BRANDISH / Koei / SNES
 
 
Brandish has something of a Roguelike feel to it, though it's not randomized in any way, nor is it turn-based. It's just something about it being nothing but a dungeon crawl, and the tile-based movement accompanied by simple-as-it-gets combat, that gives it a similar vibe.
 


The story is about as minimal as it gets, and maintains a mysterious tone all the way through the end of the game (leaving plenty of room for sequels, which Koei fully took advantage of). In the opening cinema (which is far more attractive than Koei's games usually are), we learn that there was once a kingdom guarded by a dragon who ensured them peace and prosperity, but some dickhole king wanted Moar Power and sent his troops to attack the dragon. In anger, the dragon wiped the city out and pulled the ruins underground. Flash forward to the present, and our mute protag is being pursued by some hottie sorceress, who accuses him of killing her master. She uses some kind of earth magic, but as it happens we're right over aforementioned Sunken Ruins, so a hole opens in the ground and in we go.
 


Brandish is in an odd place halfway between an old-school Western dungeon crawl and an action-oriented adventure like Zelda or Quintet's Heaven & Earth trilogy. Even odder still is that the whole orientation of the screen shifts every time you turn left or right, so that direction now becomes north to you. It's not even a neat Mode 7 trick, just some rando design decision, and if you don't know about it coming in you'll probably wander around confused for a while and wonder if the game is glitching on you.
 


If you have a halfway decent sense of direction, it's not hard to come to grips with the system, however. And you're also helped by an auto-map available by hitting Start at any time (though it frustratingly does not show which direction you are currently facing). It's a bit of a dry game, with nothing to do but wander the dungeon picking up whatever items and keys you can, and unlocking doors or sledgehammering cracked walls down to proceed further. This routine is interrupted only by a moderately challenging boss battle every so often. I did find that it pleasantly scratches a certain exploration itch, however, almost like a fantasy Metroidvania ... there's also some challenge in balancing your limited inventory system, needing to make tactical decisions about whether to engage or try to slip around monsters based on your limited amount of consumable weapons versus the need to level up for the aforementioned periodic boss battles.

Adding to the positive points is a nice soundtrack that's kinda reminiscent of Seiken Densetsu in its relaxing style (though the first dungeon song, while nice, goes on for a LONG time). Graphics are bone-basic by SNES standards but you do get tossed a nicely detailed story-developing animu cutscene in the style of the ones seen in the introduction once in a while.



On the downside, a limited auto-save system makes the game a bit of a pain if you're not using an emulator or some other platform with save states. You only save when entering a new area for the first time, so it can be a REALLY long stretch between save opportunities. Juggling the limited inventory also gets to be a pain, as the game is very finicky about where it will allow you to throw items away (since they stay on that tile forever apparently unless you pick them up again). You'll find yourself regretfully bypassing many a treasure chest just because you're already packed with goodies, and even if you have one or two things you'd like to chuck you can't find a convenient tile where the game will allow it!

Word is the PSP remake of this is a vastly better experience, but I actually think this SNES entry isn't too bad if you can put up with its set of foibles. If you dig old-school dungeon crawls this is an interesting and very unique take on fusing a bit of action into the formula.
 
 
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