Solid mechanics and thoughtful design go a long way in making a game timeless. Take Brandish: The Dark Revenant, for instance. Recently released Stateside on the PSP and Vita, the game was originally launched in Japan back in 2008. Before that, it was known as Brandish, an early dungeon crawler for the PC and the SNES. All these years later, its deceptively simple components add up to make an experience that's every bit as entertaining as modern offerings.
Developed by Nihon Falcom, the original Brandish barely saw the light of day in the U.S. When it was announced that an updated version of the game would be releasing for Sony's first handheld console back in 2008, many thought for sure that the hidden gem would finally be excavated here in the West. Now, six years later, the team at XSEED has decided to do what it does best: Find an amazing game that we Yanks would otherwise never get our hands on, localized it with great care, and finally released it as a digital game for its original home on the PSP, as well as the PlayStation Vita.
Now known as Brandish: The Dark Revenant, players are being treated to enhanced graphics, the ability to switch between a more modern take on the game's lovely soundtrack and the original chiptune tracks, some fresh artwork and even a second, alternate campaign once the credits roll.
In the game, a kings foolishness leads to angering a godlike dragon, which sinks his kingdom into the earth. At the heart of this massive city is a great tower, constructed as a labyrinth and filled with monsters and traps so that no one may ever reach its top floor. Buried by sand and time, the city and its legend were forgotten for 1,000 years.
That's where you come in. Taking on the role of a young swordsman named Ares, you've recently overthrown a dark wizard and, on your way to the next adventure, are set upon by his enraged assistant, Dela. Dela, as it turns out, isn't all that great with her magic and accidentally blows a hole in the earth, leaving the pair of you to plummet into darkness. When you awaken, you are standing on the outskirts of the legendary tower, and the only way to return to the surface is to work your way back up through 40 floors of peril with Dela nipping at your heels the entire way.
It's a simple setup for a seemingly simplistic game. You've only got a few buttons to worry about at any given time and your shield even auto-blocks so long as an enemy is standing in front of you. Throw in a few clever components and deviously designed dungeons, though, and you've got the makings of a challenging puzzle that's a blast to figure out, floor by floor.
Staying true to its old-school roots, Brandish actually takes place in third person but plays a lot like a first-person dungeon crawler similar to Legend of Grimrock. The camera remains bolted behind you, with the shoulder buttons used to wing your perspective 90 degrees in either direction. You'll be doing that a lot, for both navigational and investigation purposes, as many of the game's traps are visible to the naked eye, so long as you're willing to look.
A jump button lets you leap two spaces, an attack button lets you swing your sword, and combining directional commands with another button lets you use one of your three equipped items like keys, potions, spells and the like.
Your inventory is quite limited in the early goings, though you can locate extra compartments if you're willing to search the dungeon thoroughly. Your weapons and magic rings also have a set number of uses, so you'll constantly be keeping your eye on equipment to make sure you're not left out in the cold once you enter a room full of baddies. Nothing worse than a broken sword when you've still got three reincarnated soldiers to fend off.
A somewhat lonely and oppressive experience, you'll only occasionally run into fellow travelers on your way through the tower. Some of them are trying, like yourself, to escape, while others have resigned themselves to their fate and simply set up shop in this dark and dangerous world.
While it can be easy to get frustrated with deadly pits and traps that drop you down into a basement, only to find your way out and try to navigate a tricky region all over again, the negative tension I was feeling quickly drained out of the game at around the fourth floor, when I realized I was playing it all wrong.
Up to this point (and beyond, actually), I was getting a distinctive Dark Souls vibe out of Brandish: The Dark Revenant. From the atmosphere, to the sporadically placed and mostly depressing shopkeepers, to the inventory management and gear maximizing, the game felt like it could have easily been an entry in the Souls series from way back in the day. The first thing I tell someone who is having trouble with that more modern series is that they need to stop playing it like a run-of-the-mill action game. Run and gun tactics seldom yield results in Dark Souls, and the traps/level designs demand that you move forward with caution, shield held high.
Once I started playing Brandish in a similar fashion, I felt like I was being rewarded for my patience with fewer unfortunate surprises and entire complex levels that I managed to weave my way through nearly unscathed. While some pits can be identified by their slight variation in floor design, others are indistinguishable from the rest. Once you discover an area littered with said pits, you can us these metal balls to check the floor in front of you to make sure that its sturdy. I had those balls in my inventory but, rather than take my time and rely on them, I foolishly tried to muscle my way through.
You also have a bread item that you can use to create an instant spawn point anywhere in the game. When I found myself struggling through a particular portion of combat, I'd simply use the bread and keep myself from warping all the way back to the beginning of the floor.
Again, the game gives you plenty of tools to crack its many codes, you just have to be willing to keep your eyes open and use them when the time comes.
At around 20 hours to complete the main story, Brandish: The Dark Revenant is a meaty romp that should delight any fan of the genre. The controls take a little bit of getting used to, which actually enhances that more methodical approach to the game. It's a rare treat, and I'm glad we've finally received an opportunity to enjoy it.
I should also note that a second campaign starring Dela is unlocked upon completion of the main campaign, and my understanding is that it takes you through another 10 floors of trials that are only for the most hardcore of players. I haven't gotten too far into that portion of the game, but I doubt that it's the kind of challenge I'll want to fully sink my teeth into. For those of you who enjoy that kind of punishment, though, it's ready and waiting at the top of the tower, adding a nice layer of icing on top of the proverbial cake.
Platforms: PSP. PS Vita
Publisher: XSEED Games