Another week, and once more we have another retro-styled RPG from the good people over at KEMCO. This time around we discover that Wizards of Brandel revolves around the exploits of a wizard named Darius who lives in a world called Brandel. He must embark on a quest, gather companions and defeat an evil organisation that is experimenting on the inhabitants of the world. So, pretty much business as usual for a recent KEMCO game then.
The presentation of Wizards of Brandel is exactly as you’d expect for a game of this style, and if you’ve played any other KEMCO game from recent times you’ll be right at home. Retro-styled, charming sprite-based graphics are counterpointed by dialogue screens featuring images of the person speaking, with the design of the characters very firmly on the anime end of the scale again; all big eyes, big hair and tiny mouths.
The music is a particular highlight here though, with stirring battle music and some lovely tunes as you play through the tale. The inevitable battles play out in a side on view, and operate like every other RPG ever, allowing you to choose a physical attack, a magic attack or to use items with each turn. One slight difference this time is that each character can have a Familiar Spirit help them out in battle. These can either act independently, or use their power to boost the action the lead character takes. To get these Familiar Spirits you need to explore the world and find contracts, and using them allows you to form a bond. With different spirits bringing a variety of abilities to the table, swapping until you find your ideal team is a very good idea indeed.
In addition to the spirits, Darius must also recruit others to help him out. The first of these is Erica, a young Guild soldier whose father was a famous warrior called Gladius. She is sent to hunt down the Evil Lord, a shadowy figure who is blamed for all the things that go wrong in the world. When we meet Erica, Darius is living in the house of a young man named Mark, who despite being 200 years old appears to look about 10 years of age. He’s also the one that the Guild have named as the Evil Lord, but from what we can see of him, this doesn’t appear to be right. Once Erica agrees to join us in an attempt to clear Mark’s name, we are sent out into the world to meet the last character – a half-human, half-demon hybrid called Phelia. Phelia is the victim of an evil organisation that is trying to get to the root of immortality magic; fusing together humans and demons. Phelia escaped when the rest of the demon hybrids ran amok and destroyed the lab that she was imprisoned in. She seems to be half plant, and as she goes through the game she needs to be watered to allow her to keep going.
The story is the usual KEMCO fare, complete with tragedy, comedy, twists and turns to keep you guessing. However, maybe it’s just that I’m getting used to these games, but throughout my time with Wizards of Brandel I had an overwhelming sense of deja vu. The story twists can be seen a mile away, the conversations seem a little forced and the humour is a tiny bit flat, falling firmly on the slapstick end of the comedy spectrum. There are only so many times you can hear Phelia croak “Water! Water!” in the middle of a conversation before you start to feel a bit let down. This isn’t to say the game is boring, far from it, but it does seem to be retreading the same old ground we’ve seen in many, many other KEMCO games. There are only so many stories in the world, I guess.
One thing that does make me happy is the lack of reliance on KEMCO microtransactions this time around. There are specific options which can be purchased from your favoured digital store, but for the most part if you want to get gems that boost your experience you can buy them from the in-game shop with in-game currency. A little light grinding at the statues in the dungeons will soon see you have enough cash to get the things you want, and in no way are additional purchases pushed towards you.
The usual control niggles are present though and once more it’s stupidly tricky to walk through narrow gaps, whilst getting hung up on corners does annoy, but I’ve dealt with them in every KEMCO game so far and so they are fast becoming like background noise now. Other than that though and Wizards of Brandel on Xbox One is entertaining enough, and if you haven’t played a KEMCO game before then this is as good as any to start with. It’s actually possibly a bit better than most for the KEMCO novice; quite easy on normal difficulty and never too stressful. However, with the same monsters that are present in other games showing up as well, despite this being a whole new world it’s all just a bit samey for veterans of the KEMCO route. If I can use a motoring analogy, Wizards of Brandel is like a Nissan Qashqai; it doesn’t do anything wrong, per se, but nobody’s going to have a poster of it on their bedroom wall.