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Brandish
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by Kurt Kalata - updated January 11, 2015

Brandish is a series of overhead dungeon crawlers from Falcom. Like most of their games, it began on Japanese PCs, though the first game was ported to a few consoles, and the SNES version was even localized. The sequel was ported to the Super Famicom; the subsequent games were only for computers. The "final" game is a remake for the first game, released for the PSP in Japan in 2009, and brought to North American six years later in 2015 by XSeed.

The series is known for its rather unique (and uniquely infuriating) perspective. Instead of the character turning left and right, the player characters are always facing upward, and the world rotates around them. It's sort of like if you took a typical first person dungeon crawler like Dungeon Master, but from an overhead viewpoint. Needless to say, the first time one plays a Brandish game is massively disorienting. Since the game was created on early 90s PC hardware, the movements are tile-based and aren't at all smooth, and the whole world shifts suddenly at 90 degree angles every time you turn. To say that it requires an adjustment period is being kind.

Beyond that, Brandish is fairly classical. You pilot your character, square by square, scavenging for weapons and magic, finding keys, flipping switches, hunting for walls to smack with a sledge hammer, looking for illusionary walls you can walk through, using steel balls to uncover hidden traps and smacking bad guys, all to advance to the next level. Your inventory is limited, so resource management is extremely important, especially in deciding what to keep and what to sell. Occasionally you'll be asked to solve some relatively simple puzzles, which are usually spelled out via helpful plaques all over the place. You'll also have to deal with traps, which include everything from arrows to gigantic boulders.

You'll need to fight monsters too, of course. The action takes place in real time, but since the movement is still grid-based, it still has a turn-based feel. In other words, walking up to an enemy and hammering the attack button won't do much good, because they'll simply attack you back with every strike. So, you need to be strategtic, in finding places to corner or effective execute hit and run tactics. The game only lets you see elements that are directly in view of the character, so they can't magically see around corners or through walls. Weapons and armor are usually breakable, but replacements are easily found everywhere, and fighting with your fists can actually work pretty well too. Magic is cast via scrolls and rings. Shops are also hidden throughout, in case you need to restock. There are levels, increased by fighting enemies, but these only affect your maximum HP and MP. Otherwise, each statistic - Arm Strength (physical attack power), Knowledge (magic strength) and Magic Endurance (magic defense) - is leveled separately by performing the appropriate actions, like hitting enemies with your fists or taking magic damage.

Thankfully all of the Brandish include an automap, one of the few things that helps from keeping the exploration from becoming too dizzying. There's also a "rest" function that allows you to regain all of your HP and MP at any time - although doing so leaves you defenseless, so you'd better only nap when there's no bad guys around, or else they'll kill you instantly. On that note, you can also save pretty much everywhere.

The PC versions of Brandish also boast mouse control, where you can move forward, backward, turn, strafe, and attack by clicking on various boxes surrounding your character. Some games also include an "auto-move" function, that allows pick a spot on the map and have the CPU automatically guide you to the indicated location. It doesn't work quite as well as one would hope - anytime they come across a door, or a pit, or a monster, they'll stop in their tracks and let you take over.

A big thanks to MP83 for supplying some of the hard-to-find disk images, and ReyVGM for aid with screenshots from the first SNES game.

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish 2 (Super Famicom)

Brandish 4


Brandish (ブランディッシュ) / Brandish: The Dark Revenant - PC-98, FM Towns, IBM PC, SNES, PC Engine CD, PSP (1991)

PC-98 Cover

PC-98 Renewal Cover

FM Towns Version Cover Artwork

In the first Brandish, you're a warrior named Ares who's being chased by a scantily clad sorceress named Dela. During a quick scuffle, you both end up falling deep into a dungeon, and need to escape. Like most of these older dungeon crawlers, there's no other real storyline. There are some comical encounters with Dela, as she attempts to capture Ares and just ends up foiling herself, though you can choose to help her near the end, which affects the finale. There are some shopkeepers to talk to and some other minor characters throughout, but otherwise it's mostly a solitary affair.

Characters

Ares / Varik

Ares (or Varik, if you're playing the English translation of the Super Nintendo version) is basically you. That's why you never really get a good look at your character's face, at least in the original versions. Ares enjoys sword, knuckles, and taking long naps which will get him killed, if he's not careful.

Dela Delon / Alexis

According to Falcom's English page, Dela (known as Alexis in the English translation) was voted one of the most popular characters for two years consecutively. It's a bit odd that she's on the cover of the first two Brandish games, but is actually something of a half-nemesis, as she's chasing after Ares for killing her master, and she isn't playable until the third entry. As expected of one who dresses in metal bikinis, Dela likes whips, and also a bit of magic.

The original Brandish is a straight dungeon crawl through forty five different maps. Every ten maps or so the tileset changes - you starts at the Ruins, then work up through to the Tower, the Cave, the "Dark" zone (where most everthing is covered in black...this is the shortest area, thankfully), and finally the Fortress.

The graphics in Brandish are a little plain, and they are fairly repetitive, though that's to be expected given the genre. The music is much more laid back and atmospheric than most of Falcom's soundtracks, with the exception of one of the ending songs, which sounds like it could belong in an Ys game. It's very good, but given the style of gameplay, it does also get a little repetitive - each area has one song, and if you figure each floor takes at roughly half an hour, then that's at least five hours of listening to the same three minute song on loop, with only a few pieces here and there to break things up. A "Renewal" version for the PC98 features better (and more) music tracks, as well as the ability to install on the hard drive. This and both sequels were also ported to MS-DOS in Korea by Mantra, who also made the remake Ys I Special, as well as several other IBM PC ports of Japanese computer games.

Most non-Japanese gamers are probably the most familiar with the SNES version, which was ported and localized by Koei. Unfortunately, the game speed feels completely off - it's either too fast or too slow, depending on your settings - and inventory management is a complete and total nightmare, especially when trying to change equipment in real time. The PC versions take place in a window, and in the SNES version, the view has been expanded to take up the whole screen. While less cramped, not having an automap in the corner is completely maddening, since you'll be flipping back and forth between the dungeon view and full map almost nonstop. The graphics are similar, but drawn at a lower resolution. Koei added a "talk" option, that lets you gab with the shopkeepers a bit. Naturally, Dela's outfit had been changed to be less revealing, in keeping with Nintendo of America's standards at the time.

Brandish (PC-98)

Brandish (SNES)

The PC Engine Super CD version, ported by NEC, features the gameplay in a smaller window (much like the computer version), complete with an automap, but it looks worse than the SNES versio. The controls had to be simplified a bit due to the lack of buttons on the PC Engine controller - in some ways, this actually works to the game's advantage, especially since the game pauses when you enter the equipment screen. The sparse cinematics are voiced, and the redbook soundtrack is alright, but not fantastic. The instruction manual also advertised a contest based on your performance at the end of the game.

In addition to its usual PC publishing business, Falcom found some measure of success with the PSP, starting with Gurumin in 2006. They also began remaking some of their older games, like Vantage Master in 2008, and eventually Brandish in 2009, with the subtitle The Dark Revenant. The game was localized into English by XSeed and distributed digitally through the PSN in 2015. It's a complete overhaul with 3D graphics, although the actual dungeons, puzzles, and basic mechanics are more or less the same.

Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP)

The biggest issue with the Brandish games have always been the jerky way in which the viewpoint rotates. But with the game in full 3D, the world now spins smoothly via the L and R triggers. The movement is still tile-based, but it still looks and feels much, much smoother, which in turn makes combat far more manageable. The viewpoint is slightly skewed compared to the straight overhead perspective of the original, but the field of view is about the same. Unlike some of the other ports there's no speed up option, so it does feel a little slow, but the animation for both movement and combat is much more fluid. There are still boss battles, and while they're still a little awkward given the control scheme, their attack patterns have been completely redesigned.

The new graphics are appropriately atmospheric and moody; the new character artwork is fantastic, like the covers to the original games, are closer to Western fantasy art than the Japanese manga designs that were found in the in-game cutscenes. You can choose between the original PC-98 soundtrack and a brand new arranged soundtrack, which is excellent. A new introduction song is added too, though it's much higher tempo than the rest of the music. The interface is easy to use, and the automap is transparently displayed over the screen, making it easy to navigate.

After clearing Ares' quest, there's also a new brand quest where you play as Dela. There are ten brand new maps, though they're expert level dungeons that take a substantial amount of time (and probably many deaths) in order to clear.

In short, the technical shortcomings of most of the original Brandish releases were a huge hurdle for enjoying the game for many people. With nearly all of these issues resolved, it has become much more playable without the need for dramamine, and is easily the definitive game of the series, even though the sequels add many more other features.

Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP)

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Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP)

Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP)

Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP)

Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP)


Ending Screenshots (SNES)


Screenshot Comparison


Brandish 2: The Planet Buster (ブランディッシュ2) - PC-98, IBM PC, Super Famicom (1993)

PC-98 Cover

PC-98 Renewal Cover

Brandish 2 is subtitled The Planet Buster. This is the name of a sword so powerful it can annihilate an entire planet. As it turns out, this is the very sword Ares obtained at the end of the original Brandish. Unfortunately for him, some nasty king wants it for his own purposes. While adventuring, Ares ends up collapsing in the middle of the desert and is captured by his enemies, only to eventually be rescued by Dela. From there, the journey to reobtain the Planet Buster begins.

Brandish 2 is almost exactly the same as its predecessor - the interfaces for the PC versions are nearly identical, except that boxes around your character have been added in order to aid mouse control. This sequel simply expands things a bit, by adding a greater variety of levels, to make things feel a bit less repetitive. There are also more NPCs, and the plot is more closely intertwined with the exploration, making it seem less like a straight dungeon hack. Along with this, there are also optional subquests. There is also the ability to dual wield equipment. The music is catchier, including lots of memorable dungeon themes and one of the best game over themes ever.

This goes doubly true for the Super Famicom port, again ported by Koei, which does an excellent job of upgrading the PC-98 synth, and is one of the few times when a non-CD rendition of Falcom music actually ends up superior to the original FM synth tunes. Koei finally added an on-screen automap, although it only shows portions of the level (you still have to pause to access the full thing), and the gameplay is much smoother than the first game. Some of the maps have been removed or replaced, as the prison area in the beginning has been drastically shortened, and some of the cinemas (like the intro) have been scaled back. The graphics are also a bit too dark, making it hard to see certain obstacles. Otherwise, the various improvements make this much more bearable than the 16-bit console ports of its predecessor. Much like the Super Famicom release of Ys V, Koei later reissued the game with a harder difficulty level under the title Brandish 2 Expert. An English fan translation was also released by Synchronicity.

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  • Yoshio Kiya
    Shinji Yamazaki

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Brandish 2 (SNES)

Brandish 2 (SNES)

Brandish 2 (SNES)


Screenshot Comparison


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