Scared Straight

Brave Story is the first legitimate console-quality RPG on the PSP. It's also a pure paint-by-numbers experience.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: July 25, 2007
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God, I am so horribly torn right now. I want so desperately to gush over how good Brave Story: New Traveler is, but the truth is that as a game, it's really nothing special. As a tech showpiece for the PSP, however, it is arguably the single most impressive bit of code that your PlayStation Portable will have spinning away this year. Absolutely seamless loading, visuals that finally look better than PS one quality in every way, from a lack of seaming in a lot of cases, to texture work that doesn't look all splotchy and low-res to models that burst with detail and personality. This is, without a doubt, one of the best looking handheld games ever made.

It's just not a great RPG.

Part of the problem is that the premise; a PSP-addled kid and his God of War-named pup are in the park busily ignoring what must be a friend because she keeps talking despite the kid (who is technically you, though it's doubtful you'll ever make a connection with him) having his face inches from the screen. When she finally stomps off in a huff, only to be found in a coma moments later, the kid/you are given the chance to travel to the world of Vision to meet up with the Goddess of Fortune to go back and save the slumbering Miki.

See? Pretty decent, right? Except the intro is thrown out there and then hardly ever gets nurtured. Yes, you'll go back to check on Miki and along the way bump into other travelers (including the main character of the original Japanese manga/anime, as well as a crankier quasi-villain), but the draw here is meant to be the world, the characters in it and the gameplay. Which is fine, really; if those things are strong enough, I'm willing to overlook a lackluster storyline, but here they're merely propping up what is essentially a premise that runs out of steam fairly early on.

It's clear that the battles in the game were meant to be the strongest source of bracing and support, which is good because it's probably the best turn-based system I've ever seen on a handheld -- and certainly on the PSP. Battles are incredibly quick, load up instantly, offer just enough strategy to keep them interesting, and feature creature designs befitting of Japanese developer Game Republic, who are starting to make a name for themselves with whacked-out stuff like Folklore. The only downside to 'em is that the encounter rate is so high you'll be pulling your hair out just trying to get somewhere.

At the core of the battles is Brave Power. Think of it like MP in any other RPG except you build it up by just attacking. Sacrificing BP allows you to pull off Bravura moves (read: spells) that can attack/heal/buff one or multiple enemies/party members, or the awesome Unity attacks that either two or all three members of the party can pull off to absolutely wipe the floor with most enemies. Unity skills only appear when party members fight alongside each other for a while and the longer you keep one party, the better the skills will become.

Simple, no? Yep, and it works beautifully; switching from casting a ton of support spells for a few fights to just straight clobbering to get the BP multiplier up changes the reason for fighting, and though there's definitely too much of it, it at least makes those rare instances when level grinding is encouraged that much easier. You'll doubtlessly spend most of your time with the game in fights of some sort, though, so be prepared for it.
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