War Stories

HIGH Fantastic turn-based action, surprising punches of solid writing.

LOW Simplistic strategic layer, cautious tactical AI, strategic UI is rough.

WTF The emperor of the Holy Gustava Empire is named… Tim Gustav?

Every wargame’s original sin is a devotion to warfare that glorifies bloodshed. Many of the earliest titles understood this and narrowed their scope to leave no world outside of Gettysburg or the siege of Leningrad. However, there is no historical context for fantasy wargames such as Brigandine: Legend of Runersia, so a world must be built before it can be destroyed.

In the case of Brigandine, its central conflict mirrors the one that inspired Nobunaga’s quest to unify Japan, as six different nations make their play to conquer the continent of Runersia.

It’s the same concept that served as the foundation for the game’s spiritual predecessor in 1998’s cult classic Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena. Though the premise of ‘unifying the land’ isn’t a novel one, Brigandine justifies it through a sprawling web of relationships across all six of its fictional nations. Some are quaint, but there are enough serious ideological conflicts in play to give each one a distinctive flavor.

Brigandine carries those narratives onto the field through the concept of Rune Knights — unique ‘hero’ characters who lead monsters into battle. Since the Rune Knights are often plot-significant characters, they help anchor individual skirmishes to the overall storyline.

Players can deploy up to three Rune Knights into a battle and each one leads a squad of monsters. Squad composition is a critical — not only are there limits on which Rune Knights can be assigned, monsters lose effectiveness if they step outside their Rune Knight’s command range. If the Rune Knight is killed in battle, the whole squad is forced to retreat, making each one an appealing target on the battlefield.

The tension in squad arrangement and positioning pairs nicely with Brigandine’s usage of terrain modifiers and zone-of-control rules for character movement and attacks. Players can’t simply rush their units past the frontline to take out an opposing Rune Knight, nor can they dial up a long-range strike to snipe a critical unit across the field. No, close combat is the order of the day, with mages and archers having to work perilously close to the scrum to be in range of their targets. This friction helped keep battles exciting throughout the campaign.

Though I fell in love with the tactical battles, it’s what happens away from the battlefield that surprised me the most about Brigandine. The character-focused melodrama that typifies modern tactics titles like Fire Emblem is here, but it’s grounded in a surprising amount of introspection about the pursuit of power through conquest and what a nation’s destiny looks like when a war is over. Each faction in Runersia has their own angle of attack for that question, and through numerous vignettes their answers create a set of national identities that lend its war stories some weight. In particular, the final hours take a stunning amount of time and text to interrogate the concept of power as a gateway to corruption and subjugation.

After seeing the effort put into this examination of power, it’s disappointing that there isn’t a way to interact with competing nations other than to invade them. Players interested in sword-point diplomacy won’t be fazed, but the depth of Brigandine’s lore suggests a world that could offer a richer variety of strategic outcomes.

Despite this missed opportunity, the strategy mechanics do a decent job of testing the player’s understanding of managing choke points and troop levels across multiple battlefronts on a Risk-style map, even if the UI for wrangling those troops is counter-intuitive and clunky at times.

In the end, Brigandine: Legend of Runersia is one of the finest turn-based wargames on consoles in years. The concepts aren’t necessarily new or even deep compared to others in the genre, but they are masterfully rendered in service of a narrative that brings wargaming’s original sin forward into a harsh light.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Matrix Software and published by Happinet. It is currently only available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 55 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed twice (Guimoule on Easy difficulty in 30 hours, Mirelva on Normal difficulty in 25 hours). There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T due to Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco. The official ESRB description reads as follows:  This is a turn-based strategy game in which players assume the role of one of six warring nations vying for power in a fantasy world. Players organize platoons of knights and monsters, move them around a grid-based battlefield, and select attack moves/tactics/skills from a menu. During battle phases, small figures are depicted attacking each other with magic, bites, and weapons (e.g., swords, axes). Cutscenes depict additional instances of violence: a still image of bound prisoners; a commander lying on the floor after being poisoned—both scenes depict small splashes of blood on the screen after characters are injured. Several female characters/monsters wear low-cut, skimpy outfits that reveal large amounts of breasts/cleavage. Characters are sometimes seen drinking alcohol and/or discussing drinking (e.g., “Sometimes you just want to drown that answer in alcohol”; “With that, Stella tossed back her last shot of rum…”). In one sequence, a character is depicted smoking a pipe.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no required sound cues for gameplay and all voice-acted text is accompanied by subtitles. There are no options to recolor text.

Remappable Controls: Controls are not remappable and there are no options for additional control setups.

Steve Gillham
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