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Brave Story: New Traveler
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: SCEI
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Strategy/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
It's tempting to say that Brave Story: New Traveler is the best RPG I've played in a long time, on any console. It certainly ranks highly against my favorites of all time, going back to the original Xenogears and Final Fantasy VII. There are some gaps between these classics and Brave Story: New Traveler that relate mostly to story and pacing. If it weren't for those shortcomings, Brave Story: New Traveler can easily stand with the best for its book-judged-by-cover elements.

The visuals are lush, from the overworld map to towns to battles. Effects in battle are especially nice, with camera angles that shift constantly to give attacks a cinematic effect. Corresponding sound effects for both the characters' voices and their attacks makes the battles engrossing. We've all had the experience of dreading the random battle through certain areas where weak monsters, repetitive battle music, and the same animations over and over made leveling up feel like the Bataan Death March. Brave Story: New Traveler does a nice job of mixing up monsters in most areas and building in variation for battles. Early into the game, your hero earns a magical ability to stave off weaker monsters that also helps to streamline the experience. The monsters are a wild bunch, showing great creativity and graphical design prowess. Something I love and haven't seen before is a size variation among identical monsters to signify difficulty. Bigger monsters of the same type are tougher to beat, which gives you a great sense of how to balance your attack strategy.

Only in a few places are there cut-scenes that break from the quick pace kept up in 90% of the game. Things move quickly in towns, while you interact with key story elements or just NPCs. The game's engine powers everything and there are virtually no load times from one area to another or before a sequence with dialogue begins. Various chapters show where a particular story arc ends, but otherwise you'll roam freely from one area to another.

Brave Story: New Traveler drives a lot of gameplay through a fairly banal story. Weakened girls in need of rescue, heroes transported to magical dimensions and paired up with other heroic team members... There is very little from a story perspective or from the game's setting that will surprise or delight. A few little things in the banter between characters are delightful, and the writing overall is very strong. The problem that few RPGs have solved is how to create a truly memorable setting and characters that stand on their own. The main hero of Brave Story: New Traveler is Tatsuya, a boy that goes from a typical closed-off teen in a recognizable world like ours to a Traveler in another dimension. This dimension, named Vision, has the usual mix of non-human races, knights and dragons, minerals and gems, and elemental interaction... You are tasked with helping Tatsuya find his way through Vision to find the source of the strange voice that promised to heal his real-world girlfriend's mysterious illness.

The best and most unique aspects of Brave Story: New Traveler are the themes of teamwork and bravery. Attacking monsters earns brave-points that contribute to each character's store of "bravura." Magical attacks and other special attacks are powered by bravura points (BP); for seasoned RPG games, simply substitute MP (magical points) for BP to understand how this all works. There are individual magic attacks plus an interesting twist called Unity. These attacks are learned gradually as team members battle together. Spend enough time on the field with one of the other characters and you will pick up a unity skill that can be used by cashing in BP on each side. These unity attacks can often be a turning point in certain dungeons against specific types of monsters. The rationale behind this system is that it encourages smart players to trade heroes in off the bench frequently but not spastically. There is a connection to the deeper story that relates to how each person's motivation can come into conflict with the greater good if not kept in check.

Brave Story: New Traveler incorporates a fairly deep quest system outside the main story, and there are plenty of opportunities to return to some dungeons and lose yourself in a sidebar task. The main story is very task-driven and revolves around collecting gems from different parts of Vision. These gems in turn help Tatsuya upgrade his weapon and unlock the path to his heart's desire. Other characters are hanging around Tatsuya for their own reasons but mainly because the appearance of a Traveler in Vision is a big deal. The range of experiences that Tatsuya and his team will have before the credits roll is exciting for core RPG fans that haven't seen a game of this depth or production quality yet on the PSP.

Any RPG that lets you wander around and face monsters that can wipe out your team in one battle at any time is above the midline for difficulty. There is a flawless help system that will remind you of your current objective at any time... more of a hint system than a help system. You can find characters willing to engage in a discussion to help you bone up on specific elements of the game so you don't spend a lot of time reading the manual. The battle system is very intuitive, but you'll find that each type of monster requires a specific strategy. In a nice analog to the teamwork element promoted for you, monsters can utilize different attacks when they strike with a team of three or more. You will learn to quickly split up or avoid certain combinations of monsters. Three or four of a kind will fight in a completely different way than one or two, and at least two enemies pair up during battle with other enemies to throw supercharged attacks your way. Learning to master your bravura and unity attacks is key to defeating monsters and coming out of dungeons alive. Learning elemental weaknesses and using items effectively is also key to winning.

Game Mechanics:
One neat piece of Brave Story: New Traveler not mentioned yet is the crafting system. Similar in a sense to the Monster Hunter premise of using spoils of battle to fashion objects, Brave Story: New Traveler lets you use recipes found throughout the world of Vision to craft items from items dropped by monsters you defeat. In any case, you'll have to defeat specific types of monsters to find these dropped items since stores aren't selling them. In some instances, you'll find that a particular monster won't drop the item unless the monster is "crazed." In a crazed state, monsters suddenly enlarge, use special attacks, and increase their hit-points. Defeating a crazed monster is no picnic, but if you want the really good crafted items, you'll have to battle a few. Some monsters go into the state over certain items you may be carrying or attacking them with, and other monsters go crazed when they're down to their last few HP. Crafted items tend to reduce or shield a team member from status effects, increase drop rates, or raise HP/BP.

The sole contribution in Brave Story: New Traveler to wireless or multiplayer is a system introduced through the regular game for capturing and battling birds. Goalfinches are obviously a nod to the chocobo but come in a wider variety of colors and have more of a squat, pigeony quality about them. At certain points in the game, you'll be able to capture goalfinches and in other areas you'll find people that like to battle or trade birds. Battling brings its own award and trading can net you some rare items. There isn't a real breeding sim here, since the qualities of the birds aren't increased by anything other than the combination of birds you capture before you have a "fusion" that creates the final fighting goalfinch. If you aren't playing the main game, you can connect with a friend and battle your collection of birds. Smart gamers will download saved games that include maxed-out birds, but the sentiment behind this is nice. More mini-games or more variations on the goalfinch fighting action would have made things more interesting. Kudos anyway for including a neat little feature like this in a traditional RPG.

Kudos overall to the designers and to XSEED for putting this out on US shores. RPG fans may come to see this a major installment on PSP, especially as an original property. Other titles that purport to be worthy of your RPG dollar have not come close to the sheer entertainment value contained in Brave Story: New Traveler. Here's hoping that we'll see another game in the series with a deeper story, and also more RPG titles on PSP from XSEED.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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