“Polygonal fight scenes enhance your perception of reality!”
The quote above is from the Atlus website, the makers of a title probably ignored by most gamers in the U.S., Brigandine: the Legend of Forsena. I suppose it’s understandably sidelined since even Atlus quite forwardly admits that the game is patched together from aspects of other TBS hits like Dragon Force and Tactics Ogre. Luckily I had not played those, and I was able to discover this lumbering majesty, which I've likened to a cross between Pokemon and Chess.
Game designer Youji Kurachi, fresh from two consecutive failures, met up with character designer Yukitoshi Houtani to discuss Houtani’s new idea. Basically, he wanted to create a character driven game in which portraits of kings, queens, knights and noblemen would appear and suddenly spout arguments for existentialism and nihilism at the game player. Houtani is said to have also put forth the idea of letting the player send the knights on aimless quests that would end usually in death in inexplicable chicanery (“When man goes into tower, he walks around for seven screens of text, THEN TOWER EXPLODE!!!” he has been quoted to say). After the initial production phase of crude, hexagonal sketches on Wendy's napkins, Kurachi suddenly declared that he would refuse to commit unless stereotypical ideas of good vs. evil, honor, and justifiable incest were inserted inefficiently into the project. A legal battle of epic proportions ensued for many months, which has confused much of the information regarding game production (it seems to have been left to high-schoolers fooling around with a polygon simulator), Atlus’ reasoning for distributing the game, and even the rest of the brain-work including who thought up the dumb-ass quest with the eight-legged horse. Once Huzanaki Mimamijam entered the negotiations, the troubles subsided. Mimamijam, an extra-dimensional love-fairy discovered by Kurachi as he wandered aimlessly through a forest for an entire month, smoothed things over for both Kurachi and Houtani through her charm and alien sense of right, allowing the game to continue on its journey to creation.*
Brigandine was distributed in the U.S. for the Sony Playstation in 1998 by Atlus.
The fighting scenes are incredibly repetitive with graphics that can range from neat, to unimpressive, to pitiful (I’m guessing Atlus meant they enhanced reality by comparison)……to uncomfortable (that Zombie bites the Giant’s loincloth and ruts against the Hydra). Because of these fight-scenes, battles usually take forty minutes, thirty minutes if you’re lucky, which means you might be able to beat a game in a week if you’re absolutely strict about ignoring family, friends, your job/schoolwork, and bodily atrophy. But, the designers were kind enough to allow you to switch them off.
The strategy has some worthwhile aspects. For instance, instead of squares to place your units, hexagons! Combine this with breath weapons and you now have a interesting ballgame, played with dragons and the rules of chess (and RPGs). Your aim in placement does indeed become something like checkmate, and estimating damage on enemy bosses becomes key (and, just remember before you fly off the handle, that Centaur is bound to miss every once in a while).
Pretty straightforward. A map of the continent (North America, cut-off at Mexico, turned on its head) shows which territories your country holds and where your armies are located. Here’s where you do all the summoning, the organizing, the agonizing period of figuring out which Knights are worth keeping around, and, of course, all the fun naming of monsters, which could add on an hour to your overall game playing. Once you attack, you enter each individual battle and duke it out. You’re allowed three armies per battle, each army consisting of one Knight and as many monsters as his/her Rune Power will allow. You have ten turns to beat the opposing forces, but the first three or four (and sometimes even five) turns are usually spent actually getting your troops close enough to your enemies for them to react. Luckily, this limit never serves as much a problem. The battle maps are larger and more varied than they need to be, since in most of the spots battles are not going to take place, but I guess the game designers just liked having the stuff there.
For anyone into the anal-retentive tedium of the leveling up process of RPGs, you’ll probably enjoy Brigandine. An interesting aspect of your Knights is their ability to become multi-classed. Every five levels allows a Knight to master a class, which means that they are allowed to retain their skills and every spell the have learned for that particular job. In a similar D&D fashion, the Knights attributes (Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Defense) raise according to class, which makes jumping from job to job a bit more difficult. Still, it’s useful to end up with a Cavalier who can cast Geno-Flame, a Grappler with Samurai skills, and other various combinations.
Monsters don’t have jobs to switch between, but they can power-up into greater forms. Here, another strength of Brigandine flexes, the heavy dosage of mythology that populates Forsena with a wide variety of familiar creatures of legends, and, due to some interesting fusions, you have a choice of how your monster evolves. For instance, a Green Dragon may change to either a White or Red Dragon, and then into a Fafnir or a Salamander (respectively). Angels into Archangels into Seraphs into Lucifers (!), Wyverns into Coatls into Bahamuts, the rest. Some creatures require special items to reach their apex, for instance:
Giant --------> Titan ---(Rage Lightning) ---> Thor
Demon ---> Archdemon --> Lilith --(Liquor of Charm)--> Satan
An option in between battles is to let your Knights leave the map for one to three months to go on a side quest. There is never a reason given, but basically you have four outcomes: gain a new Knight/weapon/item, gain certain stats points, get wounded for a month, or nothing happens (though this is rare, luckily). Certain Knights have quests specific to them, and you can get some useful characters or bonuses out of these. And then there's one where all you get is this:
One breathes in the darkness of the world,
One furnishes an eternal void and silence,
They call it the snake of Chaos
That "Role" You'll be "Playing"
You control a nation in this game. It’s not as big a responsibility as you’d expect, though, since your job as king (or queen) is simply to kill other people. However, you have a bit of a budget. Summoning monsters costs good-ol’ Mana which you draw monthly from each piece of land that you own (sounding strangely like a tax sit’iation, but, whatever…it’s just some expendable Monsters fighting the war). This is really only a handicap in the beginning, although it can become quite annoying if you want to organize your favorite uber-forces right from the start. Your Knights run around the map, and despite represented spatial differences, all cities are a month's travel from each other. Perhaps it’s the magic of the roads that allows this (though they never explain) because you can only travel on these roads if they’re clear. If you do not control the cities between your destination and your starting point, you are boxed in.
About the Playing-Roles:
Lance (Prince), Ruler of New Almekia – Lance is supposed to be the main guy of the story since it’s his Father who was killed by Zemeckis, and so the obligatory story of revenge and its moral application unfolds. Lance convinces King Coel to let him raise an army in the man’s kingdom, to which Coel agrees. Lance then acts as an apt pupil to just about every Knight that surrounds him, and that’s the bulk of the storyline. Lance starts on level one as a Prince, which is roughly a combination between a Fighter and a Mage. He has stats better than any other level one Fighter Class and thus has the potential to become obscenely powerful, even in comparison to other Rulers. The special monsters with which New Almekia begins are a Salamander, a Nightmare, and a Stone Golem. Almekia is an easy bugger to tame.
Lyonesse (Queen), Ruler of Leonia – I haven’t really played Leonia that much, mostly because the plot is fraught with unrequited love issues (although not in a very interesting way, like with Caerlon) . Lyonesse is liked by Kiloph who is liked by Baleen who is liked by some guy, and it all ends when your Grandma walks in. The rest of the plot is quite boring. Lotsa meanderings about trust in friends and faith in God, although maybe there was something else that I did not reach. Let me know. Leonia starts the game with a Pheonix, a Pegasus, and a Holygriff, which is only okay, and their Knights leave room for ass-kicking, you just have to level them up.
Cai (Warlock), Ruler of Caerlon – This used to be my favorite country. Most of your Knights are magic users, Cai can use Geno-Thunder, and Dinadin can use Holy Word. Powerful stuff. However, the monsters you begin with are very weak by comparison: a Coatl, a High Centaur, and a Triton (suck!). They do this to counterbalance the fact that you begin with (and can later collect) all very excellent Knights and you only have one front to worry about. The plot: the hilarity of romantic tension between a brother and sister! Cai uses some logick to enter the war and kill other people indiscriminately. He does make peace with Almekia, so you do not have to fight Lance’s country (vice versa goes for when you play as Almekia).
Dryst (Tyrant), Ruler of Iscalio – Greatest storyline out of them all. Characters in this nation include the gratuitous silent-death-woman, a fighting clown, and a guy who gets shat on everyday of his life by insane people. The ruler is a maniac, a spokesman for nihilism tearing through the usual Anime morals with his scythe. Despite having nothing to do with the conflict in question, Dryst decides that he’s going to enter the war because of the enjoyment he gets out of conflict. Iscalio starts with a Bahamut, and a Gigas, both very powerful. It’s the 2nd most difficult nation to play.
Vaynard (Lord), Ruler of Norgard – Haven’t played this storyline very much either. Honor. Vengeance. That kind of shit. The problem with this country is that you have four fronts to fight from the beginning, so you are forced to utilize all your initial Knights (with one to spare) simply to defend your nation. This also makes it difficult to quest for extra Knights. You start out with two White Dragons and an Efreeti, and your armies are relatively well-stocked.
People are surprisingly respectful of each other whenever they taunt in battle. More often than not, the Knights seem to have a philosophical exchange before entering battle. These dialogues are actually handled fairly well, fleshing out the characters through interesting (and amusing) conversations.
The Only Cheat in the Game:
Want to play as the Esgares Empire? You’re not supposed to…but you can! At the selection map, hold down R1 + L2, then press start. After that, the difficulty level should appear without asking you for confirmation on your selection. You can now play as Esgares, which means you control some ridiculously powerful Knights and you begin with a Tiamat, a Vampire Lord, and three Fenrirs. But, note: there is no storyline for Esgares, no funny little playlets from the characters and no music. You simply play the game.
Real Info & Conclusion:
Brigandine was followed up by Brigandine: Grand Edition which was released only in the Source of Sources, Japan, due to a lack of interest in regular ol’ Brigandine. From what I have read, B:GE is basically a redux, with added art, expanded storylines (they certainly leave you wanting more in the original), and (!) better polygonic reality-enhancement! Unfortunately, despite the claims of a fan-translation project two years ago, Brigandine: Grand Edition will most likely not reach the English-language gaming world, ever.
I love this game. It has taken many hours from me, but I gave them willfully. All of the storylines are at least initially entertaining, and the amount of customization, combined with the choice in battle makes it quite replayable. Though it may be considered primitive, even by the standards of its contemporaries, it has plenty of merit to it.
“You idiot! How many times do I have to tell you? You’re to listen to me, not the dead.”
--Dryst, to Ulster, during the defeat of Iscalio
*Kurachi would retell this story of his dealing with Mimamijam in the game “Lemon-Tile Wishes: Pantyfest Dreamdreams Simulator” published by Taxman Games, Inc. in 1999, a game he worked on as he lay wounded in bed for a month
The back of the box, the booklet and the game itself, all by Atlus - www.atlus.com/main.html