• Brave Dungeon Review - Nintendo 3DS

    Inside System is a small team of Japanese developers that found their fame with the two Legend of Dark Witch games. Initially available only on the Japanese 3DS eShop, the first game gained enough momentum to be first translated for western markets, then ported to the Playstation Vita and Steam; the second game is following its predecessor's steps, without the Vita port. A third chapter is in the works, and in the meantime Inside Systems released Brave Dungeon, the first spin-off of the Legend of Dark Witch series.

    Rather than an action platformer, Brave Dungeon is a dungeon crawler. The shift in genre also brings in a new main character, Al. Al was a boss in the first game, and she's joined by an all-star Dark Witch cast of previous bosses: Papelne, Stoj, Rudy, and Mari. The girls will have to venture into five dungeons in search of the ultimate magical item... or at least that's what Al is here for; why the others are there is never really explained. Story is kept to the minimum, which is kinda strange for a Dark Witch game: the previous games featured a very simple yet well fleshed-out story, but in Brave Dungeon there's nothing much connecting characters and dungeons other than a very few lines at the beginning and the end.

    All five dungeons can be explored from the get-go, with the only limitation being how strong enemies dwelling there are. There's no indication on a recommended level for exploration, but a defeated party will be sent back to town, fully healed, and no repercussions other than respawning enemies.

    Dungeons are composed of at least five floors, each guarded by a boss; defeated bosses will drop a key to access the next floor. Once opened, multiple shortcuts allow you to quickly retrace your steps back to the entrance or get back to where you left off in case of defeat. Floor layouts aren't randomly generated and aren't particularly complex; every dead-end has some loot to promote exploration. Enemies are visible on the playing field, represented by stationary icons; monster icons location and number is again fixed, but how many and the type of enemies you'll meet in battle isn't.

    Characters take turns during battles based on their speed; a tiny turn sequence bar indicates who is going to act next, how long the selected action will delay the next turn, and who'll be affected by it. Brave Dungeon cleverly rearranges mechanics from the Dark Witch games to its structure, starting with the action bar: all actions, except items and wait, consume a certain amount of action points, and to use the most powerful attacks characters must either pass turn or use simpler attacks. This mechanic doesn't really come into play during normal battles, but manipulating action points becomes a must against bosses. Boss battles are Brave Dungeon's highlight, requiring mastery of the battle system and every tool available. Most enemies are taken from the previous Dark Witch games, their animations enhanced to cater for their new attacks; just like playable characters, enemies had their moveset adapted to Brave Dungeon's system.

    Brave Dungeon isn't particularly hard , even without dedicated grinding sessions the party breezes through the floors designed for current character levels. Character levels, that in turn mean new classes and skills, come in quick, making it unlikely to get struck in a floor or against a boss; new skills also mean more tactics to experiment with, and each party member has well defined abilities to set them all apart from each other. Al is a good all-rounder with both single and area attacks, along with a few buffs. Papelne is an offensive character, with a lot of powerful single-target attacks and few costly area attacks. Stoj is the healer of the group and has very limited offensive options. Rudy focuses on speed and multiple hit attacks, later gaining access to heals and buffs, usually for herself. Mari is the second support character, specialising in buffs and debuffs. Everyone gains new skills by changing class once hitting a certain level; class changes normally present two options, each with a different skill and stats boost. Characters can further improve their four stats (attack, defense, magic, speed) by spending trés gathered by killing enemies. Trés is also used to buy single-shot items. Items are expensive to begin with and become more expensive each time they're purchased; while not as flexible as a dedicated healer, items make all kind of parties viable by providing a quick and reliable way to heal and resurrect characters. Due to their cost, items are reserved for boss fights as being defeated by normal enemies doesn't represent a huge setback.

    Successfully adapting elements from action games to a dungeon crawler can be hard, and Brave Dungeon successfully manages just that. Brave Dungeon has an elegant combat system with a good compromise between ease of use, tactical flexibility, and complexity. Just like with the other Dark Witch games, Inside System should focus more on level layout and accessory graphics: sprites and animations are excellent, but everything else is boring to look at. Floor layouts don't present any trap or gimmick, making them easy to go through but ultimately being the same thing despite their different graphics. Brave Dungeon favours multiple playthroughs over a lengthy, single one, and the different characters and exclusive skills give a lot of to experiment with; grinding your way through the same dungeons, enemies, and dungeons multiple times might not be appealing as replaying action games like the other Dark Witch games; I personally went through it twice and despite enjoying both runs, it wasn't as fun as replaying the originals. Clearing the game once opens up a large amount of extras and a secret character, further enhancing the game's replayability. The appeal is stronger with Dark Witch fans, but there's no need to know the source material to enjoy this little dungeon crawler.
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