Review – Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia might sound like an epic name for a series debut, but this Switch exclusive is actually a sequel to a game originally released in 1998 for the original Playstation. I’d be lying if I told you I played this game back in the day. Even some of our most well-versed strategy and RPG specialists at WayTooManyGames had never even heard of the franchise before, but I ended up finding out that those few who have actually played the game, love it to this day.
The original Brigandine is the quintessential definition of an underrated cult hit. So developer Matrix Software and publisher Happinet tried to bring it back to the spotlight not with a remaster, not with a reboot, but a sequel. Shockingly, this risky attitude actually paid off at the end of the day.
Despite being a sequel to the 1998 game, you can play Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia without previous knowledge of the franchise’s lore. The game bombards you with a metric ton of exposition at the beginning of a new save file. It details the story of the continent of Runersia, its connection to mana, and the way civilizations have used mana throughout the ages to summon monsters to aid them in battle. It also delves into the origins of the Brigandines, which are special magical artifacts that are linked to the existence of mana in this world, as well as the political turmoils that resulted in the war featured in this game. Sounds exhausting? Well, that’s because it is. It’s just too much to digest at once, even though the story itself is far from bad.
Despite featuring a big background plot and overarching setting, Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia doesn’t feature just one big campaign. In fact, much like games such as Civilization, it offers you different scenarios based on the nation in which you decide to play. The main objective is to conquer the entire continent of Runersia by capturing outposts from neighboring nations and killing their commanders. There are six nations to choose from, each one with a different amount of commanders (which dub as individual armies) and outposts, as well as a different reasoning for them to join the battle. This is a convoluted mess of a situation that would make WWI historians proud.
The gameplay in Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is basically divided in two stages. You have an Organization phase and an Attack phase for each turn, which also dubs as a season throughout the war.
The Organization phase is when this game acts more like Civilization or a simplified version of the map mode in the Total War games. This is when you can spend your mana deposits on summoning new monsters, move an army from one outpost to another, evolve your units in case they fit specific criteria, and designate some of your armies to partake in behind-the-scenes quests in order to acquire experience points and items in case they’re far away from the theater of war.
This phase sounds like it’s something quick and devoid of depth, but it’s the complete opposite. Each outpost can only summon specific types of monsters, meaning that there is an extra layer of strategy in here. You’ll need to think of which kind of unit a commander needs in their army and then move said army to this outpost in order to recruit this monster. You will also need to take into consideration that armies cannot engage in battle on the same turn they are moving from one outpost to another, rendering them completely useless on the next phase. There are menus upon menus on whichever mechanic you decide to tackle in the Organization phase, meaning that it can overwhelm players at first. Thankfully Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia features an entire textbook worth of tutorials that perfectly teach all of the game’s mechanics at the right time.
The other big half of Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is centered around the Attack phase. This is when the game stops being Civilization for the most part, instead acting more like your typical Fire Emblem-esque strategy RPG, which, just like the previous Organization phase, features way more depth than I could have ever expected.
At first, this phase is still set on the same map as the Organization phase, as armies then proceed to attack neighboring outposts. Once you have decided which neighboring town you will attack, as well as the amount of armies that will invade said outpost, the game transitions to the battle screen. Be aware that invading armies need to leave their current outposts, leaving them open for invasions in case they’re left without any units to defend them. You need to think twice before deciding who to invade, and when.
Battles against rival armies are set in your typical grid-like, turn-based fashion. The map is set in a hexagonal gird, with units being able to move around it depending on their mobility stats, as well as their preferred terrain. If you have ever played a tactics game before, you know how it goes: choose a unit, move around the map, get close to the enemy, and keep fighting until someone eventually dies. Depending on the character, you can cast magic spells or elemental attacks that can hit an opponent’s weak spot.
That’s pretty typical, but there are other elements in here that turn the game’s overall combat into something a lot more deep and strategic. Most characters and units in the game feature special attacks that can only be triggered by deciding not to move in a turn. This raises the question: do I move and get my unit away from the middle of the close-quarters scuffle? Or do I take a risk and summon a big area of effect spell that can result in a few enemies dying at once, depending on the the critical hit chance?
Another thing you’ll need to take into account is the fact that you can capture enemy units in case you defeat their commander, essentially converting them to your team at the end of the battle. That might sound like you should always focus all of your strength and attacks on the rival commander, but the opponent’s AI isn’t as dumb to just let you waltz into its defenses unscathed. It will constantly position monsters in front of the commander and will often attack you with severe prejudice before you ever think about doing the same with them.
The way Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia handles experience points and leveling up is pretty interesting. Besides the aforementioned quests during the Organization phase, anything you during a battle will grant you experience points. Did you punch an enemy once? You’ll get experience points. Did you miss an attack due to the game’s quasi-XCOM levels of nuisance with accuracy? You’ll still get a few points. Did you support unit cure an ally? You’ll get lots of points. Did you kill a unit? Even more points coming your way. The best thing about it is that you can level up at any time during a battle. This can be a turning point during these long fights, as your units can get stronger in the middle of a battle, managing to best an enemy monster that was giving you a headache a couple of turns ago.
As previously mentioned, Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia‘s gameplay is complex and overwhelming, but the game does a fantastic job with its tutorial segments, either through a lengthy practice mode accessible through the main menu, or throughout loads of small tutorial screens during a campaign. The gameplay is deep and rewarding, and the overall game is a joy to behold, but it does feature some glaring issues.
Its presentation is a mixed bag. It sounds as epic as a medieval warfare game should, with epic chants and war anthems being blasted at all times, but the visuals aren’t exactly great. In fact, the game feels a bit less epic as a whole due to its early PS2 visuals. Units move around the battlefield as if they were little toys, and their simplistic models and animations make what should have been an epic battle look like two action figures bashing heads against each other.
The game does a much better job during story-focused and dialogue-heavy cutscenes, as you’re exposed to very detailed character drawings talking to each other, clearly inspired by older Fire Emblem games. My gripe with those cutscenes, however, is that characters are drawn in some really epic poses, but they still feature variable facial expressions. That means that a character pointing at a direction like a an epic commander can eventually change to a sad face, while still pointing at a void, making what should have been a sad scene fall flat in terms of delivery.
Another small gripe is something that is simply prevalent in most tactical RPGs. This is a very slow-paced game. Some battles can take ages due to the amount of units dragged into the scuffle, as each individual unit moves and performs its skills at a time, meaning that a single turn can take up to ten minutes, depending on the amount of surviving units onscreen. Be aware before buying this game, you will need to be patient.
In a console full of amazing tactical and turn-based strategy experiences, Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia still manages to carve a small niche with its overwhelming, but rewarding gameplay. Not to mention the sheer amount of content it offers. Even though this is a sequel to a game very few people played back when it first released, it still manages to immerse you with information logs, exposition-heavy cutscenes, and a fantastic tutorial section. Don’t ignore this one. It might sound like one of the most niche titles available on the Switch (and it might actually be), but if you’re a fan of the genre, there’s a lot to love in here.
Nothing in here is inherently bad graphicall, but it’s also something that could have been achieved with much older hardware. The cutscenes feature impressive hand drawn drawings of characters in epic poses, but the fact that they still have changing facial expressions is off-putting.
Overwhelming at first, since there are two different gameplay styles to juggle at all times, but once you get past the excellent tutorial, you’ll realise this game is quite deep and allows for a ton of strategic experimentation, both in the Organization and Attack phases.
A soundtrack comprised of epic tunes that fit in with the game’s medieval warfare setting, as well as a ton of voice acting. It’s all in Japanese, but you can still notice it’s quality acting.
Brigandine is a game that overwhelms you at first with a ton of exposition, a slow start in whichever campaign you choose, as well as a relentless AI, but it’s chock-full of content and very rewarding once you get used to the gameplay. It’s perfect for a portable system.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is available now on Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia was provided by the publisher.