Who thought we would be kicking off the new year with another PSP release? Not that it’ll be the last one (looking at you Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter), but it just goes to show how resilient the platform it is and how many excellent titles have yet to be unearthed for localization. The fact that you can play the majority of them on the Vita certainly helps too.
Brandish: The Dark Revenant was one of those titles that had been teased by XSEED for a very long time, though it wasn’t until this past year that it was really talked about in an official capacity. It’s a shame that it came out this late in the console’s life cycle, as I’d loved to have owned a physical copy with that well designed cover art on it (see: right). At any rate, it’s here now and it was worth the wait… at least, it will be for some folks.
The game opens with some exposition about the kingdom of Vittoria, a once prosperous nation whose central tower housed a great dragon. The king, not able to leave well enough alone, decides to enter the tower and use whatever power is housed there to flourish even more. His ignorance caused him to be transformed into a monster and his once proud kingdom became cursed and plunged underground, only to exist in fairy tales as to why we should be grateful for what we have.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Enter Ares, a man who unknowingly becomes of a prisoner of the kingdom after he falls into it during an escape attempt from the sorceress, Dela. He finds out from the current residents (some of them dying) that there is no way out… though if he wants to try anyway, is best bet is the large tower that once contained the great dragon. And so his adventure begins.
The first thing you’ll notice after you begin Brandish is the atmosphere. The forgotten kingdom of Vittoria is a dark and depressing place, so much so that you can’t help but draw comparisons to the world of Dark Souls (which is fitting given how much the game likes to challenge you). Corpses litter the dungeon, seeking treasure comes with risks, and everything wants to kill you. There is the occasional cutscene to help flesh out some of the secondary characters and narrate the proceedings in between major areas, but for the most part you are creating your own adventure.
When you think Falcom action RPG, your first thought might be the Ys games, which are fast paced and generally newcomer friendly. Brandish, by comparison, is a much slower, more methodical game. The camera is fixated slightly above and behind Ares at all times, and moving the directional pad left or right will cause him to side step rather than turn. It’s actually the L and R buttons that will allow him to face a different direction, which takes some getting used to. The X button will allow Ares to jump two spaces forward, circle is for blocking and striking, and square will access the inventory. The action will not stop while you’re fumbling in the menu, which is why the hot keys are so handy. Simply hold the analog stick and press circle and you can use healing potions or magic spells on the fly. It sounds awkward, and for the first couple of hours, it is. But by the time the first boss battle rolls around, you should have a good enough grasp on the mechanics to make do, though it never does feel entirely natural.
The enemy assortment will consist of everything from slimes to undead creatures that will revive after a certain amount of time has passed. Slaying enemies will earn experience that translate into level ups and in turn boost your stats. Since enemies respawn after awhile, you could technically grind out levels to overcome even the most difficult bosses, though with weapons sustaining only so many uses before breaking, this doesn’t become entirely feasible. Still, monsters are the least of your worries, as you’ll encounter rooms that act as puzzles and seemingly empty areas with pitfalls at every turn. You are allowed to save anywhere though, so you’re at least allowed to take risks without fear of losing progress. Plus, boss battles will even allow you to escape the room and rest without resetting their HP.
And that’s probably the biggest selling point for those interested in a challenging game like Dark Souls, but don’t have the time to dedicate to repeating content. The game does a good job of teaching you the basics via a brief beginning tutorial and then turns you loose to discover the secrets of the various labyrinths on your own. The game WILL kick your ass, but as long as you’re good about saving periodically, you don’t have to worry about being set back a ways. The floors do have to be tackled in a specific order, but each one is littered with false walls and hidden secrets that encourage you to explore fully, to the extent where you are rewarded if the whole thing is uncovered (not unlike Persona Q). There’s even a few minigames to uncover if you search hard enough.
New to this version is post game content in the form of a mode where you play as Dela as opposed to Ares. Though this mode is much shorter by comparison, Dela has a much different play style and is far more difficult. That’s right, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the North American release of Brandish. Originally brought to the SNES by Koei in 1995, it didn’t perform well enough to justify the release of any of its sequels. Plus, the game was edited beyond recognition. Fortunately, the Sony portables have made for a nice revival for Falcom properties as of late, and this particular release makes for a great introduction to an otherwise forgotten title.
A better translation and all new modes aren’t the only things different. The visuals have gotten a noticeable facelift, with character models rendered in 3D as opposed to 2D based sprites. The dungeons are also three dimensional, allowing for the camera to be fixated at an angle behind the player as opposed to being fully top-down. I especially enjoy the new artwork and additional cutscenes.
The musical score is classic Falcom. If you’ve played any of the Ys titles, you know exactly what you’re in for. General exploration has a certain air of mystery about it, whereas boss encounters are more upbeat and pulse pounding. There’s no narration or dialogue, though death cries and the clashing of weapons are utilized appropriately.
While Brandish is a PSP game, it’s also playable on the Vita (and by extension PlayStation TV). At a $19.99 price point, you’re getting a solid action RPG that takes some getting used to, but pays off in spades. It’s not for everybody, as it takes a special kind of person to willingly subject yourself to the kind of punishment this game dishes out and smile about it. In fact, if you watch videos of the game in action, it looks incredibly off-putting. But if you consider yourself a fan of Falcom’s other games or are looking for the Dark Souls-lite experience that is difficult, but rewarding, Brandish: The Dark Revenant might be right up your alley.
Short Attention Span Summary
After almost twenty years of its first appearance on the SNES, Brandish makes its way back to North America in the form of Brandish: The Dark Revenant. The remake features a more faithful localization, improved visuals, and endgame content featuring the the sorceress Dela. Casual players might be turned away by some often ruthless puzzles, though if you’re still hanging on to a PSP after all this time, you’re probably just the type of person who this game is directed at. If you enjoy the risk/reward balance that comes from games like Dark Souls coupled with typical Falcom styled presentation, this will likely be the best twenty bucks you’ll spend all year.