What’s old is new again
Antiques possess a magnetic quality, an appeal to our imaginations, a false nostalgia for a time most of us are too young to remember. There’s a comforting allure to these relics. They offer a window into the past, a living history. It’s a connection, however tenuous, to where we came from, a place to which we’ve never visited or cannot return.
Brandish: The Dark Revenant is an antique, something of a refurbished one. Falcom’s classic role-playing game began its life as a PC release in 1991. It would later come to SNES, and was then remade in 2009 for PlayStation Portable, albeit only for Japan. Now, more than a half-decade later, a localization has finally arrived on western shores. Better late than never.
Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP, PS Vita and PS TV compatible)
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Released: January 13, 2014
Despite having a history spanning decades, Brandish doesn’t have much of a tale to tell. The adventure centers on Ares Toraernos, a young warrior who finds himself lost in a labyrinthine spire deep within the subterranean kingdom of Vittoria. His only interests are survival and escape.
Brandish isn’t without its charms, though. There’s an endearing roadrunner and coyote dynamic between the protagonist and his nemesis Dela Delon, a vengeful sorceress who spends most of her time falling into pits. It’s a game largely bereft of narrative, almost happily so. Falcom seems more than content to thrust old school dungeon crawling squarely into center stage.
Traipsing through mazes in search of the next staircase is the primary focus. However, the journey to the surface isn’t as simple as it sounds. As one might expect, the tower is teeming with monsters, traps, and pitfalls. The treacherous setting is almost the principal character of this yarn.
Brandish is difficult, but unlike the original, it’s not challenging for the wrong reasons. While nearly identical in most respects, massive improvements have been made to the camera controls.
Both versions share a top-down perspective. The hero is positioned in the center of the screen and can move forward, backward, and side to side using the control pad. Turning to the right or left is handled with the shoulder buttons, which actually pivot the world around the character.
The design initially seems clumsy and odd, though it’s never as bewildering as it was back in the day. The original game rapidly transitioned from one perspective to the next in a jarring fashion, whereas the remake has a clear twisting animation. This is definitely the version you want to play.
Again, Brandish is all about surviving long enough to find your way to the next staircase, and there are a myriad of traps, foes, and puzzles along the way to prevent you from achieving that goal.
The action-heavy combat actually reminds me a little of baseball. It has this rhythm, a comforting repetition that gives rise to the unexpected. Ares’ shield automatically blocks most attacks, allowing you to focus on when and how to attack. It’s a fairly simplistic setup, which is good because you’ll frequently be combating more than one enemy at a time while avoiding environmental hazards.
Another concern you’ll have in battle is weapon degradation. Most arms can only be used a set number of times. This means you’ll probably want to keep that powerful sword in reserve in case you come across an imposing adversary, as opposed to needlessly annihilating a common grunt. Yes, there are bosses, but they’re rare. These encounters serve to punctuate the journey and test your mettle more than anything.
While it can be quite tough, Brandish is rarely unforgiving. Falcom does an admirable job of showing you the ropes, gradually increasing the challenge and adding new elements as soon as you get handle on the old ones. The only major spike in difficulty occurs in the Dark Zone, which seems to have more pitfalls than walkable terrain, a limited field of view, and devastating enemies.
Even if you’re constantly dying, Brandish isn’t discouraging. It has a save-anywhere feature and checkpoints at every floor. It also backs that up with an item called “retry bread,” allowing you to respawn at a particular location should you fall in battle. Taking advantage of these tools will help mitigate most of your frustrations, especially when things get a tad onerous later on.
As much as I enjoy Brandish, it probably isn’t for everyone. Those looking for a sweeping story about legendary heroes are barking up the wrong tree. This game is about marching through trap-laden mazes and solving puzzles at a deliberate pace. Go in with the right mindset and you will discover a well-crafted role-playing game, one which has aged surprisingly well.
It may have taken forever to get here, but Brandish: The Dark Revenant was worth the wait.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]