Brigandine, a name for a medieval suit of armor composed of scales or plates, is the latest strategy RPG from fan favorite Atlus. Brigandine is a game designed solely for hardcore strategy fanatics so those who don’t enjoy fiddling with statistics, formations and campaigning need not apply.
“To War, For Peace”
Brigandine’s story takes place in the kingdom of Almekia. It is located on the central plains of Forsenia and had finally achieved peace with the defeat of the country of Norgard whom it was warring with. Tragedy struck the kingdom one-year after the end of the war with the assassination of King Heingst by General Zemeckis. Zemeckis, claiming himself the new emperor, established the Esgaris Empire to entrench his domination. Possessed by a desire to conquer the world, he began assaulting his neighboring countries.
You control one of the Rune Knights, and you will participate in this war for the continent. You must bring peace to Forsenia before the forces of Norgard realize their chance to finally destroy Almekia. There are 5 rulers whose destiny you have the option to control. Cai, the Silent and Wise King of Caerleon; Lance the Prince of New Almekia; Lyonesee, Queen of Leonia; Vaynard, ruler of Norgard and Dryst, the Mad Duke of Iscalio.
The story in Brigandine is extremely thin. Story segments are told briefly in dialogue boxes and are usually just summaries of quests or the announcement of an alliance with another kingdom. The player pretty much controls the pacing and consequences of the story themselves. This has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side, you’re afforded complete control over your character’s destiny. Alliances are easily broken if you wish to conquer that land as well. The minus side is that it is missing those dramatic moments that we’ve come to enjoy in recent strategy RPG’s. The political intrigue and character development is not there and it does hurt the story’s potential strength. You can create your own intrigue and pace the story to your pleasing, but the characters aren’t prominent enough to really garner an honest reaction as to how you’d feel about them. More detail and dialogue from characters would help the player decide who they’d wish to conquer or ally with. It would make the game even more personal.
I know that story is not intended to be a large part of this game, but the almost total neglect of that aspect is a problem. It occurs in other areas as well. While the strategy aspect is what deserves to be most focused upon, secondary aspects are also important in creating an experience for the player.
“Damn, that’s a big Dragon!”
The visuals in Brigandine suffer form what I consider to be the same neglect that the story suffered from. A lot was made out of the 3D battle cut-scenes within the game. And yes, they are impressive in their presentation of the scale of different character. Pixies look like specs next to giant dragons rather than the usual shrinking of big creatures in battles that had become the standard. This is also used to make battles much more realistic. But these 3D cut-scenes are also of fairly low quality. Backgrounds are usually plain and the polygonal models look like first generation PlayStation graphics. Animation is fairly limited and spell effects are usually rather weak. They also are usually cast from a distance so you only see the casting of the spell, not the effect it has on the enemies it hits.
The over world map looks pretty much like the one in Ogre Battle. It is very flat and has little detail to break things up. It doesn’t even compare favorably to many 16-bit titles. It serves its functions, but nothing else. I’ve come to expect a bit more from game developers. Every aspect of a game deserves at least some attention. The strategic overhead battle sequences are played out on an overhead hexagonal filed. The graphics are 2D and are equally unspectacular. Landscapes are usually bare and while the sprite characters are large, they are also rather plain and stiff. The main problem with the graphics in the game is simply that they are uninspired. There is no singular style or any attention to detail. The scale based battle sequences come off as a mere gimmick, except in their relation to the battle engine. And considering the length of battles and load time for the sequences most people will appreciate the option to turn those sequences off.
The music in the game is a simplistic classical style, of middling sound quality. The compositions are rather basic, and while that isn’t necessarily a problem, the compositions are not memorable either. The only tune you’ll remember is the battle theme, but only if you’re one of the few that won’t turn the television volume down and pop in a good music CD to play along to. I recommend a nice collection of Bach’s symphonies. It fits the action rather nicely.
The sound effects are rather standard and only go above average during the 3D battle cut scenes. There are some very nice effects thrown into those sequences and they are high quality sound samples. Unfortunately, they are wasted on the player, as most will prefer to turn them off. There is no real reason to leave them on unless you’re a masochist and enjoy making 1 hour long battles into 2 or 3 hour long battles.
“Break the enemy lines!”
The game play in Brigandine is what truly shines. It is a strategy gamer’s dream with a depth and scope of play, which allows me to recommend this game to fans of classic strategy titles, if not casual strategy game players.
After choosing the kingdom you will control, your campaign will begin on the over world map. You have a month to set up your forces before battles begin. You can instigate battle before that but it is not recommended. Pushing too fast will guarantee defeat early on. During the campaign month, you can mobilize your forces to the castles on the boundaries of your territories. It is also important to make sure your home castle is adequately defended. Fans of games like Risk will enjoy this portion of the game. It may seem boring but it is probably the most important aspects of the game. Having your country properly defended and setting up your assaults on other lands is key to victory.
Depending on your knights you will have a number of mana points with which to summon and control monsters. Mana points accumulate monthly so there’s no need to spend them all at once. Each knight can control a specific number of monsters depending on their Rune Power, which increases as a knight’s level increases. Also at this time, you can send knights on quests. During this time the knight and his forces will be unavailable to you but this is a necessary evil. Quests will often reap more experience, money, items and even more knights. Occasionally you will just get back a wounded knight but the benefits far outweigh the downside.
When the month is up you can expect to be attacked or you should attack other countries. When an attack begins you go to the overhead battle scene. This is played out in a similar fashion to a Shining Force game, but instead with hexagonal turn-based movement. You should generally have three knights per unit for either defense of castles or attacking. Knights are extremely important to keep alive. If they are forced to retreat, the monsters they control have to retreat as well. This will leave you at a serious disadvantage.
The summoned monsters are also unique in the game, as they are not simple cannon fodder. They will gain experience and can even change classes. If they die though, they are dead for good and you have to start over with a lower level monster. This adds a whole new element to your strategies, as the loss of a monster you’ve been building up is a tragedy. They are the backbone of your army and you have to take their safety into account. It is better to retreat sometimes than lose a high level monster that you can’t replace. Brigandine’s battle engine is one of extreme patience and precision.
It is also one of memory. Certain characters have extreme advantages over others based on the scale size character representations. Extremely large characters have no chance of hitting a small, fast character. You can pretty much neutralize a dangerous large enemy with a tiny pixie. While neither will do any damage the large enemy will be focused on the closest opponent, and you can wear them down from a distance. You also don’t want to waste attacks because the battles are very precise wars of attrition. You win through superior strategy and solid battle lines, not by brute force.
As for battle lines, they will be your most important weapon and will help you win the game. Your most basic and sure-fire strategy is to make your front line up of large monsters that will block progress and take lots of damage. Just don’t put a monster your building up there. The front lines will take the most damage and incur losses. The second line should be made of distance attackers and healers. They can help wear down the enemy and keep the front line healthy. There should also be some gap-shooters in the second line to fill in when a front liner goes down. There and in the third line is where you keep you strong monsters. They will fill the gaps and finish off the enemy after the first two lines wear them down. Knights need to be kept to the rear, and are also should be used for mopping up and getting experience.
This tactic should get you through the game on the normal settings. The wonderful thing about the engine though, is that it is extremely flexible. That strategy is just one of a hundred or so. With the wide variety of monsters and classes, a student of basic military strategy can have an incredible experience with this game.
There are 3 difficulty levels and the normal level alone is enough to keep the veterans busy. The character you choose also effects the difficulty level. Some will have an easy go of it through strong alliances and stable of knights. Others will be severely challenged every step of the way. The game also has tremendous replay value with 5 kingdoms to choose from, freedom of play and a tremendous variety in monster classes. It never has to be the same game twice. Each campaign can end up taking over 100 hours to complete depending on how you approach it. You should also be warned that the game is highly addictive. You can waste days without even realizing it, as the “conquer and grow” aspects will always leave you craving for one more level, one more castle or one more kingdom.
Brigandine is a strategy lovers dream game in terms of game play. It is highly flexible, challenging and innovative while not forgetting the basics. Unfortunately, the engine is where the praise ends. Every surrounding aspect isn’t even in the same neighborhood as the battle engine. This will unfortunately turn away the casual game player. Just a little more polish, a few more spectacular effects, and possibly a release date at a less hectic time of year could have made this game a real stepping stone toward wider acceptance of turn-based strategy games on consoles.