Preview: Brave Story: New Traveller

July 6, 2007

There’s something to be said for sticking with tradition. For all the talk of innovation in video games, sometimes it’s the tried and true formulas that have been around for ages that offer the most entertaining experiences. At least that is what Game Republic (Genji series) and Sony Computer Entertainment Studios Japan hope you’ll feel with their latest title, a decidedly old school RPG called Brave Story: New Traveller for the PSP.

While the DS is certainly not lacking for immersive gaming experiences, pickings have always been somewhat more scarce for the PSP. It for this reason that most times when I prepare for a trip, it is Nintendo’s touchable handheld that finds its place among my belongings rather than Sony’s sleek portable.

That said, after spending several hours with the English localized version of Brave Story over the last few days, the PSP has earned a place in my jacket pocket as I prepare to make the trek to Santa Monica next week for E3. In fact, this is the first PSP game in ages that I recall emptying my battery multiple times in succession. Attention span is not something I’m generally known for, but Brave Story, an adaptation of the recently released anime film, has me hooked.

Unfamiliar with the anime source material? Not a problem, as Brave Story: New Traveller stands on its own as an impressive technical achievement of the PSP, offering whimsical dialogue and charm partnered with one of the most immersive battle systems yet seen for the handheld.

Essentially a PS2 quality turn-based RPG, similar to what you might expect from the Suikoden or Wild ARMs franchises, Brave Story puts you in the adventuring boots of a young boy in our world, who through a series of events finds himself in another, questing for mysterious gems that will somehow help awaken his friend in the real world, who has succumbed to a mysterious illness.

And while collecting gems serves as the boy’s primary driver, he also can take time out to collect some of the local birds, which are used in the world’s popular cock-fighting sport. A boy certainly needs his hobbies.

While much of the dungeon and overworld adventuring has thus far been rather nondescript during my time with the game, with bland textures and colors doing little to make one area stand out from the next, it is Brave Story‘s combat system that really sells the title. With an impressive assortment of combination attacks and special maneuvers, as well as the tendency for characters to punctuate their attacks with another follow up strike, combat is seldom if ever dull.

Fights are also generally fast paced, and even the more taxing boss fights I’ve encountered so far have been challenging without being arduous. Also interesting is that characters will many times level up mid-fight, giving them a much needed boost to their stats just in time to deliver the killing blow. Piss off an opponent, however, and you could be in for a rude awakening, as enemies can go into ‘crazed’ mode, essentially making them bigger and hit harder… not always a bad thing since some monsters only drop certain items when crazed.

And while combat is played out as expected through random encounters, these battles seem to crop up at an acceptable interval, keeping frustration at a minimum. There’s nothing worse in a RPG than feeling like you are having to cut a path through monster ever few steps, and so far Brave Story has not invoked that annoyance yet.

Currently scheduled to ship at the end of July in North America, Brave Story: New Traveller should be one that all RPG fans who own a PSP should keep on their map. It far outshines the game’s import PS2 equivalent, Brave Story: Wataru no Bouken. Look for our review when we get back from E3.