Brandish: The Dark Revenant review for PSP, PS Vita

Platform: PSP
Also On: Playable on PS Vita
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

I’m ready to call it now: Brandish: The Dark Revenant may be the most frustrating game that comes out in 2015.

I know we’re not even a month into the new year. And I know that Bloodborne is sitting there on the horizon like a dark, ominous cloud of doom. Nonetheless, I have a hard time imagining anything topping this for sheer frustration levels.

After all, frustration is an intrinsic part of Brandish’s design. You start each level with at the beginning of a giant dungeon full of unknown twists and turns, and you need to painstakingly crawl through each and every square inch of it to be sure you haven’t missed anything. Along the way you encounter not only various baddies, but also crumbling walls and floors that can help and hinder (respectively) your quest to discover everything you need to discover. Couple that with all kinds of environmental puzzles of varying difficulty, the occasional treasure chest that will actually hurt you, and items that are very quiet about the fact they’re harmful to your health, and you can see why the game can become so frustrating so quickly.

Brandish 1

And yet, for all the frustration I felt while playing Brandish, I never even considered the possibility of throwing my PSP away in anger. I attribute this to the fact that no matter how tough the game became, it never felt anything less than fair. While every new dungeon starts out as an unknown, the game still maps out exactly where you’ve been and exactly where points of interest lie; there’s no wandering for hours and finding a door, only to die and have to do it all over again. Provided you save regularly, the game isn’t going to make you stumble blindly around, hoping you can find your way back again — it lays everything out nicely and neatly, and it’s just up to you to keep track of it all.

And speaking of saves, that’s another huge point in the game’s favour. While there isn’t any autosave, you are allowed to save your progress literally anywhere outside of a cutscene. It doesn’t take long to get in the habit of saving basically every time you walk in a new room — and if that’s not enough for you, you’re also given special bread that allows you to set retry points anywhere you want. Taken together, both of those things are basically acknowledgements from Brandish that sure, you’re going to die/fail/have to start things over frequently, but it’ll never be completely unbearable.

Brandish 2

That said, I wouldn’t say the game is completely flawless. For starters, there’s music…the maddeningly repetitive music, that plays the same loop over and over again, level after level, until you just want to mute it. I’m not saying I want the game to have some epic soundtrack or anything, but I really would’ve liked even a little bit of variety.

On a completely different score, there’s the odd lack of in-game stores. Considering how quickly you go through weapons and health potions, it seems to me like there should’ve been way more opportunities to replenish your stocks — not to mention more opportunities to sell off useless finds. It never quite became a major issue, but the further I got in the game, the more I began to notice that I was a) running low on key things and b) stuck with items I had no use for.

Brandish 3

Of course, if that issue were easily managed, that would probably be contrary to the spirit of the game. Brandish wants you to sweat a little. It also wants you to stick with it, though, which means that it has a pretty delicate balancing act. Luckily, it’s an act the game pulls off with aplomb.

Grade: B+