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Brandish (SNES) artwork

Brandish (SNES) review

"Playing it is like going to prison, and then breaking out"

The Scenario

Brandish is a dark, moody action RPG. You play the role of Varik, a character who we are not certain is a good guy or a bad guy, and the story is exciting in that you are plunged into world beneath the earth--literally falling through the collapsing ground under your feet--with a bounty hunter named Alexis hot on your tail. She pops up at various intervals to keep things exciting. But your main concern will be trying to escape your subterranean prison (one area or 'layer' at a time, and there are more than a half dozen layers, each comprised of up to ten floors) to regain the light and the surface of the earth once more.

The Basics

The game is viewed from an overhead perspective, like The Legend of Zelda and other, similar action-RPGs. What's most interesting about it is that as you try to turn your character for the first time, you'll see that the entire world changes around him, instead of the other way around. This function, while a welcome attempt at innovation, is disconcerting in the end, and I was happy to note that you could toggle it off, and switch to the more standard way of seeing things.

As Varik, you'll need to battle your way through different layers of the earth, most of them dark and foreboding, collecting keys to open doors, sledgehammers to make your own doors, and, of course, weaponry and magic. Healing springs trickle eternally from striations in dusty alcoves. Melancholy merchants holed away in the dust-shadowed realms that they, like you, had the misfortune to fall into, tell sad tales of their resignation to their fate deprived of light. They also sell things, like the aforementioned weapons and sledgehammers, in addition to potions to keep you alive, and your magic flowing.

The Experience

The sullen face of Brandish may keep fans of the genre away, as many such players look forward to bright tales of shining knights and nobility and romance, and none of the above are on display in Brandish. However, if you can look past the darkness, play Brandish. I gave it a chance, and in the end, I felt that the sorrowful beginnings were not only endurable, but necessary. The scenario wouldn't be true if things were upbeat and cutesy.

I rather enjoyed unearthing the persistent Varik, floor by floor (with Alexis checking in at times), pounding crumbling walls with my iron, slashing at headless ghouls with my steel. There is one maze of despair, where a mist of confusion seems to settle down and confound you as you trace the walls to where you think the exit should lie… One floor features fall away tiles and tiles lined with spikes. Falling through the floor will land you on the floor beneath, often to your exasperation, but sometimes to your elation at what secrets you've accidentally uncovered. There's even a level played in almost absolute darkness, and an inhumanly fleet-footed ninja boss.

It's not always fun, but the hard parts and dark parts contribute to an atmospheric completeness that few games can hope to match. What's more, the music is a perfect match for the scenery in every case. The second area's tune is inspiring, the opening tune, beautifully sad.


Give Brandish a try if you're a fan of the genre. Don't expect to be smiling all throughout the moody proceedings, like you might be while playing a Zelda game, but the intense ups that show for brief moments during the lengthy downs of desperate imprisonment allow for a sense of fulfillment and joy that you've got to experience.

Rating: 8/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (September 02, 2003)

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