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   Brave Story: New Traveler - Staff Review  

Are You Braver Than a Fifth Grader?
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
PLATFORM
PSP
BATTLE SYSTEM
3
INTERACTION
2
ORIGINALITY
2
STORY
3
MUSIC & SOUND
4
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Easy
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
4.0/5
+ Charming, enjoyable story.
+ Game is better than the sum of its parts.
+ Airship is a freaking dragon!
- Dungeons are boring to look at.
- No maps in dungeons.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   For those of you who don't keep informed on Japanese literature, and given that this is a North American website, that's probably most of you, Brave Story is a novel by Miyuki Miyabe that follows a young boy named Wataru as he journeys through the fantasy world of Vision on a quest to get his wish fulfilled. The story has something of a cult following at this point, receiving an excellent translation into English as well as spawning a movie, a manga, and several video games, the most recent of which is Brave Story: New Traveler.

   While most of the licensed properties based on Miyabe's Brave Story follow the original story, New Traveler is a new tale featuring a new protagonist, Tatsuya, who enters Vision in hopes of curing his friend Miki who has fallen ill. The story is once again penned by Miyabe, and Tatsuya and his companions visit many of the same locations found in the original, even encountering some of the same characters, including Wataru. The story itself is simple and extremely traditional, yet completely enjoyable, filled with memorable characters and great dialogue. It's not a particularly deep tale, but it has such a wonderful charm that it's difficult to dislike it.

   The story is not the only thing exceptionally traditional. The battle system, as well, follows traditional turn-based rules to a tee. Encounters are random, dungeons are labyrinthine, and the hero carries a really big sword. That isn't to say that New Traveler doesn't add its own twists on the formula. Brave Power, the resource used for special abilities, regenerates whenever a character deals damage to an enemy. The amount regenerated increases by dealing consecutive damage, which allows characters to go all out in random encounters without having to worry too much about their BP.

Cat girls and lizard men.  And cat girls.  Cat girls... Cat girls and lizard men. And cat girls. Cat girls...

   Characters are also able to work together to perform Unity attacks. These attacks are generally extremely powerful, but draw on the BP of all the characters involved. What's truly unique is the way in which these attacks are learned: by using the party members in question. This is interesting because the standard methodology used by turn-based RPGs is generally to force the player to use every character they have or to let the player do whatever the heck they want, but Brave Story actually rewards the player for using his favorites. This is such an excellent design decision that it's easy to overlook the fact that all that is really needed is a healer and two other characters to complete the game, and since the two main healers are the attractive female archtypes, as healers are wont to be, it can generally be assumed that one of these two will wind up in every player's party. Whether one chooses the angry, dual-wielding amazon or the saucy, bodice-clad cat-girl is really inconsequential.

   Despite the combat system being less than creative, it does the job exceedingly well. Brave Story: New Traveler is a shining tribute to game balance, as even though it brings virtually nothing new to the RPG genre, everything is so perfectly balanced that nothing gets stale. Dungeons are precisely the right length, battles take precisely the right amount of time, and the story gets precisely the right amount of focus. By the time the player starts getting tired of the cutscenes, they end and push him forward into another dungeon or towards another town, and when that wears thin, story kicks in again at just the right moment. This beautiful balance keeps the player going until the finale approximately 20 hours later, the perfect length for this style of gameplay.

   Brave Story does have its share of problems, however, and most of them fall to the shoddy interface design. For some reason, the main menu consists of a box at the top corner of the screen with six options. This is especially odd considering that the game offers more than six options in the main menu, but a half dozen or so are inexplicably lumped into a rather generic "Other" subcategory. Another strange issue the game falters in is its completely lack of any kind of map for dungeons. With no map and dozens of forks, twists and turns in every dungeon, it can be very easy to get lost. Thankfully, a map is at least available for the overworld.

Adam West would be proud. Adam West would be proud.

   Although it can be incredibly attractive at times, at others Brave Story is horrendously dull. The character models are all extremely well done, and the towns and overworld map are both pretty, but the dungeon environments are extremely monotonous. However, the game really stands out in the battles, which have a visual flair all their own. Whenever a character or enemy deals damage to another, that damage is accompanied by comic-styled lettering exclaiming various onomatopoeia in an exuberant and highly enjoyable way.

   The audio experience is excellent, however, featuring a terrific soundtrack of catchy, charming melodies well suited to a traditional RPG such as Brave Story. Though there is only voice acting in a handful of cutscenes, it is done well.

   In the end, Brave Story: New Traveler is more than the sum of its parts. While it doesn't do anything new, it succeeds so well at what it does that it's hard to fault it anything. The game only lasts around 20 hours or so, but upon completion, various guest party members that joined the party for brief stints during the game, including Wataru and Mitsuru from the original Brave Story, become permanently unlocked for use, should one decide to explore the game further. New Traveler should prove a relatively easy experience for most players, but it's not entirely devoid of challenge. While avoiding licensed properties is one of the staple rules of many gamers, Brave Story: New Traveler is one game to make an exception for.

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