Brandish: The Dark Revenant was originally released on the Super Nintendo in 1991. Despite its rocky reception, it was eventually ported to the PlayStation Portable in 2009 in Japan. And, after six years, it's finally travelled overseas, with a full English localisation. The big question is: has it been worth the wait?
The story follows the warrior Ares and the mysterious sorceress Dela through the kingdom of Bythol, as they attempt to uncover the mystery of the tower and its dragon protector. Tension between them is high, as the two enemies get stuck working together against their will to escape the labyrinth. You may not necessarily purchase this for its dark story, but the exemplary character development between the aforementioned adversaries forms the core of its tale.
In terms of dungeon crawlers, it employs a fairly unique mix of 3D maps and camera controls. The camera can be rotated at any time, and you can take one step in any direction. However, while it may sound slow and tedious, quick thinking and clever reactions are required, as enemies will quickly ambush you, defeating you with little effort.
Combat involves attacking, blocking, or using items. It's a simple system that quickly gets interesting when surrounded by enemies. Taking risks to strike in succession will yield stronger combos, but will also leave you susceptible to blows. Fighting is quick to learn, then, but difficult to master.
The difficulty is not all in the combat system, though, as dispatching enemies is often overshadowed by solving puzzles. In order to progress through the many maps in the game, you'll need to be able to navigate precarious traps, activate sequential switches, and discover secret areas. If 100 per cent of the floor is uncovered, a secret stone placed at the exit of the map can be shattered, granting you an extra item. Some of these will be more useful than others, but smashing that stone is immensely satisfying.
While the puzzles are often varied enough, repetition quickly rears its ugly head. As with the classic version, this game doesn't tolerate mistakes. This means that even when you run into new types of puzzles, errors will often result in you re-doing them over and over. Saving either at the start of a map or with a save bead can help to limit the frustration, but the latter are limited.
Unfortunately, this repetition also carries over to the music selection. While good at first, the song looping in the background doesn't change within the first hour or so of gameplay. These tunes will get stuck in your head, and they will haunt you after long gaming sessions.
Boss encounters are scarce, which is a shame considering that they truly help break up the gameplay. Most of these rely on quick thinking and fast reactions, since opening menus and managing inventory must be done in real-time. For example, if a sword breaks from overuse in the heat of battle, you'll need to quickly replace it if you want to win. Navigating each bag of inventory can take practice, so learning to prepare the storage spaces efficiently before skirmishes can often be the key to victory.
One positive thing is that this game sure knows how to hide its age. Whether you play it on the PSP, Vita, or PlayStation TV, the graphical style works and looks great. Obviously the textures and character models may appear a little blocky at times, but the well designed 3D maps, enemies, and vibrant colours build a cohesive and convincing game that might just make you forget that it's a last-gen release.
There's certainly enjoyment to be found in Brandish: The Dark Revenant, but you'll have to deal with some repetition before you feel the satisfaction of clearing a map. The unconventional controls and overall difficulty will likely scare off most, but for fans of old-school dungeon crawlers, this will come as a breath of fresh air.