By Josh Speer / June 26th, 2020
|Title||Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia|
|Developer||Matrix Software, Matrix Corporation|
|Release Date||June 25th, 2020|
|Genre||Grand Strategy RPG|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Blood, Violence|
I’m going to start this review of Brigandine The Legend of Runersia with an embarrassing admission – I thought this was merely a tactical RPG. I didn’t fully comprehend the differences between that genre of game and a grand strategy RPG. But now I get it. Whereas tactical RPGs generally take place on more limited fields where you muster your troops, grand strategy is more like a giant game of Risk. You’ll need constant awareness of your surroundings, and have to work tactically, invading enemy strongholds and increasing your strength. After playing the demo of Brigandine, I knew I liked the premise, but there’s a difference between a demo and a full review. Does this live up to my lofty expectations? Or do I still prefer tactical RPGs?
Brigandine takes place in a world of magic and monsters. The source of all magic are pools of Mana, gifts from the Rune God. The most highly concentrated forms of Mana are special gems called Brigandine, worn in the past by heroic Rune Knights. These artifacts provide massive power to the holder, as well as allowing them to summon magical creatures. Though you don’t need a Brigandine to summon monsters and fight others, those that utilize them are so empowered that they’re revered as rulers of their respective nation. Each of the 6 nations (Norzaleo, Guimoule, Shinobi, Mana Saleesia, Mirelva and Gustava) have their own Brigandine, with the exception of one, and they all are trying to unify the land of Runersia for different reasons. Some want to spread justice, others demand freedom and some just want to exert authoritarian control. Regardless, when you start the game you pick one of the 6 nations, and then guide them as they work to defeat all that stands in their way. For the majority of the game, you’ll just be fighting the other nations in skirmishes and taking new land, but towards the end you’ll encounter some relatively big twists. Though I’m hesitant to reveal the nature of those events, I can say that the latter part of the game is focused intensely on the source of Mana and and the reasons each nation is waging war.
The basic loop of the game is spread across several years of in-game time. You basically need to unify the continent in a set amount of years, otherwise you lose. Each year is split into 24 seasons, which are each further split into two phases – Organization and Attack. During the former, you summon monsters, arrange them into troops with Rune Knight commanders, send troops on quests to gain experience and equipment and move troops to different occupied bases. During the Attack Phase, you send troops to invade adjacent enemy bases, and hopefully secure new territory. While there is a meaty tutorial present to explain the basics, I found it doesn’t explain nearly everything it should. For example, I was not aware that each base only lets you summon specific monster types, that Revival Stones are used to resurrect slain monsters nor that wounded commanders need to rest for a season before you can use them again. To be fair, all this information is available, but only if you know where to look. Some of it is in the Guide, which covers Tutorial steps, but some are also found in Tips. While I’m glad the information isn’t hidden per se, some of is definitely should have been upgraded to the main Tutorial. It’s no exaggeration I was playing for several hours before I figured out some of this important information. And even then, I’m unclear on some things, such as which quests provide Revival Stones. In my 33 hour playthrough, I didn’t come across one Revival Stone, and thus had to just summon and charm new monsters to fill my depleted roster.
Any game with tactical DNA lives or dies by the gameplay, and I’m happy to say I mostly loved the combat in Brigandine. Despite the high level of complexity in the game, gameplay is pretty streamlined. Whenever you attack an enemy base, you can use a maximum of three troops, and the enemy is limited to the same number of defenders. While that may initially sound disappointing, keep in mind each troop can have up to 6 monsters and 1 commander, so you can have up to 21 total units. To summon monsters, you’ll use Mana in the Organization Phase, but each base under your control grants you additional Mana each turn. You just need to make sure you have enough to summon them, and also make sure your commander has enough Mana to hold them. If not, you will have to rearrange your troops until your Mana cost is out of the red. Once battle starts, you pick 3 troops and place them on the field of battle. You’ll have 12 turns to defeat the opponent. However, you don’t always have to beat them outright. If you manage to weaken the foe by taking out a couple of their commanders, or even a majority of their monsters, they’ll often lose heart and retreat from battle, netting you a win. It’s far more satisfying to wipe them out entirely though, especially since if you defeat the commanders while they’re distant from their troop, you may capture their monsters for yourself. You can also use magic to charm monsters, for the same effect.
Combat itself is pretty simple. You move each unit, select a target, and attack. In deference to the hexagonal grid, you can do some maneuvers to block enemy progress or encircle them to increase your odds of dealing damage. The one way Brigandine shows it is still an old school game at heart is how magic works. While spells and some skills require Mana, you cannot cast magic and move in the same turn. So positioning is incredibly important. You’ll need to draw the foe close enough to be in range for your magical attacks. As I said earlier, some powerful attack skills have the same restrictions, often ones that are guaranteed to hit or which do massive damage. At first I was frustrated by this system, but I grew to appreciate it. It just forces you to be more strategic in how you move your troops about, and I’m fine with that. It’s also just fun to attack with hordes of monsters. There’s a ton of different creatures you can bring into battle, from golems to mermaids to dragons and much more besides. Each type of monster has set abilities it can use, passive and active, and will learn more when you upgrade their class. Doing so just requires the monster being at a certain level or specific stat level. The same rules apply to your commanders, who also represent a wide variety of classes and skills, including archers, magicians and brawlers. The key difference is your commanders aren’t locked into specific classes, and can branch out and learn new abilities. Best of all, they can carry some over with a sufficient proficiency level, which is reached by just attacking with them a lot. That said, I didn’t really experiment much with dual classes and the like, since this is already a huge game. A single playthrough can take anywhere from 20 to 40 hours, and that’s just for one nation. When you factor in there’s 6 of them, as well as multiple endings, you’ll start to see how expansive of a game this is. As such, I decided to try and get through fast one time instead of dillydallying.
While I do like the variety of monsters in the game, there’s also more than a few that disappointed me. Take the mermaids, for example. They have some really powerful skills that are totally unusable unless they’re on a water tile. All units have a terrain preference, allowing them to move farther and hit harder while situated on it, and be less effective when on a different terrain. But it’s another thing entirely to lock out the best attacks unless they’re sitting on ideal terrain. Especially when you consider each map in the game is nearly identical, with a couple narrow bodies of water and tons more mountain, plain and forest tiles, making mermaids kinda useless. I also wasn’t a fan of the gremlins, which could only do basic buff spells until they change classes, and would easily get wiped out by a couple solid hits. Frankly, all the physical attacker monsters are pretty interchangeable, and the magical ones are only really worthwhile if they can heal. I grew to appreciate monsters that could attack and move afterwards, or which could damage large groups of foes. Otherwise I would either bench them or just release them into the wild to replenish my Mana. Oh and lest I forget, you can only have 100 total monsters summoned at a time. This isn’t an issue for the first few hours, but when you start conquering nations and their commanders join your forces, you’ll have a harder time spreading all your monsters around evenly. Especially since you inexplicably cannot move monsters in reserve between your bases, and instead have to ferry them around in troops.
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