Brain Lord (SNES) review
"There was a time when the vast majority of games released on the SNES consisted of action RPG's. Games like The Legend of Zelda had made such an impact that developers soon realized the genre was a favorite among gamers and this potential was savagely exploited with titles upon titles being released. Enix shined as one of those companies specializing in the genre with popular titles that such as Soul Blazer, which would later evolve into one of the most formidable series for the SN..."
There was a time when the vast majority of games released on the SNES consisted of action RPG's. Games like The Legend of Zelda had made such an impact that developers soon realized the genre was a favorite among gamers and this potential was savagely exploited with titles upon titles being released. Enix shined as one of those companies specializing in the genre with popular titles that such as Soul Blazer, which would later evolve into one of the most formidable series for the SNES (strictly pertaining to the genre, obviously). In spite of the craze around such games, Brain Lord, another Enix gem, was bizarrely ignored and never got the recognition it deserved.
This is even more surprising considering how Brain Lord innovates with cool features thrown in when other games would do nothing to be at least different, and while it definitely has some flaws that may seriously rebut the gamer, it's a fun title that should entertain any action RPG fan. Unfortunately, people just didn't seem to care. Maybe this was because it started off so stereotypically with an introduction that millions of gamers had already seen before.
The story begins with the main protagonist, Remeer, talking to his father on the eve of an important event. Remeer's father just happens to be one of the so-called Dragon Warriors, whose task is to take care of dragons. Zing! Unfortunately, when the boy's father actually sets forth on his quest, things go awry and the latter disappears, never to be seen again. Flash forward to when Remeer is older (and has become a very handsome man, according to the women's reaction in the game) and is himself a warrior. While Remeer doesn't specifically go around looking for dragons and will happily accept quick jobs such as killing rats in an attic (which is one of your first tasks in the game), he's always on the look-out for information pertaining to them and doesn't hesitate to go searching for the last dragon. This is also what the game is about - Remeer's long quest for the dragon with a zany objective first motivating him, to get its scales for Marlon, a blacksmith.
Brain Lord's story can be summed up in a few words, and while it does have a few twists that perfectly add themselves to the main plot, it isn't really mind-boggling and merely keeps things flowing. However, although Brain Lord is average as far as the story itself is concerned, it compensates with its characters, playable and non-playable alike (although only one is playable in this case). The latter may not have the depth of famous characters such as Locke, Cecil, or any of those powerhouses (figuratively!) but they do come off as charming and, more importantly, are useful throughout your quest instead of merely conveying the spotlight towards Remeer. From Barness, the old man who will aid you whenever he can, even selling items from time to time, to Rein, the shrouded-in-secrecy warrior who will nevertheless not hesitate to drop you clues, Brain Lord has a short cast that comprises of cute and lovable characters. You will like the way they behave and will like how each has his own story, which innocuously adds to the main plot revolving around the dragon (yes folks, it isn't essentially about Remeer in Brain Lord, which is very refreshing).
But, of course, in such games that profess to blend action and RPG elements, a story, however intricate it may be, will not make it enjoyable if the game engine fails to make sense. And this is without doubt Brain Lord's greatest asset because it superbly implements its own features to the most established ones to make it a great adventure. Remeer will attack enemies in the typical Zelda way, which caused so much frenzy when it was first released. Rest assured, Brian Lord is equally fun and its innovations even make the game more interesting with quests that make the game longer and enjoyable. Your alter ego can thus attack with different weapons such as swords, axes, boomerangs and flails, can jump over holes, and can protect himself with shields. Shields come with a certain number of hits that they can withhold and automatically disappear once these are used up. It's a great system in a game where more shields can easily be found by fully exploring each dungeon and money is abundant, as it's merely your score. Indeed, all defeated enemies will leave points, which themselves represent money that can be used to buy weaponry, armor and items. Of course, this system may sound cheap since it becomes radically easy to get the best weapons early on, but this slightly negative aspect actually never really flashes out and is thus quickly forgotten.
As a Dragon Warrior, Remeer can also use magic, which comes in different forms and which is used by holding the attack button until the Magic Gauge is completely full. Once this happens, simply release the button and the Magic Shot or Phaser or whatever spell you chose to use will be unleashed. And it should be noted that Brain Lord doesn't try to go overboard with spells that are useless in the typical ''I have many magic, hence I own!'' fashion. Instead, it sports only a few spells, all of which are equally useful and one of which is actually necessary in beating a boss. The way magic is used also makes it hard to abuse it since you logically cannot prepare a spell and attack at the same time, which makes battles more interesting.
However, Brain Lord's greatest asset is its Jade system, which brilliantly makes it a rewarding game where you are doomed to know how to use these so-called Jades. These Jades are actually very small monsters that hover around you and will perform a function. The Anger Jade will thus relentlessly attack foes until they vanish while the Light one will illuminate dark places, which makes it a prerequisite only in certain parts of the game. And although it becomes tempting to just use the Anger Jade and the Life Jade (one that will consistently restore your life after some time) such that you both have an attacking partner and a life boost at the same time, it is important to know when to switch them. And given how these jades actually level up by feeding on blue orbs randomly left around by enemies, there's no denying this sole facet makes Brain Lord a strategic game where these lovable helpers play a preponderant role.
Otherwise, Brain Lord involves the regular exploring and searching found in so many other games. In this specific case, you will be asked to explore ruins, castles and cities. My favorite dungeon is the Ice Castle, which is both a technical and a visual exploit, as it holds an amazing amount of key-searching and puzzles while maintaining a stellar visual presentation at all times. Brain Lord relies heavily on puzzles, some of which are ludicrously easy although they may be in a very late part in the game and some of which will have you rip all your chest hair out in frustration. Thankfully, the game uses a system whereby each puzzle, whether solved or not, is reset as soon as you get out of the room and enter again. Unfortunately, this feature is also kept for monsters, which can make things infuriating as you find yourself battling against the same foes over and over again because you cannot solve a certain puzzle or for any other reason.
Moreover, there is a strong focus around keys, which are used to open locked doors. Most of these doors do not merely lead to locations overpopulated by item chests such that you are doomed to backtracking a lot for the sake of an elusive key. And while the game itself helps you by dropping hints in the forms of plaques and talkative characters like Barness and Rein, some of those quests require so much trekking you may feel like stomping on the cartridge. This is a shameful flaw because it could have been avoided, but it unfortunately seems that Enix never considered whether it was going too far with this key-searching aspect.
Some will even require you to backtrack through three or four floors of a dungeon and it must be said that even the clues are not really explicit in some cases. Thankfully, thorough searching is made somewhat less frustrating with the use of Warps, which allow you to travel from one floor to another, but given how one floor can range from a few rooms to a ****-load of those, there's no denying part of the system is screwed up. I even found myself wanting to stop playing the game at one point because of this, and the most impatient gamers will probably give up after barely two hours in the game when serious backtracking becomes a necessity.
Still, in spite of this, the game is fun as most dungeons are well laid-out and have a perfect combination of action and puzzle parts. The bosses have a good intelligence with the last ones actually providing some strong opposition, which is a feat considering the vast array of over-powerful weapons that is provided to you. And there's no denying the game has a vivid yet gloomy atmosphere about it. This is particularly obvious when Remeer finally meets the dragon and the game gets more serious with memorable lines being spewed every minute. The final battle also has an eerie aura about it, which definitely gives the game a frantic atmosphere.
Brain Lord was released in 1994 and, this is very obvious in the palette swap dedicated to characters, monsters and backgrounds alike. It definitely ranks among the most visually pleasant titles on the SNES with wonderfully drawn and colored characters. Each character's personality is perfectly conveyed across, and it's hard to find any fault with Brain Lord as far as the graphics are concerned. Remeer's on-screen shield changes accordingly, and this is just one example of the masterful level of detail found throughout the game. Monsters and bosses similarly look enticing and the first boss, a giant cockroach, single-handedly flashes out for its realism.
It is also downright obvious the Jades got the bulk of the attention when the game was conceived. It's hard to figure out why Enix would waste time making them look so splendid when they're hardly the size of a dime and you'll probably stick to only a couple of those, but the result in eerie. The Anger Jade shamelessly looks like a crazy monster that has just sprung from a magic box and the Life Jade is a cuddly angel that flaps its wings all the time. The designs of all the Jades are simply brilliant, and the lush but slightly meshed backgrounds further raise the overall visual presentation. In any case, Brain Lord remains a graphical feat from beginning to end.
Unfortunately, its audio fails to be as enticing with average themes that eventually get boring. These wouldn't be so boring if there were more of them, but Brain Lord's soundtrack isn't a model of originality and variety. And considering how certain parts seem to stretch on with the same music playing forever, this may get irritating. Even more inexcusable are the pathetic sound effects -this being one of the rare games where the action of the main protagonist landing on the ground after inadvertently falling through a hole results in an overly-loud and annoying thud- and the short cries that are emitted by certain fiends when slashed are infuriating. It doesn't help either that all these monsters will cry in a similar fashion even though they may be completely different.
But although Brain Lord is not a perfect title and has its fair share of flaws, some of which may rebut the gamer a few times, it remains an enthralling experience. Its innovations without doubt constitute its strength, and while it is merely generic in certain other aspects, it still deals with those brilliantly. Some exploring can be tedious with parts requiring you to run within the same confines every ten minutes, but all this turns out to be rewarding as cool items are obtained and as you get closer to the couple of endings Brain Lord offers. Most of all, the battles are extremely fun and its atmosphere makes it a worthy addition to the library, whether you are addicted to the genre or not.
Community review by siegfried (June 17, 2003)
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