I don’t dip my toes into the pool that is the grand strategy genre too often. No, it’s not because I dislike strategy—quite the opposite, actually. But all of the micromanagement that comes with games like Total War and Nobunaga’s Ambition just isn’t for me. It’s a real quandary, though, because I do like the whole “strategic takeover” idea. It’s just too bad that there aren’t any grand strategy games that nix most of the economic elements in favor of shining the spotlight on combat… Oh! You know what? There is a game like that—Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia—and it just so happens that it’s also the game that I’m reviewing today!
All silliness aside, Brigandine‘s unique take on grand strategy is what appealed to me the most. And, while I know that this obviously isn’t the only game out there like this as it’s literally a sequel, it’s the truth that I can’t really think of too many games that fit this specific kind of mold. It’s less a hybrid between strategy and simulation, and more so a blend of strategy and tactical RPG—and that’s a blend that’s perfectly suited to someone like me.
A Storied Story
Like a handful of other games I’ve reviewed this year, Brigandine‘s story isn’t exactly something that I can spell out for you—but it’s definitely not for lack of content. You see, Brigandine hosts within its digital pages seven different stories. Six of those stories belong to each of the game’s six factions, and, while all of them revolve around an attempt to conquest the continent of Runersia, each of them has very different reasons for doing so—be it a longing for freedom, a desire for validation, or the ever-popular lust for complete dominion. And, because these stories are so different from one another, there isn’t much about these six that I can collectively talk about.
What I can talk more about, however, is the seventh story—the story of Runersia itself. As you play through the game, you will, regardless of faction, begin to fill in a special codex which once housed the entire history of Runersia. It’s only by doing this that you can get the true story regarding the rise and fall of those living within the continent. This, quite simply, is something that I immediately found myself latching onto.
As much as I love games with multiple, wildly varying stories, it always gets under my skin when I don’t have access to a game’s canon. I’ve seen cases of the canon being established by making a single character or faction the “correct” choice. Still, never before have I seen a game (at least not to the best of my knowledge) that creates a single true story out of a collection of false ones. The fact that Brigandine not only attempts this but successfully pulls this off is incredibly appealing and something that I’d love to see more of in general. It might not be easy playing through 6 beefy campaigns (at minimum), but its grand ability to tell a story makes it absolutely worth it. Oh, and the fact that it’s fun probably helps as well.
Putting Yourself On the Map
I’ve established several times by now that Brigandine is a unique take on the grand strategy subgenre, but some of you might be asking what the heck “grand strategy” even is. Well, generally speaking, they’re usually games about utilizing strategic techniques to conquer the world or a country (which would be this game’s case). Brigandine allows players to accomplish this by utilizing a rather straightforward gameplay formula that occurs in two major portions.
The first portion of the game takes place entirely on the world map. During the first phase, players are allowed to initiate non-combative options such as moving units between territories or sending them out on quests, which could result in the acquisition of new items, equipment, EXP, or even units. The second phase is strictly related to initiating your attacks. All you need to do is decide which units will attack what enemy territories, end the phase, and you’re golden.
I’ve already mentioned this briefly before, but I’ll say it again for clarity’s sake; Brigandine‘s tactical elements are very simple compared to other grand strategy games. I could see how this might not be a great fit for some people. After all, part of the charm of games like these is the fact that you’re oftentimes responsible for so many elements. But that’s never been something I’ve enjoyed. Instead, Brigandine‘s planning phases are less a “core component” and more of a conduit for battles. Heck, even mana, the game’s sole manageable resource, is only good for monster upkeep (and is also very easy to acquire). And it does all of this while keeping the archetypal “planning phase” that grand strategy games are known for both intact and important regarding gameplay.
With Sword in Hand
Finally, it’s time to talk about Brigandine‘s blood-splattered bread-and-butter: its combat! While the more planning centered part of the game may have deviated somewhat from typical grand strategy goings-on, this is where the game really starts to deviate from the path (for the better, of course). In Brigandine, battles are just that; fully-fledged tactical RPG battles, which rest comfortably somewhere between being like Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. Although players can have as many troops assigned to a single occupied territory, only three (0r fewer) will ever see combat at a time. Well, three humans, that is.
Brigandine‘s units can be divided into two major categories. First, you’ve got Rune Knights. Made up entirely of humans and humanoids (and a weird orb robot), all of whom are unique, Rune Knights can be assigned to several different classes depending on things like base stats and gender, and, more often than not, can make or break a battle. But they’re not the only ones fighting! Rune Knights can also bring with them a squad of monsters. The more expendable of the two groups, monsters are less versatile in terms of what they can do but can be acquired much more easily than the Rune Knights themselves. Also, unlike Rune Knights—who simply retreat when defeated (along with their monsters)—monsters are a one-and-done deal. If they die in combat, they literally die. Like, forever.
There isn’t too much that I have to say about Brigandine that’s negative. For the most part, I love how battles are set up. A 3-unit limit gives you enough options to create varied teams while ensuring that each battle won’t go on for hours, and each of the classes feels unique and useful (although a few monsters are kind of “meh”.) Really, the only thing that I have an issue with is how most of the battles ended up playing out for me.
I get that, given how few units both sides have to work with, battles aren’t going to be spread out all over the map. But I couldn’t help but notice that every single battle ultimately ended up being a jumbled cluster after a while. You only have 12 turns to win, and, given the fact that the enemy favors reactivity than proactivity, you oftentimes have to be the aggressor. Now, I wouldn’t outright call this a negative. Just because they’re clustered doesn’t mean that there’s no variation. In fact, the fact that there are so many units to work with ensures that there is. However, I wouldn’t have minded if the game forced me to be a little more strategic during battles from time to time. Supposedly the incoming update, Titans and the Iron Front, will address this exact problem, but, unfortunately, I can’t critique something that I don’t have access to.
A Story Worth Re-Reading (At Least Six Times)
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia isn’t your typical grand strategy game. If you love doing things like managing villages and testing your economic prowess, then maybe this isn’t for you. But, for everyone else, Brigandine is definitely worth your time. The entirety of each campaign provides an engaging struggle which puts your tactical combat skills to the test, and its multiple factions provide detailed stories, each of which is sure to keep you hooked. Despite my gripes here and there, Brigandine really doesn’t need much in the ways of re-working. However, it’s apparently getting that anyway, thanks to its quickly approaching update centered around providing players with the ability to customize their campaigns as well as more in-depth player UIs. So, here’s to an already great game getting even better! Huzzah!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch; Publisher: XSEED Games; Developer: Happinet Games; Released: December 10, 2020; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia provided by the publisher.