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   Phantom Brave - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Phantom Menace
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

PLATFORM
PS2
BATTLE SYSTEM
3
INTERACTION
2
ORIGINALITY
4
STORY
3
MUSIC & SOUND
4
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Unbalanced
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
3.0/5
+ Has some nice ideas.
+ Good soundtrack.
+ Decent art.
- Combat can be broken/unbalanced.
- A bit high-maintenance.
- Same graphics as N1's other games.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   On an island in the world of Ivoire lives an orphaned thirteen-year-old girl named Marona, who has the special ability to communicate with phantoms such as Ash, who when alive worked with Marona's parents to try and defeat a being named Sulphur, at whose hands they met their demise. Although Marona's powers bring resentment from others, she nonetheless works to resolve various disputes around the world, believing one day she will be accepted. Nippon Ichi's Phantom Brave continues the company's tradition of innovative tactical RPGs after developing a cult following with Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, although said innovation yields mixed results for the game.

   As in most tactical RPGs, the player will spend most time fighting, with Phantom Brave dumping traditional grid-based fields for free movement in circular ranges. However, when starting a battle, only Marona, along with the enemies, will be on the battlefield, being able to "confine" phantoms, including Ash and others the player can create on Marona's island, to various objects on the field such as rocks, trees, crates, and so forth, with phantoms' stats increasing or decreasing depending upon the object to which Marona confines them. Marona and each phantom can also equip one weapon each, also impacting their stats somewhat.

   Rather than having separate player and enemy turn sessions like in Disgaea, moreover, Phantom Brave instead has the player's characters and enemies take turns depending on speed akin to Final Fantasy Tactics, with members of either side sometimes able to get more than one turn before members of the other, depending on how high their agility is. When they reach their turns, they naturally have a number of different options to execute, primarily "Attack" which brings up a set of different types of skills, such as physical, magical, plant-based, healing, and so forth, that a character's current weapon can increase.

   Each skill type has a certain number of points that varies among character types, and using a skill of that type consumes a certain number of those points (or none, in some instances). Repeated use of a skill will eventually level it, naturally making it more powerful. Killing enemies will also net a phantom experience, with level-ups happening occasionally and increasing that phantom's stats. All phantoms summoned in a battle will also gain some experience once the player has won a fight. Phantoms also gain Mana from killing enemies, which the player can use back on Marona's island, if a phantom of the blacksmith class is present, to level up that weapon and add new skills if available.

Tinkle tinkle little star Doing business by a purple orb thingy

   During their turns, phantoms can also pick up objects on the battlefield to use as weapons if they have none equipped, or throw their current weapon across the field, with a phantom able to throw once and pick up something once during its turn. Phantoms can also pick up enemies to use as weapons or throw. It is possible to throw weapons and enemies out of the battlefield, in which case, unless they have special protection, they will be removed from battle. If enemies go out of bounds, all other enemies will level up, with the last enemy on the battlefield immune to being thrown out of bounds. The player's characters (except Marona) are also susceptible to being thrown off the battlefield. The player can also use the Lift command to try and steal weapons from armed enemies, who, when unarmed, can do the same to the player's armed characters.

   Another element to consider is that after a certain number of turns, a phantom will disappear, with Marona unable to re-summon that phantom for the rest of the battle, although it will leave its weapon behind. Marona can summon up to fourteen phantoms into battle, with their weapons also counting as characters, a limit that can add some constraint to combat if they're not powerful enough. If Marona and the phantoms she summons die, it's Game Over. Unlike in N1's other games, however, characters and enemies, when they die, still leave their cadavers on the battlefield and are revivable, though either side can attack corpses to make them actually vanish, with the player needing to sacrifice a weapon to revive a character who dies this way.

   Outside battle on Marona's island, the player can perform a variety of maintenance tasks such as having a phantom of the healer class heal everyone for a fee, having a fusionist phantom fuse weapons (which is at times a necessity, since stats like agility can make a huge difference in battle), having a blacksmith phantom upgrade weapons with Mana acquired from battle, and having a dungeon monk create a random dungeon for supplementary leveling (which the player can do on previously-visited battlefields as well), and so forth. There are also some occasional hidden things on her island such as money and maybe a secret character or two.

Like Bangladesh Battles like these can be somewhat buggy

   All in all, Phantom Brave's battle system has some nice ideas, although their execution leaves something to desire. For instance, the free movement system for characters and enemies has a few problems, with certain areas on the battlefield having the potential to become cluttered by a combination of objects, the player's phantoms, and foes, and the player possibly able to accidentally attack an ally or weapon instead of an enemy in these instances. Given the complex nature of the mechanisms, moreover, mainstream gamers may find it tedious to make it through the game, although there are certain tricks, such as with weapon fusion and random dungeons plus certain stat-affecting titles, which can make the game less painful, although it is possible to shatter the balance of the game in these instances. Ultimately, combat has plenty of decent ideas, although some technical problems and occasional unbalance hamper it.

   Interaction, however, fares somewhat worse. The general menus aren't all that bad, and the structure of the game leaves little question on how to advance, although shopping for new weapons can be somewhat tedious given the inability to instantly compare the stats of prospective weapons with those the player's characters currently have, and since the player will gain many new weapons from battles, changing equipment can be a chore given the lack of an "equip best" option, along with the added annoyance of the player needing to re-equip weapons if characters lose them in a battle (with weapons, along with characters, having stats and being able to "die," with the player still able to heal them). Overall, interaction could have been cleaner.

   Phantom Brave is a decent epitome of innovation, given things in its battle system such as confining phantoms to various objects on the battlefield, and that units disappear after a few turns, though it does borrow things such as various types of attacks and skill levels from Disgaea. Still, Phantom Brave is very much distinctive as a tactical RPG.

   Much like Nippon Ichi's previous titles, the story in Phantom Brave is chapter-based, with said chapters divided into several episodes, and Marona performing various tasks in each episode to advance the main storyline somehow. The story is more serious and lighthearted than that in Disgaea, and focuses on themes like friendship and intolerance, with Marona initially treated like a freak because of her ability to communicate with phantoms. The story is okay, with some decent twists, but does occasionally seem to lack focus, with tactical veterans certain to detest the fact that while the gameplay often makes players think like generals, the plot is somewhat "kiddy" in nature. It's not the greatest story ever told in the RPG genre, but it does have some things going for it and is a mild driving factor throughout the game.

A typical cutscene Three blind...slime thingies

   The soundtrack is one of the better efforts by Nippon Ichi's main composer Tenpei Sato, with most tracks decently conveying the tropical nature of the game's setting, along with some violin-based battle tracks and two decent Japanese songs, "Friend" and "Heaven's Garden." Voice acting also accompanies cutscenes, with most voices fitting the characters, though some sound somewhat annoying, and much of the voicework has a bit of a cartoony feel. Still, Phantom Brave is a decent-sounding game.

   Like Nippon Ichi's other tactical RPGs, moreover, Phantom Brave uses 3-D scenery with 2-D sprites in battle, as well as on Marona's island, although cutscenes use 2-D scenery alongside larger, more realistically-proportionate 2-D sprites, a combination that looks generally pleasant, along with the character designs. The battle scenery, though, is less pleasing, and mostly looks ripped straight off of N1's other titles, with other tactical RPGs such as Stella Deus showing that 3-D scenery with 2-D sprites can look much, much better. Still, Phantom Brave is by no means a bad-looking game, although it could have looked better.

   Finally, Phantom Brave is about a thirty-hour game, although playing time can definitely vary depending upon how well the player grasps its mechanisms, with some post-game content potentially boosting playing time, as well.

   In the end, Phantom Brave does succeed in bringing innovative gameplay to the tactical RPG genre, much like Disgaea did, although inventive gameplay doesn't always work to the game's advantage, given some technical problems in the battle system and its unbalanced nature at times, alongside a large degree of character and weapon management outside of combat. Other aspects such as the story and graphics could have been better as well, although the music is easily the game's zenith. It's certainly not the best tactical RPG or Nippon Ichi production, but it's definitely not the worst, and is worth at least a look from those looking for something different in the genre, if nothing more.

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