. Her stats also allow her to become a lancer. What I'm doing is using leveling her up in archer classes to get her accuracy bonuses as a passive, then using her other levels as Lancer classes to give her a high rate to hit with her melee attacks. Just one basic example.
The actual combat plays out like other Strategy RPG's, only instead of a square grid, it takes place on a hex grid, which for me is a personal preference. I like the look and feel of a Hex Grid more than that of a square grid. With the above-mentioned ways of assembling your units, and taking into account you use up to three knights in a given fight, despite the core of the mechanics is the same as other JRPG's you end up with a very different feeling system. Whoever is on the offense has twelve turns to either defeat all enemy knights or end the final turn occupying the castle hex.
There are a few additional things to take into account, such as the preferred terrain of your units, spells and certain abilities are only usable if you don't move in the same turn, certain units can move after attacking, and all kinds of things. Battles can go south fast if you mess up even on normal difficulty, but losing a battle does not mean the game is over. You don't lose until you lose all your bases or the turn limit comes (When Playing on Easy mode, there is no turn limit). That is something a lot of people won't like about the game, that it is possible to up and get a game over because you took too long to play. Regularly saving can help alleviate that, but there is a point that if you mess up bad enough you won't be able to reach the end in time. I love this aspect of the game, but I understand other people won't.
The actual story going on in the game is fine, though largely the plot becomes carried by learning about the countries you play as, and slowly seeing them grow into leaders who represent their own Brigandine. I also love the touch of certain knights, when entering battle with each other, will have bit of dialogue before the fight begins. Both the Shinobi nation and the nation of Pirates, for example, have a parent who entrusted the future of their nation to their child, and they have a moment over that. It's nice, and ads a lot to help make the world feel a bit more alive. I feel there isn't nearly enough of these, and at most you get once scene between two people.
The game does suffer a bit when the story just stops happening for stretches as you just go into fight after fight. Because I enjoy the combat and management aspects so much it's not a big deal for me, but the pacing of the game does always feel a bit off. Overall the story isn't a huge part of what makes the game great, even though the game does a great job of getting you behind whatever nation you play as. There is also a threat growing throughout the game, but honestly, it feels a bit tagged on just because the first game also had something similar, though the first Brigandine made much better use of that premise than this game did.
Brigandine can start to feel like a bit of a repetitive grind for many people, especially with little to focus on past the gameplay. At the same time, the characters you do get are great for what little time you spend with them, and the gameplay is solid enough to make the grind fun. If you love Strategy RPGs and find Joy in feeling like you are the general of an entire army, this game is worth a buy. I would love to see a revival of an old obscure franchise succeed, and I would love to see what lies in the future of the franchise if this game is a success.