"After the credits rolled, I immediately wanted to dive back into the continent of Runersia for another 30-40 hour campaign from a different nation's viewpoint."
Over two decades ago, the world was introduced to Brigandine: Legend of Forsena on the PlayStation. In the twenty-two years since its release, Legend of Forsena has been viewed as a cult classic not many have heard of. While it stood in the shadows of Squaresoft's monolithic console offerings and found plenty of competition on PC, there has always been a dedicated fanbase that still plays the original to this day. In a surprise announcement, Brigandine: Legend of Runersia was revealed to the world, lighting a spark of excitement in the fans who cherished the original and piquing the interest of strategy RPG enthusiasts around the world. So, how does this Brigandine hold up? Quite well, minding a few dents in the armor.
Pitched as an Endless Grand Fantasy War, Legend of Runersia promises an epic storyline across six different factions on a new continent set in the same world as the original game. Upon starting your campaign, you’re given a brief introduction to the world and its history — much of which has been lost to the fires of war. As you select your starting nation, you'll get a glimpse into its current state as well as the personal ambitions of the leader you play as. Five of the six nations are blessed with a titular brigandine: a magical stone slotted into a piece of armor or an accessory to grant many powers and protection to its wielder. A sixth nation carries on without a brigandine, yet is established as a mighty force not to be underestimated. As you learn more about each nation from the small introductory paragraphs, you see just how these leaders interact with one another and learn how righteous or twisted their worldview is.
With inevitable conflict sweeping the continent, every nation prepares for a long and bloody war. Battles in Legend of Runersia are turn based skirmishes between two opposing sides. Every fight has up to three Rune Knights — soldiers with special powers and the ability to command monsters — for each side. Rune Knights can bring up to six monsters, should their magic pool allow, for a total of 42 units in combat. Movement takes place on hexes, allowing for greater positional tactics than a standard square grid. The Rune Knights themselves are a rather diverse assortment of witches, wizards, bards, vikings, monks, sorcerers, knights, healers, dancers, rogues, and more. Alongside these Rune Knights is a grand array of monsters ranging from adorable gremlins and sketchy goblins to hellacious dragons and fiery hellhounds.
Where the game crosses into the hardcore side is the ever present risk of permanent death. However, this only applies to your monsters. Upon defeat, they're gone for good. The only way to get them back is to use a Revival Stone, an item which I only found two of throughout my 37 hours. These are incredibly rare and best saved for your strongest or most cherished creatures. With summoning costs high relative to your mana reserves early on, monsters shouldn't be considered expendable until later in the game. Rather than let their units be killed, players should consider retreating when faced with the possibility of a Pyrrhic victory . After all, a monster who survives can continue to grow stronger with each fight.
Alternatively, when a Rune Knight is defeated, any monsters they brought into battle immediately retreat as long as their agility is high enough for them to get away in time. The Rune Knight will then be wounded and out of commission for a season, allowing you to focus efforts on other knights. This adds an additional layer of strategy to each battle; one must consider if it's more beneficial to wipe out the enemy monsters and force the Rune Knight to retreat or dispatch the Rune Knight as quickly as possible to clear the field. In many encounters, I had to study my enemy and think not only about the battle I was in, but the many to come. There were enemy creatures I expected to be problems in the future if they were allowed to grow, so I ensured they were either quickly eliminated or captured when possible.
There are dozens of different monster types throughout the game, each with their own evolutionary path. Branching classes and elemental variants add further customization to your platoon. The stat growth, new passive traits, and upgraded skills allow your monsters to dominate the battlefield. Throughout my playthrough, I used a mixed group of experienced monsters along with some lower level creatures who could get in hits and retreat when needed. With each victory, my monsters grew and evolved into higher tiers. To achieve victory with them as they grow with you is a great way to get attached to your bestial allies. Should you see fit, you're able to name each and every creature to add a bit more of a personal touch to your creature allies in the conquest of Runersia.
Across the continent, there are 41 total bases and towns. While these strongholds litter the map, there is no strategic advantage to towns beyond their geographical location in relation to enemy borders. Quests can be initiated from towns as well, though I did not find myself favoring any location in particular. With towns, there is no growth or management. There is little to make one location stand out from any other on the overworld. That said, every single town is its own battlefield, resulting in a total of over forty different maps with anywhere from one to five different points of attack. The lack of town management was a disappointment, but as I eventually rolled my army across the land, it's possible I would have been burned out by having to manage so many towns. With overall pacing in mind, I feel it was a good choice to leave towns generally simplified. I do wish there was more to make these places more lively and unique.
While the towns and backdrops do not stand out in mechanically or aesthetically pleasing ways, the game absolutely shines when it comes to character art, design, and presentation. The character artist, Raita Kazama of Xenoblade and Xenoblade X fame, has masterfully designed well over 100 characters for this game, and each piece is stunningly gorgeous. Not since the original Valkyrie Profile have I seen such intricate character art that evokes joy, melancholy, doubt, arrogance, fear, and hatred as delicately as he has. One could practically see the anxiety upon characters' faces, the tears in their eyes as sorrow consumed them, and the indignation in their glares during interactions both in and out of battle.
Sadly, the character art doesn't translate well to the in-game models. Only the six nation rulers get unique models while the 100+ Rune Knights fall into general classes with unappealing and uninspired designs. In battle, Eliza appears to be a 3D approximation of her art, while her allies Mu’ah and his granddaughter Sugar share the exact same model despite the two being radically different in their character art. With how striking these character designs are in 2D, I would have loved it if each and every knight had their own unique model. The art for the monsters is generally a treat, though it's eclipsed by the leaders and Rune Knights. Monsters tend to have decent 3D models, though when inspected up close they're not particularly captivating.
One of the most impressive aspects of the 2D artwork is how it blends perfectly with the tone of the stories told. Throughout the game, as time passes or as towns are taken, new allies may join you. Wandering mercenaries, curious travelers, and even mad scientists who wish to escape their angry spouses may take up arms with you in numerous cutscenes that play out as you carry on. Alongside these, each nation's main group of characters has their own set of plotlines that unfold over time, giving a deeper look into the allies at your side. I learned of the injustices my non-human comrades faced while also tending to the fragile egos of allies who feigned superiority. These scenes between characters along with the lost pages of history slowly reveal more and more of the incredibly deep lore spanning the entire content. They can provide crucial and occasionally surprising context into just how this conflict started in the first place. The stories that unfold are both grand and personal, granting insight to the emotions and ambitions of the people while also touching upon the politics of each nation. The story dives into concepts such as unrequited love, loss, racial inequality, and religious persecution.
Rather than giving players a bloated exposition dump, the developers dole out story and lore over time. This is a judicious call, as the pacing of the game itself is already a bit lopsided due to the game's phase structure. Units can only be moved from town to town in the organization phase while armies can only attack or defend during the attack phase. This may cause an attack to be put off an extra season while waiting for units to arrive. When waging a war on several fronts versus multiple empires, you may be attacked by armies repeatedly across the land. In addition, you may set out to try to take over as many castles as possible in your turn. These actions may all stack within the attack phase, leading to a lot of battles that need resolution. I begrudgingly recall a series of seasons where I had to fight upwards of five to six battles back to back as I tried to reclaim lost territory and fend off assaults from other nations. By the time the turn was over, I was exhausted and lacked the will to fight another battle that night.
To help alleviate fatigue, all battles have a twelve turn limit to ensure no single encounter takes an exorbitant amount of time. Should the attacker fail to defeat the defender within the allotted time, the battle is over and the attackers are repelled. While this may seem like a high turn limit at first, every battle starts around the same distance away from the enemy, who is often camped in their base. Combat often doesn't start until around the third turn. Some smaller battlefields graced with high mobility units may let you get the action started sooner, but most engagements begin after a few turns of setup and approach. Thankfully, few battles went beyond the seventh turn as most encounters were decided around the time my MP was starting to run dry and my monsters were beginning to run ragged.
Alongside this journey of nationwide conquest comes a soundtrack of wonderfully evocative musical themes in the spirit of each nation. The Norzaleo Kingdom's theme carries with it the air of heroism, ambition, and justice. Meanwhile, the Republic of Guimole's theme feels like a delicate and emotional affair that conjures up feelings of Eliza's dual identity and her struggles with uncertainty and the desire to prove herself. These are just two of the six character themes, which all are recorded with an orchestra. Tenpei Sato's works stand tall as beautiful compositions that tell an aural tale which elevates every scene and battle within the game. I still find myself humming my The Republic of Guimole's theme or listening to the music outside of the game. The soundtrack is equally as beautiful as the art and I can't say I ever grew tired of the music.
While the game has plenty of quality of life options, there are small issues such as the inability to transfer monsters without a knight, as well as the lack of any town management or diplomacy with other nations. Some button shortcuts and prompts are left out of the menu, which is a shame because they offer alternative camera views, highlights for enemies to help with visibility, and scrolling in the monster and knight list rather than having to check every base.
Pacing can be a problem both prior to and within battle, though this depends on how many battles you set up in the attack phase. Out of combat, most nations won't attack you right away if you have higher combat power. Potential enemies can be 'checked' at the borders by simply having a large force sitting idle. In combat, the AI will often prioritize units it can kill rather than targeting the largest threat. This allows exploitation of enemy behavior with level 1 units - an essentially free tactic due to how cheap units are and how quickly you reach the mana reserves cap. Finally, while the localization is quite good, there are a few errors in the script that leave out entire words or sentences. Thankfully, it was only a handful and the missing words were easily filled in through conversational context.
Across my 37 hours with the Republic of Guimole's campaign, I learned bits and pieces about my enemies that made me incredibly curious just what their viewpoints were. While I knew their general ambitions, I didn't have insight into their actions as I chased the pirates across islands and crushed the religious zealots under my heel. As I looked across the field of battle at my enemy, I couldn't help but sympathize with some of them and wonder just what they'd been through. After the credits rolled, I immediately wanted to dive back into the continent of Runersia for another 30-40 hour campaign from a different nation's viewpoint.
Brigandine: Legend of Runersia is an impressive game which takes elements of Grand Strategy and Tactical RPGs and mixes them together quite well. While I'd like deeper options outside of combat, unique assets for every knight, and more varied encounters, I enjoyed every hour I spent with the game. Even when I wasn't playing, I found myself writing down potential plans of attack and making notes of enemy units I wanted to capture or kill. It is a game I can easily recommend to strategy and JRPG fans alike, for there's something in the game to appease everyone. With a dearth of content in the campaign modes and the additional sandbox challenge modes, fans of the original and new players alike will find themselves with plenty to do across Runersia. For those who've never heard of the series, this is the perfect place to jump in and lose a couple hundred hours of your life.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.