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Friday, June 26, 2020

Review: Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S. 

Back on the original PlayStation there was a game called Brigandine. I didn't play it. I suspect a lot of people didn't. It faded from popular memory quickly enough, and there was never a proper sequel. Now, though, 22 years after the original launched in the west, we have got a new entry into the franchise and Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia has immediately become one of my favourite Nintendo Switch titles. 

This is a tactical strategy game, in which you need slowly conquer a continent that starts out split into six nations. Each nation controls a number of castles, and in those castles you can use mana points to "summon" monsters, before giving those monsters to heroes to command in battle. Each hero can only command so many units (each hero has a "command" rating), and more powerful monsters cost more points... but then oftentimes it's important to have cheaper monsters for the unique skills they bring to the party anyway. 

Once you've got your parties together it's time to attack enemy strongholds, which shifts the action to a hex-based grid for some tactics combat. Here you'll need to protect your leaders (because if they're defeated all the monsters they command are also removed from the battlefield) while aiming to take down enemy heroes. All along you'll also be looking to level up your heroes and monsters where possible, because they can, at certain experience levels, be promoted to far more powerful classes. As far as the tactics go, Brigandine is superbly deep, with such a wealth of character classes, combinations, skills and abilities that armchair generals will never tire of testing themselves against the enemy.


Brigandine is no 4X strategy game; there are no alliances to make, economies to manage, scientific research to finance, nor diplomacy to speak of; every nation is out for blood and that's all that any of them care about. In this way it's closer to the classic strategy of a Defender of the Crown, and this isn't a criticism by any means. I love Civilization and Europa Universalis as much as anyone, but there are also times where the simple and unfettered conquest strategy game is appealing, and Brigandine hones in on that appeal perfectly. The map is classically designed so that, no matter where you attack, you've got enemies on multiple fronts, meaning that you need to be as aware of counter-attacks and making sure you have the resources to manage those as you are of the attacks themselves. On the lowest difficulty level the AI is quite passive, so as to not frustrate more junior generals, but on the high difficulty settings you will be tested, and quite possibly bested, and that's great fun in its own way. 

The only negative to all of this is that pacing is a little suspect. It's not so much the map-level strategy, but rather the tactical action can drag on a little long for the conquest of each individual fief. This is especially true when the relative strengths of the factions are so different that the tactical action is just a formality. Brigandine does a good job of making a come from behind victory through sound tactics possible to an extent, but overwhelming odds are still overwhelming odds, even for the Napoleons out there. Particularly if you're doing the strategy-level resource management well. When that happens Brigandine can almost threaten to become dull. 

Thankfully it scrapes through, and part of the reason is that it's not a game that's relying purely on its gameplay to get buy. Brigandine has some other tricks up its sleeve. It tells a compelling story, for a start. Each nation and the individuals within it are written with the same kind of narrative attention that a Fire Emblem roster enjoys. It's a little more serious in tone (and a fair chunk less anime fanservicey), but the overall world is a compelling fantasy universe of intrigue, magic, clandestine plots and epic conflicts. None of this is something that you'll expect going in; to look at the screenshots and general concept of the thing you would think that it's a pure gameplay play... but, no, that narrative is there and more integral to the experience than you'd expect. It's also a great reason to play Brigandine through at least six times, since each nation has its own narrative, though it will take you dozens of hours to see it all. 


The other hook that's going to keep you compelled is the aesthetics. Brigandine is one spectacularly gorgeous game, with intricately detailed, high fantasy art meaning that each and every character stands out as a distinctive personality and a product of their nation and culture. In contrast, battlefield character models are only functional, and that is unfortunate, but by the time you get there, you would have already been given their narrative and artistic context, and that's so vivid that you'll have no problem filling the blanks in yourself. 

Given that there are 100 different heroes, 50 monster types (with different ones being available at different locations), and each fortress provides a different tactics map, the combinations at play in Brigandine are functionally endless. Brigandine doesn't feature secondary systems that we've seen in other tactics strategy games like town management or dating simulation elements, but it also doesn't need those elements. In being a streamlined and focused tactics game, and allowing those narrative and art elements to shine, Brigandine ultimately comes across as classy and elegant. The first campaign I played was with a nation whose leader enjoys moonlighting as a ballet dancer, and really, that is emblematic of the whole Brigandine experience; this is a rich, fully realised, and downright Shakespearean take on the whole genre. 

Having not played the original Brigandine, I don't know if this new one does justice to the legacy of the original. I do know that original is well-respected (and quite rare, therefore expensive), but I'm comfortable saying this: developer Matrix Software has done something special with Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia, and this effort deserves to have a legacy all of its own. The Switch is by no means short on great tactics experiences, but Brigandine might just be the best of all of them.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

The critic has purchased a copy of this game for the purposes of review.



Review: Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia (Nintendo Switch)
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