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Brandish
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by Kurt Kalata - updated July 2009

When Bandai first published Falcom's Legend of Heroes for the PSP in America, the back cover noted that it was from "the creators of the Ys, Brandish, and Sorcerian series!" While it's kind of cool that it was trying to generate some name recognition for neglected Falcom by bringing up their American releases, their track record isn't exactly the best. While the handful of people that recognize Ys probably have decent memories of it, Sorcerian is far less known, and hasn't seen any releases in America since the late 80s. But much more perplexing was the mention of Brandish, which is even more obscure - the first installment was quietly released in America by Koei in 1995, and the few people that have played it probably wished they hadn't.

Brandish is a series of overhead "action" RPGs, where "action" is loosely defined as "facing an enemy and hitting the attack button." In many ways, this is pretty typical for Falcom, but this was a company that took the simplistic concept of running into bad guys to do damage, and somehow made it really fun. Unfortunately, they kind of failed that with Brandish. It's nearly impossible to face your character in the right direction to attack moving foes, and good luck hitting them with any magic spells. Beyond the action, the game plays almost exactly like classic first person dungeon crawlers like Dungeon Master, except from an overhead viewpoint. Your character slowly saunters, square by square, hunting down weapons and magic, finding keys, flipping switches, hunting for walls to smack with a sludge hammer, looking for illusionary walls you can walk through, and smacking bad guys, all to advance to the next level. Occasionally you'll be asked to solve some rudimentary puzzles, which are usually spelled out via helpful plaques all over the place. (Naturally, these aren't so helpful if you're not familiar with Japanese, but it's rare that you'll come across anything truly mind boggling.)

Brandish also has a uniquely infuriating gameplay device - instead of the character turning left and right, like every other overhead third person video game, player characters are always facing upward, and the world rotates around them. This is massively disorienting, especially when trying to create (and follow) maps. The PC versions of Brandish (which the series originated on, like nearly all Falcom games) also boasted mouse control, where you can move forward, backward, turn, strafe, and attack by clicking on various boxes surrounding your character. This is far from intuitive, especially when fighting bad guys, although thankfully you can use the keyboard for most movement actions. To its credit, there's 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. But it's a nice idea, and it helps make some of the backtracking a little bit less annoying.

If all of the different movement options don't aggravate you, something else will. There are tons and tons of hidden holes in each dungeon, most of which can be detected if you look hard enough, but are still quite easy to miss. Sometimes these take a chunk of your health, while others drop you down to a previous floor. You can jump over them, but even positioning your character is more annoying than it should be. Other annoying aspects include breakable weapons (something which should be banned from every single RPG ever), warp spots, slippery floors, and boss fights. Why boss fights? The interface simply isn't built around fast paced action, resulting in complete and total madness. The only nice things that can be said about Brandish are the inclusion of an automap, and 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.

Like many older Falcom games, Brandish does have a bit of that addictive old school charm, but many of the above problems severely hamper the enjoyment for modern gamers. Still, it was popular enough in Japan to garner four installments, the final of which retooled many of the more annoying aspects of the series.

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 (i.e. suffering through the damned game to get pictures of the ending).

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

X68000 Version Cover Artwork

The original Brandish is a straight dungeon crawl through over fifty different maps. There are only about five different types of areas, so you'd better get used to seeing the same tilesets over and over and over. One of these is a "Dark" zone which is so dark that it's nearly impossible to see anything. Awesome.

Anyway, the plot goes as follows: You're a warrior named Ares who's being chased by a scantily clad sorceress chick. During a quick scuffle, you both end up falling deep into a dungeon, and need to escape. Other than a few encounters with the girl, and a few shopkeepers found throughout the maze, there's no other real plot development.

Characters

There's little that's interesting about the original Brandish - the graphics are plain, and the soundtrack is lame by Falcom standards. 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 2 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. Also, even though the view has been expanded to take up the whole screen, 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. Koei added a "talk" option, that lets you gab with the shopkeepers a bit, and at least the translation is shockingly competent for these guys. 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 doesn't look much better. 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 doesn't do much to enhance the still lousy soundtrack. 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." It's a complete overhaul with 3D graphics, although the actual dungeons puzzles, and basic mechanics are more or less the same. The thing is, with the 3D graphics, the rotations are now completely smooth, and navigation is far less disorientating than it ever was in any of the other versions. Combat is much smoother, too. There's a whole new arranged soundtrack, along with the option to use the original PC-98 music. After clearing Ares' quest, there's also a new brand quest where you play as Dora, which is what Dela's name has been changed to now. All of the new artwork is quite nice, too. So the PSP version is not only by far the definitive version of the first Brandish, but it's probably the best game in the series, period.

Brandish: The Dark Revenant (PSP)

Quick Info:

Developer:

Falcom

Publisher:

Falcom
Koei (SNES)

Genre:

RPG: Japanese Style

Themes:

Dungeon Crawler
Fantasy: Sword & Sorcery
Sex Sells


Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)

Brandish (SNES)


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

The Planet Buster mentioned in the title is 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, making it seem less like a straight dungeon hack. The music is also much, much better, including lots of catchy dungeon themes and one of the best game over themes ever.

This goes doubly true for the Super Famicom port, 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. 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 a bit more bearable than the console ports of its predecessor. Much like the Super Famicom release of Ys 5, Koei later reissued the game with a harder difficulty level under the title Brandish 2 Expert.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Falcom

Publisher:

Falcom
Koei (SFC)

Director:

Yoshio Kiya
Shinji Yamazaki

Genre:

RPG: Japanese Style

Themes:

Dungeon Crawler
Fantasy: Sword & Sorcery
Sex Sells


Brandish 2 (SNES)

Brandish 2 (SNES)

Brandish 2 (SNES)


Screenshot Comparison


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