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CONSOLE: SNES DEVELOPER: Produce PUBLISHER: Enix
RELEASE DATE (NA): August 1994 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Severely lacking in brains.

Brain Lord. It's a game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. You may not have played it or even heard of it. Maybe it's because it was sold in relatively limited quantities. Maybe it's because it was lost beneath the wave of other more well-publicized RPGs that hit the console that year. Or maybe it's because it's just a generic game that couldn't stand out on its own if it wore polka dot stilts.

One of the biggest setbacks for Brain Lord is that it suffers from a rather questionable translation job. Although the opening scene sets the tone for the story — the standard "father goes off on adventure and never returns, so you go out searching for him when you grow up" deal — the reasoning behind the rest of the game isn't all that well explained. You have four friends that offer their assistance whenever possible. We don't really know much about them, and their dialogue is so lackluster and disjointed that you really won't care what they say and will do all you can to merely press forward in the game. Suddenly (and this is a spoiler alert, even though it makes absolutely no difference to the plot at all), you discover one of your companions is actually the Fairy Queen. Well, that would be convenient if a Fairy Queen was actually someone useful.

Another issue is the inventory system. You get three pages' worth of space, and that does sound like a lot. You can carry sixteen items per page, so that's forty-eight items in all. Still sounds reasonable, right? Think again, Lord of Brains! Things quickly build up in there, though. Soon, your mysterious inventory pouch is full and you have to discard something. You'll have several different types of weapons for use that you'll likely want to switch between, depending on the situation. So you have to carry all those in your pack. Add armor and shield; that'll take up some space. Buy an herb: that will take up a space. That's right: it's one of THOSE games where every healing item takes up a separate slot in your backpack. They couldn't have compiled those together! Since when does a spicy leaf take up the same amount of space as plate mail? That must be one heck of a leaf. Other items include antidote herbs, warp gates (for transporting yourself to any town or save point previously visited), and keys. Yup, every key takes up one space as well. You could probably tuck those keys behind your ear, but nope, not for our hero.

Oddly enough, for an RPG, there are only two towns to visit. One is called Arcs, and the other is named Toronto. Wait a second... Toronto?

Luckily, Rob Ford is nowhere to be found. And no, there's no town of Arcs in Canada. Looks like they failed at basic Canadian geography. You can stock up in either of these towns on the latest and greatest of items, armor, and weaponry. Most of the townsfolk are as helpful as a raft in the middle of a dusty cornfield, but at least it gives some atmosphere to an otherwise rather lonely game.

Ultimately, however, a game is all about its gameplay. Brain Lord is somewhat like game such as The Legend of Zelda, just with different pants... and a somewhat pudgier hero. The vast, vast majority of your time will be spending wandering through dungeons. There are five dungeons in total, though they are all quite lengthy and will require a good investment of time to scurry through them. Sometimes the focus is purely on action. Luckily, once you obtain X-Ray Glasses, you can somehow see a map of each dungeon floor. Your character (automatically named Remeer, but please, give him a better name) will have to slice his way through countless demons who all want a chunk of your heroic hide. Monsters respawn often, either when you leave a room and come back, or even just walk off screen. When you defeat a foe, a number will fly out of it. That's gold you've collected. Get as much gold as you can, for when you die, you lose half of it! And, in normal video game fashion, each dungeon ends with a boss battle. Well, four out of five do. Not sure why there aren't five. Couldn't wedge a fifth one into that pixel pile thar? 'Snot right.

Other times, Brain Lord wants to put more emphasis on the "brain" part of its name by throwing puzzles at you, be they complex mazes or simply having to solve one-screen puzzles, typically involving pressing buttons in the right order or figuring out how to move giant boulders onto buttons to make a door open. That's just super. At least the muscles required to yawn received some exercise.

There IS one puzzle that did require a bit more of my mental attention, and it practically breaks the game because of its fatuous design. Imagine walking into a room and it is pitch-black, about the size of a football field. You can't strike a match or have a flashlight handy; you are forced, no matter what, to be in the dark. Next, imagine that in this gigantic room, someone has placed a maze-like series of walls all over the place. You don't know where they are, and you have no map to guide you. At the other end of the room is a door. Get to it. This was beyond ridiculous. I spent quite some time wandering around in the dark, trying to see if I could get closer to that door. After a presumably lengthy amount of time, I just gave up on this sadistic level design and turned to walkthroughs for assistance. They provided none. My last resort was to find a Let's Play video on YouTube of someone playing Brain Lord and literally do exactly what he did, moving exactly where he moved, until I made my way to the other side. And even the person performing the Let's Play video was having some difficulty. Brain Lord, you are unpleasant.


If only it was that easy, Kashian...

While I'm thinking about it, can anyone explain why I spend half an hour drudging through countless hordes of monsters, puzzles, and locked doors, only to finally pass it all and discover that one of my friends is hanging around by the next save point? How did they get there so easily? Why must I do everything the hard way? It's magic, I know it!

Brain Lord is sounding pretty generic right now. It does have a couple of aces up its sleeve, however, that delivers some originality. Throughout the game, you can find (or buy, if you're lazy and loaded) jades, jewels that contain sprites. You can activate two sprites at a time, and they will hover around you and provide offensive or defensive support (or just shine a light in most dark areas, except the aforementioned hellish maze). Occasionally, enemies will drop dark orbs that the sprites can steal to gain experience points and work their way toward leveling up. Oh, but those jades, they each take up another space in your inventory. Goodness sakes, cut me some slack here! Remeer can also learn magic spells throughout the game and use them at will, provided you've selected it. MP is not a factor here, thankfully; you only have to charge up your spell before you use it. And, oddly enough, what armor you use affects your walking speed! Tempering yourself with armor that is both strong and lightweight is the key to success; this is something I wouldn't generally experience in games of this era, and it's a nice tough.

Oh, and he can jump. How sassy.

I have to admit, listening to this game is a bit of a thrill. The soundtrack seems to have been pulled straight from a bargain bin collection of experimental 1980s music. That's not to say it's terrible, although after hearing it loop for the thirtieth time, it does start to grate on your nerves a little. But more interestingly are the enemies who grunt like they are repeatedly sitting on a cactus with every swing of your sword. I can't get enough of that sweet, sweet sound. I must hear more!

Wish I could say the same about looking at this game. It's not horrible, but everything looks generic from the backgrounds to the individual characters, all the way to the enemies. Nothing really stands out, aside from some occasionally neat visual effects going on in the background while I do my thing and whack some wolves in denim shorts squarely in the snout with my flail. That's how we do it in Toronto!

Brain Lord isn't terrible by any means, but there's no spark to it, either. It's a by-the-books action-RPG that, while technically competent, fails to exude charisma. Blame it on the appaulingly bland translation. Fans of other action-RPGs by Enix or of action-RPGs in general can probably find a little bit to like here, but Brain Lord won't be memorable in the eyes of the nostalgic SNES community.


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