Yes, this is a review of a PSP game! They’re still bringing those over! You might have thought that 2013’s Black Rock Shooter or 2014’s fan-translated Final Fantasy Type-o would be the last time you’d bust that thing out. You’d be wrong. Allow me to introduce Brandish: The Dark Revenant, a remake of the original SNES RPG Brandish. Oh, don’t worry, it’s compatible with your fancy new PS Vita, too.
I doubt the original SNES release of this game has many fans. Roguelikes weren’t really a “genre” back then, so the fact that your weapons could break and the overall brutality of the game didn’t endear it to many players. Plus, uh, there was the issue with the camera. The SNES version of Brandish had a bizarre movement system where your character always faced north. When you turned, your view on the dungeon would abruptly flash to your new facing. It’s a little difficult to explain in text, but suffice to say that extended exposure would make you want to vomit.
This version’s a little more traditional. You’ll still want to reconfigure the directional buttons to turn instead of strafe but there’s no wacky dungeon-spinning antics anymore. This is a PSP game, of course, so don’t expect any mind-blowing graphics, but the fact that the game is not actively trying to make you sick is certainly welcome.
You’re exploring a vast dungeon (hand-designed, not procedurally generated) filled with monsters to slay, treasures to loot and puzzles to solve. It’s a pleasure to scour each floor looking for goodies, since supplies and money are scarce enough that each find feels like Christmas came early. You’re also rewarded for completely covering a dungeon floor; this is a cute mechanic that’ll keep you searching every corner just in case you’ve missed something.
It’s still got some roguelike elements, though. Weapons still break, for instance, so it’s in your best interests to carry backups and have a Plan B in case your sword pops mid-fight and you need a way out. Your character’s also got some capacity for magic. While physical weapons tend to have a little more bite, MP regenerates over time so magic is a great sidearm. Combat is a real-time affair where you need to take enemy positioning and attacks into account so you can mount an effective defense before counterattacking. It’s plain but fun and becomes enjoyably difficult as the game proceeds.
You’ll need to manage your weapons and spells along with a variety of useful items in a painfully small amount of inventory space. This is a key skill and the developers struck the perfect balance between annoyance and strategy when it comes to inventory management. You can find inventory expansions as you progress and it’s always a relief when you do.
The writing s solid and represents the high quality we’ve come to expect from localization these days. It’s another big step from the original game, suffice to say, and the plot vignettes that break up the action every now and then are vastly easier to deal with as a result.
Said plot is a fairly standard “boy meets girl, girl tries to collect bounty on boy, boy and girl end up in horrible ruined dungeon kingdom filled with monsters, girl pursues boy” story. Your goal as said boy is to make your way out and stay alive no matter the cost. It’s not going to blow your mind but there’s enough twists to shake things up and it definitely provides enough incentive to keep delving.
So if you’re willing to endure PSP graphics – and they’re really not that bad – Brandish: The Dark Revenant is a solid choice. It may not break any new ground but it does cover the fundamentals of the genre well enough that it doesn’t need to. In today’s world of buggy AAA games and Early Access indies, that’s more than enough to earn a recommendation from me.