The Ys games are among my favorite action RPG's, and I'm always interested in publisher Falcom's other projects, most of which never came to the US. Brandish started life on Japanese personal computers, and was actually released in this country on the SNES by Koei. I hadn't encountered the game before I picked up this imported version, one of the few games for the PC Engine that runs on the Super CD-ROM system card but also takes advantage of the Arcade card's additional memory capacity.
The game opens with a narrated prologue, followed by an animated confrontation between our hero and a comely sorceress who features prominently on the game packaging.
For American gamers, the game proper isn't too hard to deal with -- much of the text is in English, and useful objects are represented with icons that will be familiar to anyone who's spent any time playing these sorts of games. We can't read the plaques on the wall for the hints presumably contained therein, but a little wandering trial-and-error generally suffices to figure things out on our own.
The screen interface is similarly scrutable -- a large window depicting our hero and his surroundings, HP and MP bars, a display of his current equipment and additional items, a text status window (blank below) and an automap window:
The first real adjustment the player has to make is to the game's perspective -- the dungeon is presented using an overhead view, but the map rotates around the player whenever our hero turns. We can walk backward and forward by pressing up and down on the D-pad, but pressing right or left causes us to turn in that direction, unless we hold the I button down to lock into a strafing type of movement.
Of course, our hero can't actually strafe -- he's equipped with the most short-ranged of weapons, and faced with enemies who blit from block to block, often narrowly avoiding his blows. He can only attack enemies directly in front of him, and we must hit the button to help him do so. This makes certain classes of enemies, such as the fast-moving dragonflies encountered early on, rather difficult to deal with.
The less-frequently-used controls are also challenging -- the game does support the PC Engine mouse, but the standard two-button control scheme most players will use relies heavily on tricky combinations. To open a door, we must face it, hold the II button and press down; to jump we have to hit the I button and up together. Opening doors can usually be accomplished with repeated attempts, but jumping over pits and traps is significantly more difficult.
Even though Brandish came out late in the PC Engine's lifespan, the in-game graphics are not very detailed, with small, simply-animated sprites. The Arcade system card is exploited primarily to minimize loading time, and the CD-ROM storage capacity isn't used for much in the way of illustration. At least there are a few attractive close-up portraits of shopkeepers and other useful individuals, who in the grand RPG tradition seem to have no problem reaching their offices despite the vicious monsters marauding through the hallways:
The utility menu is mostly in English, but it has its operational quirks. The Save and Load interface seems to be inverted from the norm -- one has to select File I or File II first, THEN click on Save or Load, which in my initial forays caused all of my save attempts to fail.
The RPG aspects of the game are very traditional -- there's an experience bar that fills up as we fight, and eventually we graduate to the next level, with attribute improvements per usual. But the game doesn't make it easy to reach the second level -- the character starts out injured, below his full complement of hit points, and the low-level monsters are more capable than the player. Most frustrating of all, the enemies continuously respawn, but the player's best weapon can only deal out so much damage before it is destroyed and he must equip another, if he has been lucky enough to find one. The player can fight reasonably well with his fists alone, fortunately, but until I discovered a healing fountain, I saw this screen a lot:
Brandish is old-fashioned in many ways, with grid-based dungeon layouts and simple statistics. And the interface is clunky, making it seem even older than it is. What I could grasp of the story didn't motivate me to try to finish the game's many levels, but I still enjoyed spending a few hours wandering through the bowels of Falcom's dungeons, yet again.
It's a novelty, but not a bad game. The SNES version is in English, but if the more exotic PC Engine version appeals, you may be able to find it at this affiliate link.