Well, isn’t this a blast from the past? Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is the long-awaited sequel to 1998’s Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena for the PlayStation. This time with an entirely new team, with Matrix Software taking over development and Happinet taking over publishing. For all intents and purposes, Forsena was a bit of a flop and massively flew under the radar back in 1998, ultimately leading to the discontinuation of the IP…until now.
Set in an entirely new world to Forsena, Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia transports us to the continent of Runersia and the massive continent-wide war that is about to take place. For those not in the know, Brigandine is a tactical/strategy RPG in the same vein as Fire Emblem. It certainly seems to aim to ride the wave of recent interest in tactical RPG’s as a result of Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ popularity. So, if you like Fire Emblem and are looking for another game in a similar format, here you go. But be warned, going from Fire Emblem to Runersia is like going from the paddling pool to an Olympic swimming pool.
The world of Runersia is certainly very interesting and had me hooked from the off. In brief terms, Runersia is a continent home to a number of different factions. They range from a traditional Kingdom, all the way down to a Pirate enclave and everything in-between, all of which are playable. Naturally, I chose the Holy Gustava Empire because I’ve always gravitated towards the underdogs, which can be seen in my supported sports teams (Go Bengals!). But why are the Empire the underdogs? Well, apart from being the youngest nation, they also lack a titular Brigandine: a fabled piece of armour of which there are only five, all of them already in the possession of the opposing nations.
The game does a very good job of getting the player invested in the plight of their chosen faction. With a large number of cutscenes and dialogue to flesh out the key characters, their aims, their motivations, and their relationships. You really want to see them succeed. And in my case, I really wanted the plucky Holy Gustava Empire to get one up on those other snooty factions. The story is delivered in a pretty standard visual novel format with still sprites conversing above a text window. The game does not feature an English dub, and all the voice acting is in Japanese. Which was no problem for me, and the Japanese voice acting is of very high quality, which helped a lot.
The art style of the character sprites is also very appealing with very intricate designs including garb and themes which distinguish them from other factions, matching their respective nation. Outside of character art styles, the overall theme of the interface is very appealing to look at, which is fortunate because you’re gonna be staring at it a lot during the organisation phases. The graphics in the combat are pretty standard; nothing too impressive but it’s functional for a game of its type. I was pretty disappointed that the units on the battlefield don’t look like the Rune Knight they are supposed to be, even story reliant key members of your nation.
The game has a very extensive tutorial and you will need it. The mechanics at play are extensive. In short, the gameplay is split into three distinct phases: Organisation Phase, Attack Phase, and Combat. The Organisation and Attack phases form a “season”. If you select either the normal or hard difficulty you are limited in how many seasons you have to win the game for your nation. The Organisation phase sees you move units around and set up what enemy outposts you wish to attack in the attack phase. If you have enough units, you can attack as many outposts as you wish during the Attack Phase. As the player, you take control of your nation’s Rune Knights, beings of power who can command the lesser monster units on the battlefield. After being bombarded with information and mechanics for about an hour or so during the tutorial, I did have to take a break before diving into the main game.
Unfortunately, Runersia began to let itself down. The gameplay is not particularly flashy but at times appears as a massive cluster of chaos which is difficult to plan around. As each Rune Knight can command a large number of smaller monsters, combat often results in a slugging match in the middle of the battlefield with all the units in a large hard-to-decipher cluster. The gameplay often feels very samey and repetitive and long Attack phases with multiple battles grow quite tiresome very quickly. That being said, the enemies are no walk in the park and can dole out as much damage as you can whilst being incredibly resilient. This can lead to some real tactical planning of coordinating attacks with buffs and heals from your backline units.
Runersia also features a permadeath mechanic. I find it too stressful constantly worrying about a unit dying forever (I avoided the permadeath in Three Houses like the plague). Fortunately, the permadeath doesn’t apply to the actual Rune Knights, only their comparably more expendable monster subordinates. After grinding to level up a monster unit and upgrade them only to lose them because of an unlucky turn can be pretty disheartening. Revival items do exist; however, they are few and far between. Units will be lost, maybe high-level ones, and you may not always have the required items to revive them. When this happened, coupled with the repetitive gameplay, I found I would play Runersia for an hour, feel fatigued and have to come back to it later.
After such a long period of time between the IP’s first entry, has there been any meaningful innovations made to make Runersia standout or give newbies to the genre step out of the Fire Emblem comfort zone? Well, not really, no. Runersia has solid mechanics that hold it up as a good tactical RPG but it’s a very safe game. Unfortunately, Matrix did not opt to insert some inventive mechanics or changes compared to other tactical RPGs on the market, to celebrate or elevate Brigandine being brought into the 21st Century.
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is a good Strategy/Tactical RPG. But that’s all it is, it’s good but it doesn’t innovate over its contemporaries or bring anything new to the table. The main motivation for continuing is to see your nation succeed but the game does make that difficult with the repetitive but solid gameplay and frequent losses of high-level units sapping your motivation after extended periods of time. I would recommend Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia to those looking for a more typical tactical RPG experience if you’re coming off the back of a more introductory title such as Fire Emblem. If you’re a seasoned tactical RPG player, I would not go into Runersia expecting anything new compared to previous titles you may have played.
- Solid tactical RPG gameplay.
- Decent story to keep you playing.
- Appealing art style
- Great voice-acting
- Repetition, repetition, repetition.
- Fights can become cluttered and confusing.
- No new innovations.