Brave Story: New Traveler is a game you'll want to like. A role-playing game in the mold of Final Fantasy, it has all the ingredients of its Final forebear and even some helpful touches of its own. The problem is that New Traveler takes its cues from ancient entries in the genre and suffers from maladies long ago cured. You'll wander through labyrinthine dungeons tangled with dead ends and random encounters in the name of thwarting evil, as well as coming of age. If only this game took its own advice and grew up.
At least the story writers are abreast of recent trends. Like so many RPGs these days, New Traveler's tale begins in modern-day Japan, with your hero sitting on a park bench next to his girlfriend playing on his PSP. Your dog, Kratos, chases a frog, perhaps under a log, and your girlfriend follows. You, too busy playing your game, fail to notice anything is amiss until she's been afflicted with an incurable curse of the darkest magic. Whoops?
So, you go on a quest into the realm of Vision (that's a place, by the way) seeking the Goddess of Destiny so she'll grant you a wish. To gain an audience, you must capture several gems and attach them to your sword (this tells the Goddess of Destiny that you're serious and aren't going to wish for a Coca-Cola or a million heads of lettuce). Once you get your wish, your girlfriend will wake up and probably dump you, but that's OK because minutes after arriving in Vision, you run into a sexy kitty girl. You know the type: the scantily dressed, sassy girls you always wish the heroes in these Japanese RPGs would go for, but never do.
You and kitten girl eventually find a big lizard guy to team up with to hunt down the gems while killing monsters, capturing bandits, as well as generally saving the day. This is almost always achieved through typical turn-based RPG violence. Your characters can attack, special attack, and perform team moves. The latter two use BP (read: mana), which, in a cool twist, normal attacks replenish. This basically means you'll be able to completely whip your foes with special attacks two or three fights in a row before cooling down and killing them the old-fashioned way to build up some more mana.
The Team Moves, as you might imagine, are special attacks that include two or three players. They cost BP for everyone involved, but tend to damage every enemy or apply a powerful, party wide status boost. Most importantly, they're a great way to quickly get out of random battles without running away--you just kill everything in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, like every other aspect of the combat, team moves don't require any timing or input. There are no button presses for extra damage, you just set it and forget it.
At least there is a modicum of strategy involved. Finishing foes off will usually grant the attacking hero another strike, so if you plan carefully, you can frequently land two shots for the price of one. The enemies strategically up the ante a bit by going berserk, cancelling your attacks, paralyzing your party members, and calling for help. You've seen it all before, but at least the enemies try to keep the fights interesting.
Still, you can only fight so many large, carrot-wielding bunny rabbits before you start asking serious, soul-searching questions about life, the nature of time, and refunds. The game tries to propel you past this interminable grinding toward the conclusion in three ways: with the story, with new weapons, and with Goalfinches. For the most part, the story is well written but completely predictable. Your sword, the main weapon in the game, drastically changes appearance every time you gain a gem, but never feels different. Goalfinches are Pokémon-inspired birds you catch and then make fight. Collecting these critters involves a simple game of scooping them up in a net, while battling them involves pitting your strongest five against another bird collector's five. If you win, you get an item. So yeah, you can cock fight, but you can't fool around with the cat girl. This fantasy has its priorities backward.
At least it looks good. New Traveler doesn't push any aesthetic envelopes: Everyone has big eyes and silly hair. The environments are all various shades of dungeon, but the visual fidelity is there, and it sounds alright too. The production values in general are high-quality, which includes everything from the normal graphics and the voice acting to the localized dialogue.
Brave Story: New Traveler does several little things right, but it doesn't do enough for $40. Although it isn't by any means a bad game, it is kind of a boring one. The enemies are homogenous and never-ending, the dungeons are exhausting, and the game is long. You could definitely do worse, but remember: It's always better to lift a game like New Traveler out of the bargain bin than to put it in there.