Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia (Switch) REVIEW – Not Quite Legendary
I never really played the first Brigandine aside from brief sessions at a friend’s house. He was livid about it, though, and would talk endlessly about the storylines and the strategies he developed. After spending many hours playing through the campaign of the sequel, Legend of Runersia, I now have a greater understanding of what he meant. It’s a smart and fun strategy game that works well within the confines of a console, but might leave strategy and tactics veterans wanting.
The game starts with a brief history of the continent of Runersia. An entity called the Rune God came along and created the land and let mana rain down over it. This mana could then be collected by powerful Rune Knights, who would use it to summon fearful monsters and demons to do battle against each other. The goal is straightforward: conquer your enemies and unite the lands before a set number of turns expire. To help you achieve this, you start with a handful of Rune Knights and your faction leader.
You go about this through two modes of play. The overworld has a strategical layer, where you order your armies around the continent, summon monsters to your troops, attack provinces, or fiddle around with your inventory and troop composition. Then there are the tactical battles themselves, in which you control your units on a map. Interspersed between these are visual novel-esque cutscenes, which serve to flesh out characters and the overall story.
The battles play out as you would expect from a tactical RPG. You deploy up to three Rune Knights with their troops and then take turns issuing commands to your units. The goal is to kill your enemies or make them rout. You achieve victory on the battlefield by knowing what strengths and weaknesses your monsters and leaders have. Do they do ranged or magic damage? What terrain do they prefer? Where in the troop are they positioned? There are a lot of stats and numbers to keep in mind here, especially when factoring in items and gear. Indeed, not paying attention to this might leave you incapable of killing certain leaders or monsters. For instance, filling a force full of heavy and lumbering units will spell doom when facing flying and nimble opponents.
One way Brigandine makes this a little more palatable to deal with is the way it handles morale and the leader system. If a leader faces defeat in battle, he or she will withdraw together with the troops. It’s even more perilous for faction leaders, as their defeat will cause the entire army to fall back. Leaders will also retire from battle if they lose too many of their units and feel the situation is hopeless. This system opens up for more strategic ways of solving problems. If you’re facing overwhelming opposition, you might go for the leader instead, or vice versa. Making troops flee is especially tantalizing as there is a small chance to capture enemy monsters when they try to flee.
This is how I defeated the Gustavan Empire in my first playthrough. The problem was their faction leader, or rather his pet Behemoth. No matter what I threw at it, I could barely damage it. The Gustavan emperor, however, proved to be a much softer target. Each battle I had with him would end with me taking a crack team of my best leaders and monsters to go after the emperor before the Behemoth could stomp me out. It proved to be a valid tactic and, in the end, I had captured the beast, making my enemy’s fiercest weapon my own.
Brigandine falters the most in between the battles when you have to deal with the strategic mode and the visual novel styled story. It’s very simplistic: there’s no diplomacy, trade, or any other way to interact with your rival kingdoms except in warfare. It’s an all-out brawl to the death. You might suggest that the simplicity is part of the design, however, this hamstrings the later stages of the game. When you have several kingdoms that are so weakened that they are completely incapable of making a return, you still have to hunt down every single asset they possess to knock them out of the game. I wish I could demand their surrender or that they become my vassal at that point instead.
Brigandine’s story also leaves something to be desired. While the overall plot is paper-thin and mostly serves as an excuse for conflict, it does show off some depth in the way the characters react to each other. Most of the nobles and Rune Knights have some relationship with their rivals in other kingdoms. Some are old friends, lovers, or colleagues, and there is usually a verbal exchange between the characters before a battle ensues. Sadly, it never amounts to anything other than flavor and it’s truly a missed opportunity. Your Knights never threaten defection or refuse to hurt their old friends. Having to take peoples’ likes and relationships into consideration would have lent some interesting depth to the strategic layer of the game.
Similarly, it feels like something is missing in the “visual novel” parts of the story. You’re mostly just along for the ride without any chance to impact what is happening. While this can be interesting, Brigandine’s story is stuffed full with every anime cliche you can imagine. Awkward adolescent love – check. Scenes of cooking and eating awful food – check. Every trope I have seen in shonen anime pops up in this game.
Worse than that, though, is that it feels like Brigandine wanted to make something more expansive with these scenes. Some of the scenarios which play out practically scream to have choices and consequences, like a Telltale game. A scene with one of my Rune Knights comes to mind. After a battle, this knight went about trying to recruit a warrior, but the only way he could do this was to take the warrior’s family hostage and blackmail him into doing it. Afterwards, the knight reflected that he did not like doing what he did from a moral standpoint. That situation would have been perfect to infuse some player agency. I could have pressured the knight to do it, or counselled him to try to go about it in another way. Instead, it’s just a lengthy cutscene with an awkward ending.
I like many aspects of Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia. Collecting and upgrading monsters is enjoyable and feels great. Likewise, the tactical battles are really fun — beating an enemy leader and taking their monsters will make me smile any day of the week. That said, the game does fall short in some areas.
The top-level strategy could have been much improved by some simple diplomacy to make the endgame more fluid and engaging. Brigandine could also have benefitted a lot by integrating character relations and the overall storytelling more in the gameplay. It also doesn’t help that Brigandine isn’t the best looking game out there. Sure, some of the art is nice, but most of the action looks a bit drab. The battlefields look like something from the PlayStation 2 era, and many of the monsters are just pallet swaps. As such, Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia does not quite reach the heights of truly great tactical RPGs.
A Switch key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is decent tactical RPG that doesn’t quite reach greatness. Recommended for anyone who loves shonen anime and collecting monsters.
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