Holy Brave Story Batman.
I'll admit that Brave Story: New Traveler is a PSP title that had flown completely under my radar. Yes, I had seen our media from the Japanese version and knew that it was coming to North America, but I had yet to see it in action or really read much about it other than a single press release. So when I was able to see the game in action, I was completely unprepared. The game is impressive.
The story focuses around a young boy and his friend, Miki. Miki collapses mysteriously into a coma from an an unknown illness. The hero, thinking the situation hopeless, is offered a chance to travel to the world of Vision. There he meets new companions who help him in his journey to become a couragous Traveler in hopes of having a single wish granted to save his sick friend Miki. I wasn't able to delve too deep into the story, but what I saw of it was interesting. The game is told through traditional dialogue-based story sequences and fully voice-acted movie scenes. Voice acting during the movie scenes was added specifically for the North American version and what little I heard of it was decent. Those familiar to the Brave Story series will be glad to know that this game doesn't forget its fans, though the story in New Traveler stands alone.
One of the best things about Brave Story is the complete lack of loading times between battles. The random encounter rate was fairly well-balanced, but the few battles the party got into loaded instantly. Combat is entertaining as well. Characters each have selectable actions such as attacking, defending, using items, escaping, or using the special abilities Bravura or Unity that are available at the beginning of each round. Bravura is a character's special abilities. These could be weapon-based skills or magic with each having its own unique animation. They consume brave point (BP) upon use, which luckily can be regained via save points, with items, or by hitting enemies with regular attacks. Certain attacks gain different levels of brave points and sometimes add a multipler for bonus points. Unity attacks are cooperative special moves shared between two or three characters. These attacks are extremely damaging, and thankfully, only take up one character's turn per round. Only one Unity attack can be performed per round, but that doesn't stop the partnered character from still making an attack that round. Characters unlock Unity attacks through being in the same party during combat. The more often the characters work together, the more Unity skills they will gain access to.
Everyone knows you shouldn't sing Unchained Melody. It's Simon's favorite song, and she just butchered it. Horrid.
Also of interest is the fact that experience is automatically gained upon defeating an enemy in combat; meaning that a character could level up in the middle of a battle. With six main playable characters and many guests available, I was happy to find out that characters not in the party do gain a reduced amount of experience. Since only three spots are available in the party, this was really helpful. Progress is recorded through traditional save points or at inns. Those save points also restore all of the characters' hit points and brave points. Combat is humorous and has an Adam West Batman-style to it. When characters attack, onomatopoetic words such as "Wham" or "Pow" appear over enemies heads. Both characters and enemies will begin to react to their status during combat. When weakened, they will slouch down and appear weaker. Enemies also moved about menacingly while waiting for the player to choose actions. All of these small details add up to an impressive package.
The main story of Brave Story is said to offer about thirty to forty hours of gaming. Thanks to additional content, most of which was added specifically for the North American version, the game now touts nearly eight to one hundred hours to fully complete. Unlike most RPGs, the majority of bonus content is available prior to completing the main quest instead of just artifically inflating the game time with post-game features. The world map is rather large, though I wasn't able to see everything it had to offer. Walking across the map was very fast, too. And later on, even faster methods of travel open up.
For a game that was not even on my radar a few days ago, Brave Story now looks to be one of the more advanced RPGs coming out this summer. With a release schedule for the end of July, gamers won't have much longer to wait before getting a chance to get their hands on this game for themselves. Oh, and what's the best part of the game? Dragons and cat girls. Does RPGaming get any better? If I had to compare Brave Story: New Traveler to another game or series, it would be Dragon Quest. Take this as you may.