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The PSP seems to have gotten more than its fair share of crap when it comes to the RPG genre. Poorly ported (and sometimes translated) shovelware like The Legend of Heroes, Spectral Souls, and the original Generation of Chaos seem to have become par for the course for Sony's handheld. Even the games created specifically for the console seem to be average at best; Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground, Kingdom of Paradise, and Blade Dancer are all passable, but none of them can be considered to be stand-out titles. Enter Brave Story: New Traveler, developed by Game Republic, the minds behind the Genji titles. The title is based on an incredibly popular Japanese novel that most Americans have never heard of, despite the fact that the translation will be available in less than a month. Brave Story's most amazing feat isn't that it's introduced anything new to the genre or has some feature that's the vanguard of a new subgenre of games. No, Brave Story: New Traveler is, in fact, nothing particularly new. However, it is exactly what the PSP needs at this very moment: a competent, charming, entertaining RPG that appeals to a wide audience. XSEED's made a good choice localizing this one.
Let me be very clear: those looking for the next best thing in the evolution of role-playing games won't have anything to do with Brave Story: New Traveler, nor will those who are looking for an incredibly seriously-minded plot involving socio-political strife between different echelons of a conflict-driven nation. No, Brave Story follows the story of a young boy named Tatsuya whose good friend Miki has fallen ill due to an unknown force. Tatsuya is offered the chance to travel to the world of Vision, whereupon he becomes a Traveler, searching for five gems used to summon the goddess of destiny and save his stricken friend. During his travels, Tatsuya will run into a great deal of fantasy stand-bys: cat-people, known as Kitkin, lizardmen known as Waterkin, gnome-like people, and just about anything else you would figure belonged in a fantasy world. His friends, culled not only from the Human-like Ankha, but from the other races as well, fit well in the fairly stereotypical roles provided them: the adult Waterkin, Sogreth, who finds himself escorting the ragtag band of heroes, Yuno, the young, headstrong kitkin who becomes Tatsuya's first ally, and several other allies are all very charming. The dialogue flows well, is humorous at many times, and most gamers who aren't stony-faced will crack smiles at some of the story. Those who have seen the Japanese animated movie or read the novel will be interested to know that the story is a parallel to Wataru's, but instead follows a new set of characters. For what it is, Brave Story: New Traveler has a very charming story.
Tatsuya and friends find themselves fighting enemies in fairly standard RPG style: random battles with a turn-based battle system. The garden variety commands are all present, the three party members in battle can attack, defend, use items, and use bravura abilities (the equivalent of magic). Also present are unity attacks, which allow the characters to team up a la Chrono Trigger to use devastating attacks that can clear out random encounters in a single use. The only catch has to do with Bravery Points, the equivalent to MP. While both Bravura and Unity skills use MP, damage from all attacks, even those that consume BP, will restore the points based on damage. Rarely will players need to travel to town to stock up on items or to stay at the inn because of this; charging through battles with standard attacks can replenish bravery enough to cast healing spells.
That's not where the battle system ends, however. While it's easy enough to play through the entirety of Brave Story without any knowledge beyond the basics, there is more strategy below the surface. At the very beginning of the game, Tatsuya finds himself barraged with questions; these questions, when answered by the player, make up his initial statistics. As he collects the different gems, players are forced to make decisions that change the impact of his weapon, mostly in regards to its elemental orientation. Enemies will often be weak to certain elements and are also classified amongst different tribal categories. Many special attacks will do additional damage to enemies among one of these categories, so attacking willy nilly isn't the smartest thing to do. While enemies will spawn in different colors and sizes for slightly different statistics, some enemies can become Crazed if certain elements are met. Crazed enemies are far more powerful than their standard counterparts, so it's best to eliminate them as quickly as possible.
Beyond its battle system, Brave Story does have more to keep the gaming public interested in Tatsuya and company. Players are able to craft accessories throughout the game as they find patterns scattered across the world. These items range from simple statistic boosters to things which provide resistance to any number of status effects, as well as many intangibles, such as being less likely to be ambushed in random battle. Better still, the ingredients for these accessories are known as soon as the recipe becomes part of Tatsuya's inventory. Dismantling of accessories found during battle will allow the player to accrue materials much faster than simply collecting dropped items from battle.
On the other side of the non-battle coin is Brave Story's goalfinch breeding and fighting system. Tatsuya, armed now with an oversized net instead of his sword, he must run around and catch as many of the small birds as he can in thirty seconds. Based on the color of the birds he catches, the end bird - a combination of all the birds he caught - will have different statistics and color. Players can either battle other goalfinch trainers across the world or sell off extra goalfinches to people in town for some extra cash or items. Either way, the system is entirely optional, and while some may enjoy it, I chose to mostly ignore it.
If everything about Brave Story: New Traveler seems fairly standard, that's because it is. What makes it quite so special, however, is that the presentation is simply fantastic. Game Republic has created a world that's visually stunning and characters that are equally impressive. All of the character models are detailed and never seem like they've been scaled down to fit in with the PSP's graphic styles. While certainly things aren't as detailed as everyone's favorite PlayStation 2 or Xbox 360 titles, Brave Story's presentation is such that it fits the PSP perfectly. Attack animations are fluid and are accompanied by comic book or manga-like BOOM!s, BANG!s, and the like. Most of the environments are kept simple, but, much like the character models, don't feel inferior because of the spectacular job Game Republic has done tailoring the game to the PSP console.
Music in Brave Story isn't quite as impressive as the game's visual aspects. While the music is never bad, I can't think of any particular songs that were spectacular, either. XSEED has added voice acting to the movie sequences in the game, and while they're sparse, most of it is fairly good, aside from Yuno, whose voice sounds more than a little grating. All of the battle sounds are on par, as well, with Yuno continuing to annoy. When all is said and done, though, the game has an impressive feel.
With all that said and done, Brave Story is a solid RPG that fits well - but there's one last thing that puts it above the bar in regards to PSP RPGs. A great deal of the titles on the PSP are marred with load times that range from bad (Valkyrie Profile's menus), to horrible (Spectral Souls) to simply abysmal (WWE Smackdown). Game Republic has crafted a game that would feel smooth on a cartridge-based system, all while providing a top quality visage. Players will rarely hear the groaning and grinding of the PSP reading the UMD. While there is a lot of charm to much of Brave Story, this, beyond anything else, is what places it above and beyond most of the other titles on the PSP.
While it may be a little easy and a little childish, Brave Story: New Traveler is an RPG that will appeal to an incredibly wide audience and is one of the first titles to truly take advantage of the handheld hardware Sony has provided. Entertaining, cute, and engaging, Brave Story is exactly what the PSP needs. Any RPG-loving PSP owner should check it out because as it stands, Brave Story is, without a single doubt, the best original RPG for the widescreen handheld.