"Brave Story is the type of game that takes the core things that make up its genre, and then does them very well without adding a lot of fluff. It has no qualms about telling you bluntly that it is a symbolic plunge into your own imagination. "
Let's start by getting one of the most prominent questions asked by RPG fans in today's market out of the way. "What innovations does Brave Story bring to the genre?"
Not a one.
Next is "Is it worth the money?"
If you like RPGs, absolutely.
Brave Story is the type of game that takes the core things that make up its genre, and then does them very well without adding a lot of fluff. It has no qualms about telling you bluntly that it is a symbolic plunge into your own imagination. The opening sequence shows you the main character sitting in a park, playing a game on his own PSP, listening to the nagging of his lady friend telling him to do something else. Bizarre. Less than five minutes later, the girl is in an inexplicable coma, and you're standing before a massive gate, with sweet voices whispering the obvious solution to her problem into your ear.
Brave Story is kind of like Alice in Wonderland for RPG nerds. It's a fantasy adventure about...a normal guy going on a fantasy adventure. And why not? What better way to save your girl than entering a magic door and collecting crystals that grant a wish?
No better way at all, obviously.
The simplicity of the story being told forces the game to be about the places you go and the people you meet more so than pages of backstory and convoluted plot twists. When you think back on the game, what you will remember isn't that awesome thing that happened, but the people that were there. Your party's healer, for example, is Meladee. She has a great name for the traditional higher-INT-than-STR healing type, but oh how wrong that is. Meladee is the twin sword wielding leader of a group of the game's monster killing bounty hunters. A fire lives in her that is rarely seen among RPG characters, much less healing types. How often do you see your healer calling the villain a coward and threatening him with brutal death once your party hunts him down? Not often enough, by any estimation.
And death comes on swift wings in Brave Story. The battle system is simple and streamlined, and even ties into the rest of the game's imagination theme through the use of its signature mechanic: Batman attack onomatopoeia. After all, what screams childhood fantasy more than producing your own obnoxious sound effects? For some reason, the obnoxiousness of giant "KERTHWAKKKs" and the like appearing in bold rainbow graffiti print every time you hit an enemy never really gets old. As if it were cathartic in some way, it actually adds a lot of life to the battles.
And they're lively enough as it is. Your characters can attack on their own or in groups. Unity skills allow multiple characters to attack together, and while that in and of itself isn't new, the way they're pulled off in Brave Story can drastically alter the course of battle. Generally, the skills damage certain kinds of enemies heavily, or raise/lower some stat in addition to doing damage. By managing these extra effects, the tide of battle often swings dramatically in favor of one party or the other. It also makes deciding who's in your party more interesting, as there are consequences beyond which models are on your side of the playing field.
Like everything else in the game (including load times!) combat is quick. Battles also end fast enough that it's hard to get tired of the simple menu-driven interface. Bizarre wolf monsters with spiraling snouts that unfurl like an umbrella to bite their pray fall in piles at your feet with a few button presses. Armored ant people are no match for the force of your attacks. And it's never overbearing, especially since there's no delay while the PSP grinds its way from scene to scene.
It's unfortunate that the game's philosophy is similar in all areas. The main quest can be beaten in less than 20 hours with little problem. While this could be considered a drawback, there's enough incentive to do extra stuff that it's really not too inconvenient. At the beginning, you get to answer a number of questions that affect your character's initial stats and stat progression, so you can tweak the character on different playthroughs. In addition, there are a few points throughout the game where you make decisions that further effect his specialty. In a game this short, curiosity about such elements is enough to warrant an additional playthrough.
And if you need a break from saving your friend on the other side of the gate, why not build the ultimate fighting chicken instead? There are a number of side quests to participate in, but Birdbrawling is probably the most interesting. The game describes Birdbrawling as 'pulse pounding...and extremely cute!' which is pretty accurate. A bunch of tiny birds pecking each other to death in MORTAL COMBAT, tweeting in anger all the while, is such a compelling idea.
Brave Story is a straightforward game described by a straightforward premise: Adventure. It can be described as simple. At the same time, it can also be described as highly refined. The latter is probably more accurate. Everything is crisp and bright with the promise of a grand romp through unknown territory. While it may end quickly, the game is fun enough that it's a minor concern.
Freelance review by Josh Higley (July 30, 2007)
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