I’ve always had a soft spot for tactical RPGs and grand strategy game. The problem is that I’m absolutely shocking at playing them, but the idea of controlling a nation as it conquers a world is unendingly appealing. Whilst I would have thought Switch would have been the perfect home for the genre, unfortunately there hasn’t been a huge amount of decent ones ported to the platform.
However, with the release of Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia, will the genre finally gain a hold on portable players?
Brigandine may seem like a brand-new franchise to many, but this is actually a sequel. The original; Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena, was a 1998 PlayStation title which received reasonable acclaim but was unfortunately lost to time. Runersia takes inspiration from this original title whilst bringing it up to date with modern gaming trends and giving it a new coat of paint. It’s a Switch exclusive at the time of writing, and (much like Final Fantasy) takes place in a completely original world, meaning you don’t need to play Forsena to enjoy it.
The continent of Runersia is introduced as a world showered in Mana. Bestowed by the Rune God, this power allows certain humans to develop mystical powers and give them the ability to summon powerful beasts. These “Rune Knights” were also bestowed with five magical Mana stones which were embedded into the legendary “Brigandine” equipment and scattered across the land.
At the start, the continent is split into six playable factions;
- The Norzaleo Kingdom: A monarchical nation which values hard work and which has recently witnessed a royal assassination. This nation is ruled by Prince Rubino – wearer of the Brigandine of Justice and an aspiring playwright.
- The Republic of Guimoule: A democratic nation formed from the division of the Rune God’s faith. It is ruled by Eliza, daughter of the bedridden president and wielder of the Brigandine of Glory. She previously enjoyed dancing on stage under a pseudonym, but now leads her country into battle.
- Shinobi Tribe: An almost Amazonian society, the tribe follows a path of female rule. Led by Talia, the daughter of the Chief Mother, they fight to protect their way of life from the wars of other nations. Ironically, in doing so they become part of a war between the other nations, but that’s by the by. They hold the Brigandine of Freedom in their forest home.
- The Mana Saleesia Theocracy: Created from divisions within the Rune God’s faith, the theocracy proclaims themselves as the “true” followers of the Rune God. They claim their Brigandine represents sanctity and are led by Rudo Marco; son of the Holy See of the faction. It is suggested that whilst his father strove for peace between the religious sects, Rudo believes that subjugation is the preferable option, and as such put a bloody end to his father’s unifying approach.
- The Holy Gustava Empire: Lacking their own Brigandine, this independent nation was established in an impoverished area devoid of Mana. Tim Gustav, their leader, seeks to unite the continent and vindicate their clan’s claim to power.
- The United Islands of Mirelva: An allied nation of islands and pirates, the nation revels in their freedom and friendship. Stella Hamett – pirate daughter of chairperson Ginium Hamett – dons the Brigandine of Ego and leads their forces to conquer the mainland. Stirred up by the existing conflict, she aims to pre-emptively prevent the war from spilling across to the islands.
For me, the story of Runersia is the biggest draw and the fact there is six independent tales to experience guarantees longevity. The stories of the different characters are told through both in-battle dialogue and cutscenes, with a focus being put on relationships between the varied cast. I was blown away by how much I began to care for each Rune Knight, with even the most stoic fighter having surprising depth. Each individual story has a good depth of character development and political intrigue which makes the world feel alive and dynamic, and whilst there is a degree of repetition in the arguably pretty weak localisation (“Justice.” … “Justice!” … “JUSTICE!!!”) it didn’t detract from the story beats too heavily.
Each faction also has its own strengths, weaknesses and selection of monsters, with some focusing on healing and some more led by sheer firepower. Different factions begin with designated starting bases and Rune Knights, but all play in a very similar fashion and there are quite a few extra Rune Knights who can be recruited by anyone. These recruitment moments are pretty interesting and add to the overall world-building. I also love the relationships between Rune Knights which pop up as you conquer the continent, which help to create connections between the otherwise disparate factions.
Gameplay is split into two sections; grand strategy and tactical combat. The grand strategy sections consist of summoning and allocating monsters to your Rune Knights, assigning quests and training, moving squads around and attacking cities. Interestingly, this is also split into two phases which occur concurrently for all factions, with the first covering unit management, quests and movement and the second allowing you to actually attack. You won’t know the combat power situation until after you’ve already assigned quests and moved units, so there’s a degree of risk-reward to choosing who goes on quests and who doesn’t, as you may end up in a situation where a planned attack becomes untenable and certain units end up waiting out the turn unable to do anything meaningful. These strategy parts and quite slow-paced and methodical, but effectively give you a chance to catch your breath before the next battle.
Once an attack begins, you are catapulted into the tactical RPG portion. You choose up to three Rune Knights to take into any said battle, and they and their monster companions fight it out over the territory. The Rune Knights act as squad leaders, with their monsters taking actions on the Knight’s turn. These battles take place on a hexagonal grid, with each hexagon having a field type which affects combat prowess and movement. Each unit has a preferred field to fight on, and much of the combat relates to effective planning and movement on the map. Surprisingly, it’s not always the best choice to attempt to kill every enemy as generally monsters retreat once their Rune Knight falls. Yes, you get less XP this way, but it can help to ensure victory within the turn limit.
Units have a few options to use in battle. Everyone has their standard adjacent attack which costs nothing to use and which can sometimes add an effect on its own, but some units also have additional skills and spells which usually require them to stay still to use. There’s a wide variety of abilities and spells which can affect combat and I enjoyed discovering which were most effective. There are so many variables to keep track of, from predicted accuracy (percentage-based, similar to XCOM) to type effectiveness, and it can be pretty tricky to decide on the best course of action. These abilities can change and evolve as units level up and move to different classes – for example, some elemental units can move from a general magical arsenal to a more powerful, specific typing as it grows. The appearance of the unit usually changes too, even if this is often simply a palette swap. I love the classing-up mechanics for monsters, and whilst I’m less keen on the Rune Knight class evolutions (move to new class retaining an ability from mastered classes) it’s not the worst system I’ve seen for this. I do wish that Rune Knights had individual models (like in Fire Emblem), but unfortunately, non-rulers tend to use generic class models. I want my pirate captains to look like pirates goddammit, not just random soldiers! Granted, this would have resulted in a HUGE number of models considering how many Rune Knights there are, but it would have been preferable for these characters to have unique models even if it meant they didn’t change when moving class.
The combat is fun once it gets going, but my biggest issue is the pace. You only have a limited number of turns per battle to win but the first few are usually spent travelling as the opposing sides start a good distance from each other. There are some positives to this, sure, such as the ability to set up flanking manoeuvres and isolate enemy forces, but it would have made more sense for the counter to start once the first attack had been made. Overall though, it’s satisfying enough once you get the hang of it.
Runersia piqued my interest initially because of the art style and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Throughout the plot sections, there is a consistently beautiful and unique painted style which fills the whole world with charm. This, unfortunately, doesn’t translate to battles, which unfortunately resort to simpler 3D models on a painted landscape, but it’s by no means ugly – just a little jarring.
The sound design isn’t bad either. Whilst sound effects and music tracks are good enough, for the most part, there are no really iconic numbers which will stick in your head. I wasn’t expecting anything special and that’s exactly what I got. The most disappointing aspect, however, is the lack of localised voice acting. Hopefully, this will be patched in, but I know I would enjoy the plot even more if there were options other than the Japanese dub.
All in all, Runersia is a very competent grand strategy/ tactical RPG with heaps of charm, living up to its legacy well. There’s plenty of positives despite my few gripes, with characterisation and story being a highlight. I’m not sure it’s one I’ll be personally coming back to, but grand strategy and tactics fans will have a lot to love here and I can highly recommend it if you’re looking for something of this irk in a portable form.
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch and can be purchased here for £44.99
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BRIGANDINE The Legend of Runersia
The continent of Runersia is home to six major powers with more than 40 bases, 100 knights, and 50 types of monsters. Select a ruler, compose your platoons of knights and monsters, and march to claim enemy bases. The player chooses how they will battle, so devise the best strategy to lead your nation toward continental conquest. How will your legend unfold?
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 44.99
Product In Stock: SoldOut