If you wonder whether Brigandine is simply one of those meaningless words an anime hero screams during an attack, it’s a piece of cloth or mail worn during the Middle Ages to protect from arrows and even blades. If you are having trouble picturing it, just think of the first thing you’d find Geralt of Rivia wearing.
Much like in the original Brigandine, the namesakes function as a stereotypical sign of power — much in the same way that the Fire Emblem or the Triforce does. In the land of Runersia, the six trinkets held by the leaders of the nations and the tribe allow the rune knights to wield mana and control monsters summoned to do battle.
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersiais aiming to capture all of the drive and heart that made it’s 1998 debut stand alongside the other SRPG titles that have always been associated with PlayStation. And yet I feel like, for the steep price tag affixed to this outfit, it needs some more style.
One story told in six parts
It seems like everything demands our full attention these days. So if you are looking easily digestible escape in the form of a trope-heavy, fan-service-filled Medieval political thriller, Brigandine: Legend of Runersia is absolutely for you. The leaders of the five nations and one tribe are all blandly what you’d expect from a game in this genre. You’ve got a pacifist prince who wants to be an actor — now awakened to the fact that he must become a war-time king. The daughter of a dignitary who wants her ballet classes to continue but now must do the careful dance of politics. The young soon-to-be-chief of a tribe of ultra-sexualized Amazonians who kicked men out when their nation became a failed state because men are bad. However, they are coming to realize they may just like men. A strong and silent Russian-like emperor who’s name is Tim — what a dumb name for a powerful emperor! And a sexy and free-spirited pirate captain who wants people to be free. Oh, and for no men to be on her ship — she’s a strong, sexy, independent pirate who needs no man!
The stereotypical main cast gains support from a cast of several rune knights (side characters) belonging to individual nations. They have personalized stories that are, for the most part, exciting, but the delivery of which is intensely playthrough-related. Without doing multiple playthroughs, you can read short summaries about your knights and other nation’s knights. Still, you’ll only really learn who they are through cutscene exchanges that happen as time progresses in the main campaigns. I feel that the characters are rendered beautifully in terms of appearance and personality. Still, I find that because I have only been able to read about who they are — aside from my own nation’s knights — I have no real reason to care for them truly.
This is a significant problem for me because I want to feel like a story can be understood with one playthrough — even if that means I miss out on the occasional interaction between characters. I don’t want a game to assume that I’m going to give it six separate playthroughs to understand the story. Through the two playthroughs that I’ve done for review, I’ve come to at least understand each of the main characters and why they are motivated to take place in this world war, but I feel like I’ve only put a few of the vast number of characters to the wireframe story. If I’m honest, it bugs me. When it comes to massively-populated SRPGs like this, I want to at least feel like I understand why a character belongs in the base story. While it was far from perfect in how it delivered its similar tale of warring factions, I look to Fire Emblem: Three Houses for inspiration on how to provide through the use of multiple factions and characters. I may not fully interact with every character on the board, but at least I saw them around the monastery grounds or heard of their houses exploits enough to appreciate who they are concerning the events. I mean, regardless of what house you picked, who liked defeating Ignatz again and again? WIth rune knights in Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia I feel like I’m staring down a placeholder villain I must simply defeat and that’s that.
Let’s end on a positive though, shall we? Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia excels when it comes to RPG statistical elements. Each of the six parties starts with a different number of bases, mana treasury size, and the number of starting rune knights. This level of tactical consideration is only the beginning of the game’s complex tactical system. The time used to establish the story seems like it is used to prepare for the gargantuan amount of tactical gameplay.
Like Risk meets Fire Emblem
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia follows the classic 1998 gameplay formula. A turn “month” is broken down into an Organize Phase followed by an Attack Phase. The Organize Phase is the one you want to spend the most time on. Victory hinges upon the moves you make in this phase. At the start of each month, you’ll receive additional mana to summon monsters to fight alongside your rune knights. Rune knights have a magic pool value based upon their class and level that can be used to summon up to six monsters depending on their cost.
You’ll also want to send your unused rune knights on quests, which function as a turn-taking auto-fetch-quest where success grants exp and new equipment for your characters and monsters. You can also choose to move your unused parties to other fortresses to protect them from attack, or prepare to invade an opponent. However, you’ll want to consider this at least a turn ahead, because the can not attack or defend on the same turn as they were moved.
The Organization Phase makes Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia feel like a tactical game of world domination that is similar to how it plays out in the board game “Risk.” The base difficulty allows you to play until you concur with the map or lose. But at the higher difficulties, you’ll have to be quick. Medium difficulty offers you five years to dominate, while the hardest difficulty will offer you just two-and-a-half years.
When in battle, you’ll further have to consider whether your unit is on the right type of terrain, how you want to engage the enemy, and even whether or not it’s worth it to send a higher level unit to their death to save a few rookies. Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia’s battlefield is ugly complex, but it’s also kind of just ugly.
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia’s visuals play stark contrast to each other. The story cutscenes, game map, and menus are beautifully hand-drawn with storybook-like visuals — however, battles playout on low-resolution plains that are populated by monster and character models lacking depth or personality. While I fully acknowledge that the simple graphics could be just what some nostalgia seekers want, it made me feel like I was playing a phone app instead of an expensive Switch title. It’s a little jarring to look at when you’ve spent so much time immersed in the current generation of graphical abilities.
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia feels like an investment. Its aim is to be replayable. The developers are hoping that you’re willing to put in the time to play each path and appreciate the differing narratives and unique skill sets. The skill sets are where this SRPG asserts its value. The sheer amount of deep tactics at play is sure to appeal to RTS and RPG players looking for a game that moves fast and on-demand. If you consider yourself to be one of those, I invite you to pick up this game if you see it go on sale.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]