Sure, it’s got an awful name and it is the very epitome of niche, but Brandish: The Dark Revenant is a surprisingly satisfying 3rd-person, action dungeon crawler. Released in Japan on PSP back in 2009, Brandish: The Dark Revenant has been localised and re-released as a downloadable title in 2015 for western audiences. It’s also a remake of an old SNES game called Brandish, which I unfortunately didn’t ever get the chance to play. Nihon Falcom, one of the oldest JRPG developers in the world and creators of hit series such as Ys and The Legend of Heroes, have unearthed an old relic from its past. But is it worth searching out and excavating this dusty, old relic?
The peaceful land of Vittoria has been plunged into the earth, cursed and forgotten due to a greedy King’s foolish mistakes. You play as a swordsman named Ares, who awakens in an ancient dungeon with mysterious sorceress Dela Delon hot on your heels, who is eager to claim the bounty on your head. Your task is to escape the ancient, cursed Vittoria ruins and traverse its traps, environmental puzzles and battle nasty monsters and bosses.
At its core, Brandish: The Dark Revenant is a grid-based, 3D, isometric dungeon crawler with RPG staples such as leveling, looting and magic. Controls take some getting used to. Turning the camera with the left and right bumpers feels clunky at first, but does get better as you progress through the dungeons. You can perform a jump with the x button which is handy for avoiding pits, traps or switches that are in front of you. The Select button puts you into a Rest mode, which refills your HP and MP but leaves you vulnerable to nearby monsters. It’s super useful to heal without having to use valuable items but must be done so when you’re in a safe spot. All in all, it’s a bit of an unconventional control scheme, but when it clicks it all begins to feel pretty natural.
Weapons degrade as you use them so it’s wise to keep some spare swords in your inventory. Combat is real-time, easy to pick up and plays out much like an old school Legend of Zelda with Dark Souls’ tough but fair difficulty. The bestiary is pretty varied. There are slimes, armoured imps, floating skeletons and some of the dungeon’s mazes can also be dastardly at times.
One of the game’s major highlights is its bosses (though I wish there were more of them). These range from crazy wizards, strange spider/women hybrids and armoured beasts. The bosses tend to be puzzles themselves and tend to favour a brains-over-brawn approach as opposed to spamming the attack button. It very much feels like old school Zelda games in that regard too.
The music is pretty hit and miss. The opening theme is rousing, catchy and full of energy, but some of the tunes in the dungeons themselves haven’t aged all that well which is to be expected to be honest. The bad tunes don’t exactly ruin the experience, but they unfortunately get old pretty fast.
Visually, the game still holds up. The colour palette is fairly bland but lends itself well to the sombre theme and tone of the game. The art style is lovely with timeworn environments, eye-catching sprites and some neat animations to boot. Some of the hand-drawn static artwork is also a treat too.
On the whole, the game has aged surprisingly well, considering it’s a PSP game re-released in 2015. The truth is, the game really is a relic. And like many relics, there will be an eager faction who will seek it out, fall in love with its seductive charms and be handsomely rewarded. I don’t blame them. Brandish: The Dark Revenant just oozes charm.
It’s essentially a dusty gem for those looking for some good, old-fashioned dungeon crawling, however, those coming to the game with modern eyes expecting a solid action RPG maybe pleasantly surprised too. It’s a very polished game with well crafted mechanics that astonishingly still stand the test of time. It may not have mass appeal per se, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’ve got a penchant for old school dungeon crawlers.
I just wish it had a snappier name.
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