GameSpite Journal 10 | Brandish

Brandish | Dev.: Falcom | Pub: Koei | Genre: Action RPG | Release: Feb. 1995

Brandish is a strange one any way you look at it. Perhaps that’s to be expected, it coming from the decidedly eccentric Nihon Falcom, but in this case the curiousness permeates the work.

For starters, Brandish is a PC-to-Super-NES conversion. Who even did that? Sure, you had the occasional simulation or strategy title -- Populous, SimCity, and Lemmings were all huge on the platform -- but those are slow, methodical “god games” developed by western studios. Brandish is some sort of Rogue descendent, a real-time dungeon-crawler whose top-down view doesn’t really jive with the inclusion of swordplay and even platforming.

Stranger yet, however, is the way the game has been built around the concept of rotation. The hero, Ares, doesn’t move like most protagonists; he always faces upward. Rather than turning to face danger, he forces the dungeon to pivot at 90-degree arcs around him instead. This is meant to simulate him sharing a perspective with the player (who, of course, always faces forward when staring at the screen), but it’s not really the most intuitive expression of the idea.

The problem, I think, is that Falcom didn’t bother to retool Brandish to take advantage of the strengths of the Super NES when converting the game over from PC. Rotation and scaling were practically the console’s calling card; the idea of an RPG where you spin the world around the hero will probably never totally make sense, but it would seem about as close as you could possibly come to “reasonable” on Super NES—if, that is, if Falcom had revamped the dungeon rotation to take advantage of the hardware’s system-level graphic manipulation capabilities. Which they didn’t do. Rather than rotating smoothly, Brandish’s dungeons jump in the same instant, 90-degree increments that they did on PC.

Now, it’s entirely possible that the console’s Mode 7 abilities wouldn’t have produced quite the effect Falcom was aiming for, but Brandish is worse for this apparent oversight. The PC version of the game controlled with a mouse, which is reputedly a much more intuitive mechanism for the action. On Super NES, though, it feels clunky. The recent PSP remake of the game, Dark Revenant, actually did incorporate smooth rotation (a cinch due to its polygonal construction), and it worked well. Beautifully, in fact; on PSP, Brandish is no longer jarring and incoherent but rather engrossing and fun. Freed of its interface quirks, it’s a respectable dungeon crawler with tough (but never unfair) combat and intricate level design. Many floors have their own distinct quirks or gimmicks, ranging from collapsing floors (which can be revealed by dropping lead pellets onto them -- if only Etrian Odyssey’s more hostile strata had taken notice!) to a pitch-black area that drains your health unless you’re wearing a specific set of armor. And the music, not surprisingly for a Falcom game, is absolutely majestic.

Sadly, all these strengths are sometimes difficult to see for Brandish’s weirdly user-unfriendly interface. That being said, Brandish is notable if for no other reason than being possibly the only Super NES game that didn’t wantonly abuse Mode 7... even if, for once, it would have been justified. As a late arrival in the U.S., it went largely unnoticed, and its refined sequel unsurprisingly remained stranded in Japan.

By Jeremy Parish? | Feb. 19, 2012 | Previous: Mega Man X2 | Next: The Satellaview