Matrix Software's Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is a sequel to the 1998 PlayStation game Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena, a tactical role-playing affair that featured a mix of strategic map manoeuvring and turn-based battles played out on a hexagonal battlefield against the backdrop of a fantasy tale of warring factions. The original didn't review particularly well upon release but it has garnered a following and become something of a cult classic in the intervening 22 years. This fresh addition to the series features the exact same core gameplay as its predecessor, but plays out in a brand-new setting with an interweaving storyline that links together the six different factions you'll get to chose from in order to unify Runersia.
The story here presents players with a tale of a magical land where people are granted extraordinary strength, power and knowledge through a never-ending supply of mana which rains down upon them from the mana God. Amongst these men and women are rune knights; unique warriors who are blessed by this mana with the ability to control armies of monsters and wield powerful magic spells. These rune knights amass armies and fight one another for control of Runersia whilst trying to get their hands on the Five Brigandines, pieces of armour which have been embedded with potent mana stones and give the wearer even stronger powers.
It's a tale that had us pretty interested starting out but loses its shine pretty quickly due to the rather bland info-dump nature of how much of it is delivered. There are some nice static scenes that play out as characters explain their motivations, with the camera zooming in and around to give things the illusion of movement and the art style is certainly pretty, but the dialogue itself is just so heavy-handed and monotonous that it's pretty hard to remain all that interested.
For our first run through the game on normal mode, we chose the Mana Saleesi Theocracy as our faction and each of the six nations here have different numbers of bases spread across the game map as you're starting out, as well as varying numbers of Rune Knights, monsters and mana reserves that are worth taking into account as you decide who to go with. Depending on who you choose, you'll see the story play out from their perspective and there are all manner of intricate goings-on involving the other factions with whom you'll be vying for control of Runersia. As much as the story might not be our cup of tea, it's definitely an improvement on the original game and we can see fans really enjoying the huge amount of back and forth between clans as they battle for control across the lengthy campaigns.
Gameplay takes place over a set amount of seasons depending on which difficulty setting you choose to run with; easy mode gives you limitless time to conquer Runersia whilst normal and hard charge you with completing your objective in 120 or 60 seasons respectively. Each season is split into two phases: an organisation phase and an attack phase where you'll go about moving troops between your various bases, generating new monsters for battle and ensuring you haven't left yourself open to invasion before jumping into the fighting side of things.
During the organisational phase, you'll use your mana to summon monsters to your bases and then form these monsters into troops, each of which is headed by a rune knight. Each rune knight has a magic pool and this pool determines how many monsters they can have in their troop at any one time, with each monster costing a different amount to set in place. Once you've got your troops sorted you'll either move them between your bases to defend positions or deploy them to invade an enemy camp – the twist here being that once you move them you'll be unable to use them for one turn after they've travelled. You'll also send knights out on quests – rendering them unusable until they return – in order to pick up XP and find a host of useful items, armour and weapons which can be equipped in order to give various stat boosts.
There really is quite a lot of depth and choice when it comes to how you organise and build your troops here, with one hundred rune knights and fifty different monster types to summon who you can then take and level up and evolve through lots of different classes and types as you raise their proficiency level during battle. Early fights can feel a little bland and losing units doesn't hit you very hard starting out, but once you've raised a unit up to its max level and evolved it into some enormous and devastating force of nature on the battlefield, it can be a real killer to see it perish because you made the wrong call.
Battles themselves can be pretty long affairs and the game again runs into a little trouble here as it's all very slow every time an encounter kicks off – you'll take a good three or four turns with your troops before you actually get within striking distance of your enemy, something that grows tedious given the sheer number of battles you'll engage in. Moving your troops around can also feel like a little bit of a slog as you'll need to move each unit individually, keeping your monsters within range of their rune knight's circle of influence and ensuring that you have each one sat on the correct terrain type where possible.
Speaking of terrain types, each monster you control during battle has a preferred terrain that grants them a stat boost, as well as one which sees their battle potential negatively affected. Vicious attack dogs gain a boost in meadows, for example, whereas mandrakes fight better in forests and flying creatures have the sweet ability to manoeuvre around any terrain without taking a stat penalty. It's the only aspect of the battlefields that has any impact on the fighting; there's no high or low ground taken into account here, but it's easy to get your head around and adds another little layer of strategy to proceedings.
Pacing issues aside, combat in Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is easily where the game is at its strongest and getting to know your various monster's attack abilities and using them to whittle down enemy numbers in order to move in on opposing rune knights can be exhilarating stuff. Killing an enemy knight will see their entire troop of monsters taken out of the battle, sometimes you'll even take a few prisoners to add to your own units, and remaining knights may very well sack off the fight and run from the battlefield should they feel the tide has turned too much in your favour. Playing on normal mode, we did notice a couple of inconsistencies with this mechanic, however, and had some foes give up on a fight that was pretty much evenly balanced. It didn't happen often, but it was a little disappointing when it did.
Overall then, the fighting here is solid stuff, for the most part. There are plenty of little tricks and tactics to use in order to surround and weaken stronger foes, as well as decent variety in attacks from monster to monster. Rune knights are also satisfyingly powerful and can pull off some pretty spectacular special attacks that can turn the tide of battle quickly. Character attacks and spells each have their own little animations that play out, and you can zoom right up into the action to get a good look at the carnage as it unfolds. In the end, once we'd got to grips with things, we ended up finding the whole thing strangely relaxing, taking our time to consider each move in order to ensure our teams were always backed up by healers and strong units as we moved forward to try to rid the battlefield of opposing rune knights as quickly as possible.
There's also plenty of replay value; each of the six playable factions has their own tale to tell and if you dig the core gameplay there's potentially hundreds of hours worth of strategy for you to tear into. The game also features a bonus chapter that's unlocked once you've cleared the campaign with your chosen faction – a properly robust training mode to teach you the ropes and guided gameplay which can be turned on and off at any point and carefully explains the ins and outs of things as you take your first steps. Away from the main battles and story, there are unlockable achievements that take the form of various events, encounters and stories that happen during battle, and unlocking all of these as well as all the various monster types is a properly gargantuan task. There are also galleries of 2D illustrations detailing each and every monster and knight in the game, something that long-time fans of the first title will be very happy to see.
There's no doubt that Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is a pretty niche title that takes a good bit of learning to settle into a groove with but, once you're in that groove, it can be pretty compelling stuff. It's glacially slow, for sure, with far too many menus and a very po-faced style that can be rather off-putting, but this is also a game that will absolutely satisfy fans of the original and should win a few new converts amongst those willing to jump in and give it a try. It's also an experience that feels right at home on Switch and is a perfect fit for pulling out and playing a few rounds on in handheld mode; we're certainly glad that Matrix Software took on the task of making this belated sequel and are pretty sure fans of the original will feel the same.
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia takes the exact same core gameplay of its 1998 predecessor and transports it into a brand new storyline whilst giving the whole thing a modern lick of paint in the process. The story, although an improvement on the original game, is still pretty bland stuff for the most part and battles are certainly where this one finds its main groove. Those fights may be a little on the slow side and are inherently repetitive affairs, but they're still rather enjoyable nonetheless and give you a reasonable amount of choice in how you take on your enemies and evolve and upgrade your troops. There's a ton of content here and, in the end, the whole thing feels like a pretty successful celebration of what made the first game a cult classic in the first place. It's not going to be to everyone's tastes, however, and if you like your strategy action to be a little more intense, you might want to stick with something like Wargroove or Fire Emblem: Three Houses instead.