With Brigandine, a Strategy RPG Classic Reenters The Fray
By Jeremy Parish
Limited Run Games: First, can you tell us about your role with Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia, and about your history with both the series and strategy RPGs in general?
Kazuhiro Igarashi: My name is Kazuhiro Igarashi, the producer and game designer for Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia. I'd like to thank Limited Run Games for providing me this opportunity to talk about the game, and also to show my appreciation for the fans eagerly awaiting its release. Just to give some background on the Brigandine franchise, the first installment, Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena, was released 22 years ago in 1998 by E3 STAFF, a company affiliated with Happinet. This also happened to be the year I began working at Happinet.
As an employee of the company, I was very proud of both Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena and Brigandine: Grand Edition, and I hoped one day to join the development team. Unfortunately, the E3 STAFF team was disbanded before my dream became a reality. It was more than 10 years later when we were finally able to reopen the game development department. Once we had built up some experience as developers, we decided to undertake a new addition to the Brigandine franchise.
Naturally, we considered the route of doing a remake of the first game, but rather than attemp that without any of the original creators present, we decided on an all-new story to go with the new team. We also wanted to offer a new experience where both fans who had been waiting more than 20 years as well as those who were picking up the game for the very first time could start on equal footing. This is how Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia began, with a team consisting of:
- Kenji Terada as script writer (past work: Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III);
- Raita Kazama on art and character design (past work: Xenoblade, Xenoblade Chronicles X);
- and Tenpei Sato in charge of music (past work: Disgaea series, Brigandine: Grand Edition)
All working together on a joint project with Happinet as publisher and Matrix as the developer. Bringing back Brigandine was a long and difficult journey, but there was one thing I was certain of. The originality Brigandine had both as a fantasy world-conquering simulation and as a hex-based strategy game would appeal to many people even now.
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia takes place in a different world than Forsena from the original game. However, it still has the same basic components such as the originality and game mechanics that make it a Brigandine game. With this new addition, we have created for everyone, we have set the Brigandine clock back in motion. And as producer, my new dream is for this clock to never stop ticking again so we might continue to create more for everyone to enjoy.
LRG: In terms of narrative, is this a sequel to the original Brigandine? A remake? A tale set in another world altogether?
KI: This is the third title in the Brigandine series. First there was Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena, which took place in Forsena, then Brigandine: Grand Edition, which was a remake of the original, and now, taking place in the land of Runersia, Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia. The lands of Forsena and Runersia are from different worlds, so there is no link between their stories.
However, there are world-building elements that tie the series together. For example, there is a resource called "Mana" said to come from the Rune God. Those who have been chosen by this Mana are known as Rune Knights. They gain the ability to use Mana to summon Monsters to assist them in battle. This title also brings into focus the existence of the titular "Brigandine" as well.
In Runersia, there exist five pieces of armor or accessory ornamented with special Mana Stones which have been deified by the people. They are called "Brigandine". These each have a secondary name as well. The Brigandine of Justice, Glory, Freedom, Sanctity, and Ego each exist as symbols of the ideologies of the nations which possess them. If we were to replace these with elements from our own world, Mana would be akin to capital, military strength, personal wealth, and the like. Then, what exactly does that make the Brigandine? Kenji Terada and I often asked ourselves this question as we were working out the plot.
LRG: The hex-based combat of Brigandine makes it more like a PC simulation than the tactical RPGs you normally see on consoles. What unique opportunities does the hex design introduce? Is it more challenging to design for than a standard square grid?
KI: There are two reasons we decided to use hex-based combat. First, I personally am a huge fan of the genre, having grown up playing hex-based war simulation games in the 1980s. This experience has allowed me to create a well-balanced game that satisfies my tastes as well as the members of the development team that share my appreciation for it. And secondly, from a game design standpoint, it was important to use the same combat system as the first Brigandine game. Had we switched to a square grid system, the result would be an entirely different game.
The battles in Brigandine utilize troops. Each troop consists of one lead knight and up to six monsters. Therefore, each troop is comprised of a maximum of seven units. Each side can deploy three troops onto the battlefield, for a total of six troops in each battle. All told, that's 7 x 6 = 42 units taking part in each Brigandine battle. A square grid allows for only four adjacent units, but a hex allows six. This difference brings a greater variety of tactics that can be used on the battlefield.
As you said, the hex-based combat makes it more like a PC simulation and not something you see often in console games. Why do you think this is? Is it because the hex-based system appears so much more difficult? Whatever the reason, I think the fact that it's not often seen in console games makes it all the more worthwhile to release Brigandine as such.
Hex-based combat looks complicated at first glance, but once you've gotten the hang of it, it allows you to enjoy creating more involved strategies and a different experience not found in square grids. Fans of PC games will probably already know what I'm talking about. This is something I would very much like to share with fans of console games as well. We also worked hard to make the experience easier for players trying a hex-based combat system for the first time by making tutorials, tips, enhancement maps, and even units easier to see and understand.
LRG: The use of traditional fantasy monsters like griffins and golems for standard combat units is also something you don’t see in console strategy games very often. How does this affect gameplay, and how does it affect the relationship players have with their named “hero” units?
KI: That's true, the use of traditional fantasy monsters for combat units is a big part of what makes Brigandine unique. It was important for us to make the game feel like one big war where different monsters with which everyone was familiar took part. These monsters also play a big part in the tactical side of the game.
The leader of each troop is a single knight. The other units are all monsters with their own unique quirks and abilities. How you utilize these monsters will greatly affect how each battle plays out. The monsters will also be able to level up and change classes as they gain battle experience, and you will be able to equip them with weapons and armor, just as you can with the knight units. Additionally, since monsters are the only units that can be renamed, it may allow for players to develop a different sense of camaraderie with their allied monsters. However, unlike the knights, monsters will disappear from the world when their HP reaches 0. (Though they can be revived with special items later.) If a knight is defeated, all units in their troop will withdraw from the battle. Therefore, the monsters are there to escort the knight, but if they are defeated themselves, there's no coming back.
I invite players to find their own personal strategy to utilize this balance between the units and lead your troops to victory.
LRG: Besides hex combat and classic fantasy units, how else does Runersia carry forward the concepts of the original Brigandine? What new elements does it bring to the franchise?
KI: While the setting elements such as the continent, story, and characters are all new, the basic concept of the first game has been carried over. And while it may be a different story, what hasn't changed is the fact there are six forces at play, each with their own beliefs and reasons to fight. By playing as the different nations, you can experience the history of the continent from various angles and make new discoveries. Also, the large volume of content that allows you to play for such a long time once you've gotten used to the game mechanics hasn't changed.
As discussed in answer to your previous question, we've added various elements to make this a new game while still retaining the hex-combat system and the basic “Brigandine-ness” of the franchise. One of the key new elements added is the “challenge” mode. In this mode, players choose any 10 knights they like and aim to conquer the continent from a single base in a score-based attack system. But that's not all. There are still many more new discoveries to be made once you give the game a try. There are new knight classes, monster races, easy to understand yet deeply enriched unit builds, new CPU routines, and more. I invite everyone to download the trial mode from the Nintendo eShop and try out the new Brigandine for themselves.
LRG: What kind of unit customization is available for players? And is there a permadeath feature?
KI: One of the key features of this title is the degree of freedom and depth to which players are able to develop the units. There is a wide range of development that can be made by all characters and units. To begin with, there are more than 100 different knights, all of whom grow stronger as they gain experience on the battlefield. And once certain conditions are met, class changes also become possible, with over 60 to choose from. There are 18 different races and more than 50 different classes of monsters. Monsters are also able to level up and change classes once they have acquired battle experience.
In addition, there are over 500 types of equipments and items that can be acquired from quests, and these can all be used to further enhance units. However, these elements merely represent a tip of this game's possibilities. The amount of freedom in building and developing units is limited only by the player's imagination:
- Will you focus on developing a knight who starts out at a high level? Or will you choose a young knight with great potential in their future?
- What about a knight who has high combat power, but is unable to command many monsters? Or perhaps a knight with low combat power who is able to command a greater number of monsters?
- You can have up to nine attack and defense elements, but what combination will you choose?
- Which class will you acquire experience as, and what magic and abilities will you carry over when changing?
- What will be your go-to tactics on the battlefield? What kind of monsters will you employ in carrying them out?
I think part of the appeal of Brigandine is that there is no right or wrong way to play, just different styles which players can discover for themselves. In addition, the knights and monsters for the enemy countries (CPU) will complete their turns and grow at the same rate as the player.
What kind of troops are waiting to confront you as you advance? Even if you have defeated those enemy knights and monsters before, they will continue to grow. There's no guarantee you can defeat them again.
What if your troops do end up losing a battle? No need to worry. In Brigandine, there is no game over when you lose a battle. You're not bound to clearing stages in this country conquest simulation game, and there's no game over unless the number of bases your country controls is reduced to zero. If you lose a battle, you will withdraw and merely lose that base. All you have to do is prepare and do battle to seize it again. Those wins and losses in battle will become your very own story, with each revenge match giving you incredible satisfaction.
LRG: Do you have any additional thoughts you’d like to share on the game?
KI: First, I would like to express my gratitude to the fans who have supported the Brigandine series over the years. We've been listening to what you have to say, and we've worked hard to meet your expectations. I'm also very grateful for the encouraging support of our partner in the North American release of the game, Limited Run Games, as well as those who have been eagerly awaiting to experience Brigandine for the first time through this title.
It has taken over 20 years for Brigandine to arrive here at its new starting point. But Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia has proven that as long as you never give up, nothing is ever completely impossible. Right now, COVID-19 is affecting the lives of people all over the world. That we should finish the two and a half years of development and release the game at this point in time feels a little like destiny. I believe games play a big part in enriching the lives and hearts of people. In a time where it feels like there is nothing but bad news everywhere you look, knowing that everyone playing Brigandine is taking a break to enter a fantasy world in which they can at least temporarily forget their troubles, I feel it was worth it to have bet my career on this title.
I had planned on traveling to America around the time of release, but that seems out of the question for the moment. I look forward to the time when I am able to meet and talk with everyone who has played the game. Until then, I hope everyone remains healthy and happy.