Brigandine is one of the few late 90's games that attempted to combine the Grand Strategy genre with Tactical RPGs. Oddly, all of those games, like Dragon Force on the Sega Saturn, feature a similar anime-inspired character design and story that recalled some of the classic medieval setting anime shows of the 80s.
That retro look at a time where "futuristic" and "realistic" trends were all the rage may have contributed to their relative obscurity, but their undoubted quality led to some of them being cult hits.
I am glad to say that Brigandine on the PS1, in all of its versions, certainly has the quality and pedigree to deserve its cult-favorite status. This is a really good game.
#A55: Incredible Crisis:-
Year: 1998, 2000.
Genre: Strategy & Tactical RPG.
Publisher: Hearty Robin, Atlus.
Developer: Hearty Robin.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"Even if war covers the world. Even if all of Forseana burns to ash. I will fight on, fight on like a demon, I will rule it all"
The story is set in the continent of Fornesa, where a rebellion breaks out in the old Kingdom of Almekia, thrusting the entire continent into an all-out war between the six nations of the realm. With each nation having its own reasons to fight, unique characters, and perspectives, this means there are nominally six stories to choose from. From the ambitious unification quest of Norgard to the righteous revenge of New Almekia, each story promises to give a unique perspective on the war.
War impacts every aspect of life
However, as should be expected with a game that straddles the Grand Strategy genre, the story takes a back seat to the gameplay most of the time. Since you have control over how your nation operates, this means that story beats you uncover happen at your own pace, and could be completely missed if certain mysterious conditions were not met.
In battles, characters with established relationships have unique opening dialogue that offers context for the war. Between battles, some scenes between key characters in your nation develop their personality as your quest advances, but these scenes could be missed entirely. Meanwhile, your army consists of several named knights, each with their own unique portrait and backstory, but limited interaction within the game itself.
Yet, I find this paucity of narrative to be more of an advantage than not. I find the story of Forsena's struggle and each character's motivation to be the canvas in which you paint your own story. Similar to the stories we craft for the historical figures we play as in a Romance of the Three Kingdoms or Total War game, Brigandine simply gives us the main ingredients to imagine an entirely unique narrative for the game that advances based on our actions.
A story in which you direct its pace
That's not to say that the story that is there is lackluster. Not at all. Despite its scarcity, the main scenes and unique dialogue situation you uncover reveal an interesting cast of characters with their own morals and motivation for their battles. These are interesting stories that are sold really well by the excellent character designs and portraits, as well as the occasional anime cut-scenes.
However, the terrible voice acting does it no favors at all. Thankfully, that part is very brief.
"You misunderstand. I want to revive hope from the ashes"
The gameplay in Brigandine is divided into two main parts. The "Grand Strategy" section where you manage your towns and officers as well as direct your armies to attack or defend, and the "Tactical RPG" battles that take place when a battle actually starts. However, the game leans extremely heavily into the battles themselves, leaving the Grand Strategy elements to be more of a cosmetic than an essential element to the game.
So let's talk about the battles themselves first to explain the limitations of the Grand Strategy segments later.
These Tactical RPG battles are great, starting from their hexagonal design basis, which immediately offers more strategy than the typical square grid. At most, each side in the battle has three rune knights, each accompanied by a maximum of 6 monsters. The nature of these 21 units is key during and after the battle.
Knowing how to take advantage of your monsters unique attributes and the battlifield terrain is key for victory
Rune Knights come in many different classes, which governs they utility in battle (offensive, supportive, defensive, magical, ranged, etc.) and their abilities to control monster unit through their Rune Power and Rune Range stats. These are the named members of your army, and they grow and develop with battle like any typical TRPG, with the ability to class upgrade or change as a result.
Depending on their Rune Power stat, these knights can be accompanied by a variety of monster units that comprise the majority of your forces. Monsters come in a variety of forms of varying Rune Power requirements. Dragons are more expensive than three ghouls for example. As such, the number of your forces may not be as important as the strength of each unit and their suitability in battle.
You mustn't treat your monsters as cannon fodder, as they permanently disappear when defeated. As such, battles become a strategic pull and push match where you try and defeat the enemy Rune Knights (thereby scattering their forces and potentially capturing some monsters) while keeping your army healthy and surviving. This I find very important because losing monsters too often means your army will be significantly under-leveled at the end of the game.
With widely different maps, terrain structures, Rune Knight, and Monster options, there is a huge variety in the battles you can have. Ideally, this variety should sustain itself further as you utilize your vast and varied army. However, that would actually be a grave mistake. Ironically, it would be a mistake to use more than 9-11 Rune Knights in your conquests, as you will need consistent growth for that core as the enemy gets stronger with each cycle.
"A Utopia... could what starts in treason end in such a noble state"
Outside of battle, your options are limited to summoning more monsters for your armies, moving knights around towns, sending them for quests, and managing the "order" menu where you can equip characters and upgrade their classes.
As you can imagine from the way I described battles, the summoning aspect becomes moot later on since you need to avoid having to actually do it. Sending characters for quests is an automatic activity that may bring with it items you can equip, more monsters, or the occasional characters. Also, it could uncover some story scenes.
Some of the quests have intresting story lines (that could repeat)
Consequently, the majority of your time on the map is simply reorganizing your army around border towns (all other towns don't need to even be occupied) as you plan your next attack. By the end of the game, I didn't have anything to do with my funds, and the map just became a semi-loading screen between my battles.
Oddly, this is not actually a disadvantage of the game as much as lost potential. In fact, it is probably better than a poorly implemented and overly complex Grand Strategy element. Yet, I feel like there were that could have made the game a bit better, like developing an economy or using the money to revive dead monsters.
As it is, the map of Forsena is another tool of self-narrative, where you imagine the story and strategic councils as you plan multiple attacks and continuously expand your territory.
"I swear, I will unite Forsena in peace soon. Perhaps when that day comes, you will sing again"
At the start of the review, I alluded to the game's 80s anime influence, and that's most apparent when you the still-image scenes depicting the game's characters. These still images look like pause screens from a famous Robin Hood anime of that era, and they do justice to the amazing character portrait art by Yoichi Kawade.
These portraits give real personality and depth to characters that otherwise may just have a few lines, and for the key characters, they fit their in-game personality and dialogue very well.
Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, there are very few unique in-battle sprites. This is a shame because the sprite work is really good in this game. Sprites are well-animated, and the variety of monsters each have their own unique sprites.
Battlefields can get really colorful with the variety of sprites
Elsewhere in the graphical department, expect some solid if unspectacular special effects with magic attacks and a functional and expressive map (both inside and outside of battle). This is a game that doesn't need to be graphically intensive, and the many still images we get convey a suitable image of the world.
The unspectacular trend continues with the game's music, which unfortunately follows the trend of TRPGs in having a low-key musical score. Sure, there are unique themes for each nation, but the music rarely commands center stage, which is typical of the genre.
With its interesting world and an array of characters and creatures, as well as its mix of Strategic and Tactical RPG gameplay, Brigandine offers a sandbox of sorts in which to play. In this sandbox, you can focus on the limited but solid story of the game as you plan your conquest of Forsena, and you can imagine a parallel narrative that follows your own unique path of conquest.
Thanks to the very TRPG elements and the variety of monsters and characters, you can play the game multiple times with different natures, and I don't think it will ever be boring. Sure, the game may be lacking in certain production elements, and it has some unfulfilled potential. However, the ambition of what's there ensures that fans of the game won't forget it for a long time.
1-If you are playing anything more difficult than easy, then just stick with a core rotation of 9-11 characters and their armies.
2-Focus on protecting your border towns by always leaving three officers in them (Even when attacking from those towns when there is another path).
3-Attacking a city from different directions can be very helpful.
4-Aquatic units are extremely helpful on water tiles.
5-Its best to stick together, but pay attention to casters with area-of-effect attacks.
6-Generally, it is best to kill all enemy units before attacking the Rune Knight, but go for the knight if in trouble.
7-Don't forget to equip both your characters and monster with the loot you get from battles and quests.
8-Send the reminder of your army to quests.
9-There is an elemental triangle to attacks. Red vs. Green vs. Blue.
Some battle dialouge is really good
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
Check out that 80s asthetic
I enjoyed Brigandine very much. So much that I am buying its long-delayed sequel, Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia on the Nintendo Switch.
The next game on my addendum review list is the twin set of King's Field games on the PS1, numbers 2 and 3. I have low expectations of how these early From Software games aged, and might even end up skipping actually reviewing them.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: