Brave Story: New Traveler
This is the story of a young boy named Tatsuya. He absolutely loves to play videogames (who doesn’t?), so much so that his girlfriend often feels neglected around him. One day, his dearest falls ill under mysterious circumstances; this is Tatsuya’s wake-up call. Desperate to save her, our ten year old protagonist drops to his knees and as fortune would have it, he opens up a portal into a fantasy world called Vision: a realm where one’s deepest desires are granted by an almighty Goddess who lies at the end of the proverbial yellow brick road.
Definitely a far-fetched prologue, but these humble beginnings lead to one of the greatest portable RPGs seen since the age of the revered GBA.
Brave Story: New Traveler is based upon the lore of a popular novel, a manga adaptation, and most recently, an animated film – all of which share the same name. If you aren’t familiar with these works, Tatsuya and his gang of motley crew of companions will nevertheless make you feel right at home in the world of Vision; this adventure is wholly original despite its steeped backstory. In Vision, Tatsuya is known as a Traveler: someone from the real world who seeks the wish-granting Goddess and as such, is blessed with an extraordinary battle prowess. In order to ascend to the heavens and save his beloved, Tatsuya needs to scour the lands for five salient gemstones that will power-up his inherited sword. There’s nothing really epic about the story here, and apart from a smidge of revelations towards the end of this Traveler’s tale, the plot is as RPG cookie-cutter as they come.
The approach to battles in Brave Story doesn’t stray far from standard RPG conventions either. As Tatsuya journeys across a vast-but-sparse expanse of flat fields and pop-up trees, it is only a matter of time before a “whoosh” arrives to sweep him and his party members into a random encounter with assorted beasts, birds, knights and the odd levitating demonic tome. Battles are a turn-based affair – akin to the revered Dragon Quest RPGs, but thankfully without the text box overload. You have the familiar attack, defend, item-use and escape commands, but whittling down your enemy’s HP figure to zero is an impossible task if you don’t support yourself with some abilities that carry more ‘oomph’. This is what the unique Bravura and Unity skills are for. BP is the parameter which governs the use of such radiant techniques, and the game even encourages their use by reimbursing you with more points whenever you score some big damage with them; an extremely good thing seeing that you can do everything from healing and buffing stats, to executing some incredibly wild and flashy team-based manoeuvres like throwing a large power-ball at an ally only to have him smash it into deadly energised shards towards the monsters on the other side. The BP-fuelled skills clearly play an integral role in surviving the battles that spam this relatively linear, point A to point B ordeal.
“Battles are a turn-based affair – akin to the revered Dragon Quest RPGs”And onto point C – in between the various towns you rest up at and the myriad screen-blurs that lead to fighting and more fighting, Brave Story offers a multitude of customisations and sidequests to indulge in. By acquiring diagrams you are able to craft accessories that confer stats enhancements or resistance to status effects, so long as you have the raw materials which are needed. It works well in theory, but many of the materials are nowhere to be found until you are so far into the game that their uses become quite moot. And grinding for raw materials isn’t as fun as it was back in the days when old-generation RPGs were all the rage. If sitting around and tinkering becomes too boring, there are a plenty of sidequests to engage in as well, all of which are documented in text for easy tracking. Too bad that most of them revolve around hunting down monsters to obtain their loot, though. And the reward in most cases? Another diagram – useless unless you have the specified raw materials, argh!
Should you decide to take a break from all the action and grind to a halt, there are two minigames to try out that involve catching and brawling with some plump, flightless birds. The birds that you capture and fuse (it’s fantasy, remember?) can either be pawned off for some nifty gear, or else entered into an avian free-for-all. Honestly, both are really not worth the time past their initial novelty; you can obtain much better equipment through more efficient means and watching a bunch of multi-coloured birds bashing the stuffing out of each other (with no user-control over them) is as stupid as it is bizarre. Unfortunately, other than these two diversions, there’s nothing else to play around with that doesn’t involve sifting through text; a sore loss especially with the trend of over-abundant minigames in every modern RPG since the [in]famous Final Fantasy VII.
Brave Story is all about the random battles at its heart. Even though it can be highly repetitive and often-times annoying having to stop every few steps to bust some caps, the strategy involved in utilising each member’s enchanted arm – together with a horde of skills that shoot all kinds of dazzling ass-whoopery – is worth it, especially considering the portable nature of Brave Story which allows for bite-sized chunks of exciting battles at a time. This is not a console RPG however (although with a few tweaks and additions, it could’ve been), so don’t be expecting a quest length of that calibre; there’s a good 20+ hours here, which is frankly just enough to not get boring. Being on the short side, replay games sound promising. But seeing as progression through Vision is very much linear and that the five accomplices (and few guest characters) that join you automatically learn their special skills at set levels, a re-read of this story will be nearly identical to the first.
As soon as Tatsuya enters Vision, things look very promising on the RPG front. As the battle mechanics are slowly unravelled, as you hum along to the wonderful symphonic compositions, as you meet up with the diverse personalities that will eventually join you – from a snobbish young wizard to a sexy, but immature cat-girl – it’s hard not to admire this 2007 PSP game for what it’s worth, but it simply doesn’t develop its assets far enough. There is a hint of backstory with each of supporting cast, but it all mysteriously vanishes before long, together with many underscored fundamentals in the battle system (namely infliction of status effects and taking advantage of the elements). The graphics can be incredibly detailed at times, with a gritty style reminiscent of Vagrant Story, but they are spoiled by the awkward comic-book onomatopoeia that pop up whenever hits connect in the heat of battle. Finally, sidequests are poorly disguised excuses for item-grinding and the minigames are no better deviations.
“it’s hard not to admire this 2007 PSP game for what it’s worth, but it simply doesn’t develop its assets far enough.”All things considered, Brave Story: New Traveler is lacking in many departments, but where fun-factor is concerned, the battle system holds up enough on its own to make up for the rest of this RPG’s shortcomings – it really boils down to how much you enjoy sinking time into endless grinds. Tatsuya doesn’t attempt to break the mould of the typical taciturn hero and his story plays it safe all the way throughout. There’s nothing really special here that we haven’t already seen before, but Brave Story does bring to us a competent RPG that’s well worth the time. If only it had taken a few more risks and displayed some true bravery…