Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is a dense strategy / RPG hybrid that successfully pulls together a lot of different elements into a cohesive, entertaining package. It reminds me of some of my favorite older strategy games, while having plenty of modern sensibility. The end result is the kind of deep, enjoyable tactics game I needed for the holidays.
The strategy / RPG genre is one of my most guilty pleasures. These are the types of games I would play over and over again when I was younger. Warsong / Langrisser, Shining Force, Dark Wizard, Master of Monsters and Dragon Force were all games I would tackle in different ways for a variety of reasons. In linear titles like Warsong I simply wanted to try different leader classes or a unique set of tactics on a particularly interest map to see if I could do better the next time. In Shing Force or Dark Wizard I was perhaps looking for some secret item or area I missed the first time around. Master of Monsters had all of these really cool creature evolutions I just wanted to see through.
Most of these games were a bit light on story, though a few like Dragon Force or Dark Wizard would give you a different narrative, thin though it may be, based on whom you selected as your starting ruler. Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia has all of these elements, including a rather meaty story for each kingdom to boot. Each nation has its own motivations for going to war, whether it’s to try and maintain the current rulership, a fiefdom looking for true freedom and more. This creates a sort of unreliable narration however, as the story is heavily slanted to justify your chosen kingdom’s actions. As you progress each kingdom, they fill out a glossary / codex that puts the different pieces together and rather cleverly weaves together the true, overarching narrative of the land. Given that this is an area that was often rather threadbare in my older gaming days, I greatly appreciated how well this aspect of the game was handled.
Beyond the story, there is a great deal to balance. Each season is broken up into three phrases. The first is the busiest as it is the organization phase. During this you send people onto quests, you assign monsters to heroes, summon new monsters (which cost mana to create and to maintain, further continuing that balancing act of balance), moving units from one zone to another and so on. It would be a stretch to compare this to the governing / development stage found in heavy 4X strategy games, but it’s where most of the management happens. The next phase is the most lightweight, where you declare your attack on another adjacent zone. The third and final stage to a season is the actual combat. I found myself only doing one or two in a given season, though higher levels of difficulty come with not only more challenging opponents but also a tighter window for total victory. If you go that route, multiple coordinated seasonal attacks become more important, where as conversely if you go the easiest difficult, there is no time limit at all to win.
Quests are important, as they yield items and can find you new heroes to lead your monster units, but the most important aspect of the game is its hex-style, turn-based combat. It feels like something right out of those classic strategy titles I mentioned before, with a lot of RNG dice rolling in the background that weighs type of attack, range, terrain and more into calculating hits and damage. More powerful monsters have a higher cost, and each general only has so many points available. What this means is you can pile on a bunch of weaker, 20 cost creatures or maybe one or two high cost 100 point creatures. Generally the best teams have a combination of thumpers, range and support abilities while the heroes themselves are often the most powerful – but also significant if they fall – units on the battlefield.
There was very little actually ‘new’ to how combat plays out – but it was easy to pick up and battles certainly require a great deal of thought. If you happen to have a powerful dragon on your team, they may be able to do substantial damage to several enemies without being countered, but their magic is limited and they can usually only unleash that a couple of times or so per battle. Sometimes you can accidentally hit enemies if you are not careful. Get the right unit in the right environment, and they can be very challenging to actually land a shot on. There was almost a ‘comfort food’ type of feeling for me, because I am so familiar with the genre over the years, but even though I picked it up easily enough – the combat can still be challenging if you don’t pause to think through your strategy.
Progression is pretty solid here, with plenty of the usual RPG elements to keep you feeling as though you are progressing. You gain items, experience, levels and characters can evolve into better classes / units when hitting specific levels / criteria. For me, this was particularly entertaining and kept me wanting just one or two more battles.
Despite all of these good points, it is worth discussing some of the areas where Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia could rub someone the wrong way as well. Even having gone through the tutorial, I did not really fully understand some of what happened until later in the game. That makes sense given how much there is to do and how dense the content is, but that combined with the slow pacing and somewhat repetitive (almost grindy) nature of the gameplay will mean that Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is definitely not going to be for everyone. By the time I finished my first campaign, a little fatigue was starting to set in, as maps began to feel less and less varied (especially the forest ones where movement just felt really slow). Now, that being said, I was excited to kick off a new campaign with a new kingdom upon initial completion, but that repetition and fatigue set in again sooner on the second playthrough. I know I have more patience for these types of games and derive more replay value from them than a lot of people do, so my sneaking suspicion is that very few players will get through all of the campaigns and neatly knit together Runersia’s story any time soon.
Additionally, while the music and visuals are all fine, neither aspect of the presentation blew me away. Audio is not in English, so you’re left reading subtitles, the music was fitting but not particularly memorable and the art style is certainly nice of technically pretty simple (not much movement in the cutscenes to speak of, mostly still images and the battles are efficient but the units and environments are not what I would consider eye-catching either). The menus are well laid out however, and having a menu-driven game work well on a controller can be a tricky thing, but the dev team did a pretty solid job on that front.