The PSP hasn’t had the best line-up of games for a very long time, but the tide seems to be changing with the release of Brave Story: New Traveler. A classically styled RPG based on several successful manga and anime features, Brave Story takes several risks with gameplay that pay off greatly, but seems happy to let the areas around its plot stagnate. At its best, Brave Story can conjure memories of much better games, but at its worst it is an easily forgettable experience.
The main character, Tastuya, enters the world of Vision under the promise that if he collect five magic gems his wish to cure his sick friend will be granted. After the brief introduction, the game wastes no time making references to things that happened in the manga and anime. These references are never explained, just half heartedly made, as the gamer is expected to either understand them or just move on to the next objective; Brave Story continually generates this feeling of missing pieces. The story itself is functional, but could serve better if any attempt to explain any of the back story was made.
The game also never makes an attempt to explain the issue of the “Braves” that populate the land. A Brave is a person who comes from the real world to Vision to have their wish granted. The game starts off, and states several times throughout the story, that this is a very rare thing that only happens once every generation or so. None of this makes sense as Braves seem to literally litter the land of Vision. Keeping track of the number running around stops making sense after the fifth one has appeared.
The game does make up for the downfall of the plot with its unique take on classic RPG combat; characters level as enemies are defeated, during battle, and the replacement of magic with “Brave Points” a system that replenishes as the enemies take damage. Leveling up during battle is a helpful twist as characters become stronger and gain new skills when they can be used, in the heat of battle, instead of wading through menus to see what a new skill does. All skills use “Brave Points”, a system very close to magic points but instead of depleting when a skill is used, the damage caused from that skill gives several brave points back. Later in the game when skills become more powerful, it is possible to use a skill that does enough damage to recover all the points used from it and reward several additional.
Side quests are the key to any RPG and Brave Story manages to do this all in spades. Brave Story takes a page from Phantasy Star IV and has a Guild, this time called the Highlanders, where quests of several kinds can be picked up for various degrees of rewards. While most of the side quests are easily over looked, they are simple to obtain and do populate every town in the game.
Brave Story is graphically comparable to any PS2 game. During battle the detail of every character can be seen, from the whiskers on the amazingly cute cat-girl to the hero’s constantly weird sword. All are rendering in amazing detail. Given the past of the PSP it is also impressive that Brave Story loads fast and painlessly except one noticeable instance, the load time being when the system is first turned on and the game boots. This first load time can be avoided by simply putting the PSP into sleep mode, a step that the game actually informs the player of during the beginning of the game. All other instants of load are fast and painless.
The unique character design is rather refreshing in a classically styled RPG. Scattered around your standard goblins and Ant people, you have a race of lizard men with each looking strikingly different from the next and a wolf-like creature with a mouth that opens five ways from a large funnel shape. All of these characters exist in a world that feels crafted, yet familiar. Each town feels like it was designed to a natural flow, allowing the gamer to quickly find what they are looking for without needing to search every house for clues for the next quest.
Brave Story has the unique ability of having music that sounds exactly like that of any given Final Fantasy game. While in many ways good, the sound track ends up feeling like the same music from most other games. Where the game does excel is during combat when most dialogs from the characters are spoken, even from the normally silent main character. During some of the games very rare cut-scenes happen all dialog is spoken, which can be kind of surprising and a little annoying if the sound to the PSP has been turned off to save battery life as none of the cut scenes have sub-titles to follow along with.
The game lasts several dozen hours, which is rather impressive considering that it is on a handheld. Besides the main story there are always the side quests that are offered at the Highlands branch for gamers to pick up, along with the copious amounts of side quests, bird battling (an event that involves walking into the wilderness and capturing birds to let them beat each other unconscious), and an easy crafting system where old accessories can be deconstructed to their core parts for use in newer, better, equipment make the game a rather rewarding game for the price tag.
While Brave Story does stagger at several points during the game, mainly the plot, it does prove to be more than the sum of its parts with a gameplay experience that manages to be unique and reminiscent of past RPG experiences. While an easy game to recommend to any PSP owner that has been waiting for an RPG they could sink their teeth into, people new to the genre may want to pass. Brave Story’s only real fault, besides the plot, is that it doesn’t do enough to distance itself from any other RPG already out. For those of us that find ourselves longing for an RPG that we can enjoy for awhile, without ever feeling rushed or overly caught in minor details, Brave Story can fit that bill on the PSP. The horizontal style box art is pretty cool too.