Publisher: XSEED Games
Platforms: PSP, PS Vita, PS TV
Release Date: January 13, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
I thought we had seen the last of localized PSP games years ago. After playing Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time back in 2012, which I found to be the RPG swan song of the system, I had firmly resigned any hope of seeing anything beyond that (even if we have technically seen Sting“s Generation of Chaos and Imageepoch“s Black Rock Shooter: The Game since then, but shh!). But, both Japanese developer Nihon Falcom and publisher XSEED Games attempt to prove otherwise. Pretty much unthinkable in today“s market, not only do we get to see yet another RPG on the randomly resuscitated PSP hardware with Brandish: The Dark Revenant, but surprisingly, one that is also actually pretty good.
Admittedly, I have no real history with the obscure, mostly Japan-only (with the exception of a localized SNES port) PC-98 Brandish series, so Brandish: The Dark Revenant is my first real exposure to the name. This is fine, however, especially considering it is a completely overhauled remake of the first entry in the series. As a game, Brandish: The Dark Revenant is interesting in that it evokes the feeling of a dungeon-crawling roguelike (though, it isn't procedurally generated, nor is as punishing), but it also has loose similarities to older 2D Legend of Zelda games with its real-time action elements. Yet, it doesn't fall too heavily in either of those camps because of its more distinct nuances to its action-RPG gameplay and setting.
The player takes control of a mysterious swordsman named Ares. Both Ares and a scantily-clad sorceress out for his blood (by the name of Dela Delon) are sent plummeting underground after a duel between the two goes wrong and breaks the ground underneath them. With little hope for an easy way out, Ares has to navigate a cursed kingdom of legend, Vittoria, while also having the spiteful sorceress after his head as well.
Like a lot of dungeon-crawlers, Brandish: The Dark Revenant is most certainly not an easy game. I do not want to build up the expectation that it is old-school hard, since it isn't, but it is a title where you have to learn how to play by its rules or you will be punished for it. There is a wide-array of devious traps, tough enemies, surprisingly intense bosses, or the occasionally tricky labyrinth design/puzzles that the player has to overcome, all in the hopes of escaping the ruins.
Initially, the title will probably seem clunky because of its strange control scheme, like a camera that also turns the player character, or a limited inventory in which management occurs in real-time. In all honesty, though, it is clear that this is more of a deliberate design choice and it is easy enough to adjust to in no time. Despite this, it fully expects you to learns its various gameplay nuances the further you delve into the dungeons: everything from being aware that (most) weapons will break in a Fire Emblem-ish fashion, knowing when to prop your shield up to block oncoming attacks/projectiles, jumping for your life when being chased by a boulder when accidentally triggering a trap, and many more situations that the player will have to smartly learn how to deal with over time.
What I like the most about Brandish: The Dark Revenant's structure is that it gives you all of the tools to succeed, yet isn“t heavy-handed about it. Pretty much every death is the player“s own careless mistake with its generally fair challenge. Whether one learns this from carefully analyzing their environment for traps/obstacles and maybe taking their time to trying to thoroughly explore, it is very methodical in that once you learn the inner-workings pretty much everything else falls into place, one cautious step—or learned mistake—at a time. The dungeon-crawling gameplay lends itself to being quite addictive because of how rewarding it is to play. Thorough exploration can not only yield very significant rewards with the game“s many secrets, but also because you simply get stronger in the process, both figuratively and literally.
The primary aspect that I find particularly questionable about the design is how oddly it handles certain stats. Most of it makes sense; the more you swing your sword, the higher your physical strength; the more you use magic, the higher your magic power; and generally the more enemies you kill, the higher your HP/MP are when you level-up. My main nitpick is that magic resistance is increased with how much you get hit by magic, which I find counter-intuitive to the game“s inherent design. That, and the hidden luck stat that occasionally dictates your damage output or damage taken, which is also strange.
Still, the least impressive aspect overall is its presentation. In the matter of fairness, part of the reason for that is because I have no nostalgia for the source material, so the completely redesigned visuals and rearranged soundtrack are lost on me. That said, aside from a decent sense of atmosphere, like with retro-styled character portraits, the in-game 3D visuals are not likely to impress even among the PSP library. It's a similar deal with the soundtrack; while it is by no means bad, the overall soundtrack is nowhere near as varied, or as memorable, as I've come to expect from the excellent Falcom JDK Band, like with recent Ys and Legend of Heroes entries.
Minor nitpicks aside, completing the main campaign for Ares is not particularly long for RPG standards since you can finish it in under 20 hours. That may seem relatively short, but those who pride themselves in taking on more challenging ordeals and increased playtime can easily get that with unlockable Dela Delon â€œexpertâ€ mode. Dela“s added mode is quite enjoyable because it fully expects you to employ all of the skills you have obtained from Ares“s scenario right from the get-go with its unapologetically high difficultly level and a totally remapped, and more complex, dungeon design. Despite being considerably shorter than Ares's scenario, I found it be a very neat addition because of how much it plays on the player's expectations.
Perhaps in some overly-complicated analogy, XSEED Games was trying to teach of us all that, much like Ares“s taxing ordeal through the forgotten kingdom, there is still hope for good RPG games to be localized even now on the PSP. Okay, probably not, but my fingers are still crossed for Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter. That said, however unexpected the arrival of Brandish: The Dark Revenant was for the seemingly-deceased PSP system, it serves as a pleasant addition to its library with its challenging, rewarding, and deceptively intricate dungeon-crawling, action-RPG design. As long as you tread carefully and give it a fair chance, there is plenty of addictive dungeon-crawling fun to be had with this decidedly old-school remake gem.
+ Elaborate dungeon design with many varying traps, enemies, and scenarios that provide a satisfying challenge
+ Rewards smart, thorough, and methodical play
+ Dela Delon's campaign is a neat unlockable that is also unapologetically difficult right from the get-go
- Bland 3D visuals and the soundtrack pales in comparison to Falcom's (very high) recent standards
- Some oddly handled mechanics
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
While it is certainly an enigma that we get to see any sort of localized PSP RPG in 2015, Brandish: The Dark Revenant proves itself, even beyond that initial novelty, as an action-RPG with its challenging and rewarding dungeon-crawling structure that is quite good on its own merits.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PSP code provided by the publisher.