The mix of empire-building strategy and tactical RPG in Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia makes for a compelling hook. Like many a strategy game, the ultimate goal is to conquer the entire land—in this case, a fantasy continent called Runersia that’s home to six different kingdoms—one stronghold at a time, while managing the resources of a growing empire. But where most see you commanding your troops from a distance, with the outcomes of battles determined by a mix of number crunching and higher-level strategic maneuvering, Brigandine drops you into the thick of Final Fantasy Tactics-style encounters.
It’s a neat mix. When it comes to choosing how to spread your army across the various outposts under your control, overall Combat Power is important—no amount of clever tactics will let a low-level squad overcome a vastly more powerful one—but so too are things like unit synergy, terrain effects, and party formation. Every Rune Knight in your army and the monsters they command are units you’ll control directly in any battles, with RPG progression systems and a range of varied skills, which encourages a rather different approach than Brigandine‘s contemporaries.
The strategy side of things is still very much about resource management and conquest priorities. Everything in Legend of Runersia revolves around mana: outposts under your control generate a set amount each turn, monsters in your army consume it, both when they’re first summoned and on every turn thereafter. Rune Knights serve as the captains of your army, each commanding a squad of up to six monsters (while also being capable fighters of their own) that can defend a post or invade neighbouring targets. To recruit more, though, you’ll need to send the knights in your current employ on quests—that also yield equipment and experience points—taking them out of action for a turn.
It’s a relatively uncomplicated strategy setup on the scheme of things, with no options for diplomacy or alliances and no civilian needs to worry about. But what it lacks in depth as a pure strategy game, Brigandine makes up for in the way the high-level strategy and tactical RPG elements feed off each other.
Those tactical battles really hit the mark, too. A wide and varied range of monsters and Rune Knights mean plenty of options for party composition and opportunities for creative synergy. Positioning is of particular import, even by tactical RPG standards: a lot of attacks target large areas without distinguishing between friend or foe; monsters grow weaker when they stray too far from their Rune Knight; terrain effects can strengthen or weaken units, depending on their environmental affinities; and getting surrounded by enemies causes a detrimental penalty to accuracy and evasion. Elements play a big role, too, not just in terms of direct strengths and weaknesses, but also the composition of elements in the available “slots” on a creature or spell. Higher concentrations of a single element will amplify resistances and vulnerabilities, while more of a spread can offset that.
There are also interesting dynamics at play in the relationship between Knights and. If a Knight is defeated, their monsters will try to flee—making burning down Knights a quick way to cull enemy numbers. But focus too heavily on the stronger foes in the hunt for a quick win, and you can find yourself overwhelmed by the weaker ones you leave unchecked. Balancing those priorities is key.
Unless, of course, you choose to just overwhelm your enemies with raw strength—that works, too. Simple but effective equipment and levelling systems, with the added layer of divergent class changes, provide ample opportunity to jack up your team. Make good use of the quest system and unit positioning on the strategic layer of the game, and you can give yourself a substantial advantage in battle. And so it all comes back together: high level strategy feeds the turn-based tactics in the battlefield, and vice versa.
A compelling raft of stories underpins all this. Runersia is a place with a rich history and sociopolitical landscape, home to theocratic kingdoms, pirate republics, and everything in between. It’s a place with a history of conflict and, prior to the start of the game, a hard-fought and tenuous peace—until that inevitably falters and the land is thrown back into war. Each of Runersia’s six kingdoms has its own overarching campaign that unfolds as you gradually take over the map, full of the political intrigue and dynamic characters from this sort of fantasy power struggle.
The overarching tales are dramatic and thought-provoking, but also surprisingly intimate: despite the scale of events, the focus sits largely on the individual people at the heart of the conflict. Smaller, contextual vignettes that emerge as you recruit new Rune Knights and cross swords with neighbouring kingdoms help add texture and bring the world vividly to life, as does the absolutely gorgeous hand-painted artwork that accompanies the visual novel-style narrative delivery.
Approached purely as a strategy game, Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia may seem a little simplistic. But then, it’s not trying to be the next Europa Universalis, and what it lacks in systemic complexity it makes up for in the clever interplay between grand strategy and its tactical RPG side. Along with an intriguing world and captivating stories to discover, that combination makes for a fantastic experience.
Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia
Developer: Happinet, Matrix
Genre: Turn-based strategy, tactical RPG
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.