Are you brave enough?
Becoming an immortal half-human-half-ghost and protecting a girl whose parents gave their lives during a brutal attack by a monster so you could escape death would be a pretty difficult task, don’t you think? And, if doing it once weren’t bad enough, what if you had to live through it several times? Yikes! Well, while actually living through that would be all sorts of terrifying, playing a game about would be kind of cool right? And playing the game several times over the years would be even cooler, right? If you said “yes”, you’re not alone! The folks over at NIS have released and re-released their PS2 classic Phantom Brave quite a few times over the past decade, and have been met with a pretty good amount of success while doing it. Now the time is once again upon us; like a ghost from the past, Phantom Brave has re-emerged as Phantom Brave PC. Will these Phantoms still be welcomed with open arms, or is it time to finally say goodbye to the past? Let’s find out!
Phantom Brave centers around the story of a young girl named Marona and Ash, the young man tasked with ensuring her safety. Originally a normal human, Ash found work as a Chroma (a bounty hunter of sorts) fighting bravely alongside Marona’s parents in order to make a living. While things were good for quite some time, tragedy struck one day in the form of a ferocious monster attack. Although the three Chromas did their best to slay the beast before them, they were not powerful enough to emerge victorious. While all three of them should have been killed that day, Marona’s father, Haze, used what little strength he had left to ensure that Ash would not die live on, turning him into a Phantom; an immortal being that exists between the boundaries of Life and Death. Knowing both that Marona was gifted with the ability to see Phantoms and that he owed his life to Marona’s parents, Ash vowed to watch over Marona for the rest of her life. As she got older, Marona herself became a Chroma, both willing and eager to earn a living by making use of her ability to see, communicate with, and even summon Phantoms. While she sees her ability as a gift, many do not. Word soon begins to spread of a “possessed” Chroma; a young girl with supposed dominion over demons. Do Marona and Ash have what it takes to carve out a living as Chromas, even in the face of adversity? Only time will tell.
At first glance, Phantom Brave plays a lot like many other others in the Tactical RPG genre, and in many ways it is. Players are tasked with sending out the right units at the beginning of each battle, and keeping a close eye on both the combat abilities and battlefield positioning of friend and foe alike as they strive to wipe out the entire force of baddies surrounding them. Like all Tactical RPGs, battles aren’t necessarily as harmless as compared to those in their traditional turn-based counterparts. Normal skirmishes require almost as much preparation and awareness as tackling the bosses does. While this may come as a surprise to those who aren’t as well-versed in this genre, those who have played their share of games such as Final Fantasy Tactics or, perhaps more importantly in this scenario, Disgaea will not only feel right at home when playing Phantom Brave, but appreciate how well the battles are generally set up. Because of this, nearly every victory within the game feels pretty darn satisfying.
A slew of character classes large enough to rival those found within the Disgaea series is also present within Phantom Brave, ensuring quite a bit of variety in terms of what players can do with their party. While the main characters Ash and Marona are, of course, quite necessary for gameplay, it is up to the players to decide how the rest of their party lineup will look. Rather than acquiring a band of important individuals pertaining to the game’s story, Phantom Brave gives players the ability to create their own characters. Players are, at first, given a rather small roster of character classes which include basic healers, attackers, and spellcasters, but progression is made the number of classes from which to choose enlarges considerably and does so at a very steady pace that adds an additional level of satisfaction upon completing levels. Unlocking new character classes is incredibly simple, and requires nothing more than defeating an opponent of the desired character classes in order to add it to your roster. On top of this, many character classes are found as optional baddies within the storyline missions. Obtaining new character classes doesn’t stop with recruiting humans (er, Human Phantoms?) either; nearly every monster found within the game can be unlocked for your party as well! Unlocking monsters works a bit differently than unlocking new human character classes however. While unlocking new human character classes requires that you only defeat one enemy, Phantom Brave asks that you slay 20 beasties of your preferred type before making it all yours. While generally a bit more work to unlock, monsters are quite useful and generally very fun to use. Many of the battles within Phantom Brave are also against monsters, so it really isn’t too bad most of the time! The ability to unlock and utilize so many different kinds of character classes is largely rewarding but, fair warning, gets a little confusing after a while. The sheer volume of character classes means that each class varies only slightly from one to the next, which makes picking exactly the right team members to fight by your side somewhat confusing if you aren’t completely paying attention to what each class has to offer. With that being said, it’s certainly a blast once things finally start to click.
Now, let’s move onto some of the more interesting mechanics that set Phantom Brave apart from your more standard Tactical RPG. First, let’s look at the way units are set up during combat. Whenever you initiate a skirmish, be it through story or a Random Dungeon, things always start out the same; with a horde of baddies on one side, and poor little Marona all by herself on the other. While pretty much every other tactics game that you can think of has you start off the battle by deploying a number of available units, Phantom Brave mixes things up… quite a bit. Rather than just placing units on the battlefield (aside from Marona, who is automatically deployed at the beginning of every battle), units must be summoned using Marona’s “Confine” ability. The reason for this is explained quite early in the story; while Marona is a normal (ish) human girl, all of the other party members that are usable are what are known in-game as “Phantoms”. Phantoms are essentially ghosts; they are beings that aren’t alive, but aren’t quite dead either. By Confining a Phantom (the ethereal) to a nearby object such as a rock, a tree, or even (no joke) a phonograph (the “real”), Phantoms are able to briefly become living beings capable of fighting by your side.
While that alone may be perplexing enough for most, the Confinement mechanics don’t stop there! Much like how party members each have their own stats and levels, objects do too! Let us say, for example, that you have a rock and a tree nearby. If an ally were to be Confined to a rock then their stats would, well, become more “rock-like”, giving buffs to stats such as HP, and Defense, but lowering stats such as Speed and Intelligence. If instead you decided to Confine that unit to the nearby tree instead of the rock, then you could expect that unit’s Intelligence to go up, but suffer from a loss of Attack. Because of this, unit deployment requires two layers of thinking; you must always keep in mind not only which units to deploy, but also where you are going to Confine them to.
Finally, there is the Confinement time. While players can Confine a number of allies onto the battlefield during a single turn, they do not stick around forever. Simply labeled as “Remove” while in-battle, the Confinement time dictates how long a Confined character will stay around on the battlefield until forcibly ejected back into the realm of the not-quite-so-living. The number of turns that a character can stay on the battlefield differs between character classes, so keeping a close eye on each party member’s Remove number is quite important (Marona is, of course, exempt from this). Though Phantom Brave may have originally come out over 10 years ago, the Confinement mechanic is to this day still unlike anything I have seen before. It may seem a bit daunting, but the game does a great job of explaining exactly how everything works right off the bat which makes it quite easy for players to both understand and fully utilize it.
Yet another key difference that helps to set Phantom Brave apart from others within its genre is the way in which the battlefield itself works. In many ways, the battlefields within the game are the same as many others; largely square-shaped and, more often than not, multi-tiered so that strategy may better be implemented by both player and CPU. Battlefields also vary in size, meaning characters with higher Movements stats can get around more easily. That, however, is where the commonplace similarities end and the more unique mechanics begin. Let’s begin with what is arguable the most notable battlefield-based mechanic; the consistency of the battlefields themselves. While many stages are set up in order to allow for standard traversal, quite a few of the areas within Phantom Brave have varying levels of “Slipperiness” and “Bounciness”. As the names imply, fields that are slippery and/or bouncy make accurately maneuvering your characters a bit more difficult. Slippery areas will, as you’ve most likely figured out, cause your characters to slip around while moving. You also have most likely guessed that this becomes rather annoying, but let me explain to you just how annoying it can get. Rather than gauging movements in tiles, the norm with many Tactical RPGs, Phantom Brave has adopted a mechanic that allows for free movement with characters. While it generally works well (although I personally prefer the cleaner look and feel of tile-based movement), battlefields can become cluttered very quickly as time marches on with it becoming more and more difficult to place your characters just so. Because of this, adding slipperiness to floors generally results in a mess; characters never end up even remotely close to where they’re supposed to be, and half of the time both allies and enemies alike will end up sliding out of bounds (a mechanic which I will touch upon shortly). Bounciness works in a similar way although naturally it is dictated by height, with characters falling from greater heights bouncing along further.
The second major battlefield twist is the half-amusing-half-infuriating “Out of Bounds” (O.B. for short) mechanic. You know how, with a lot of older Tactical RPGs, the battlefield just kind of seemed to be nothing more than a square floating above an endless blue (or green, or red, etc.) void? Well, Phantom Brave has decided to make use of that void by setting in-place the O.B. mechanic. Much like with the Disgaea series, Phantom Brave utilizes a “stacking” mechanic, meaning that characters and/or items can be picked up and/or thrown atop one another. While the stacking itself doesn’t necessarily amount to anything significant, the ability to pick up other characters, use them as weapons, and throw them certainly does. By throwing a held character, or by using certain skills that cause the target to recoil backwards, into the void you can cause them to go O.B.. O.B. is, essentially, the same thing as a KO; while they do not actually lose any health from being pushed out-of-bounds, they are no longer usable. O.B.-ing opponents can be fun, but more often than not you’re on the receiving end of it. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve set up a good number of characters only to have them tossed out-of-bounds by groups of enemies with much higher Speed stats. Of course, some of this was my fault; as I played, I learned when and when not to Confine characters. Even as I improved, however, there were still times when I felt as though things could have been fine-tuned a little bit. While the actual battling in Phantom Brave is quite fun, the battlefield mechanics seem to be a little more on the hit-and-miss side of things and frequently brought to mind the fact that this was most certainly an older game. Much of Phantom Brave has aged nicely, but this is certainly one part that has struggled a bit. Still, there is something to be said when a game can frustrate you but never to the point of wanting to put down your controller.
As mentioned in previous paragraphs, this isn’t Phantom Brave‘s first time around the block. Originally released back in 2004, Phantom Brave has previously graced the PlayStation 2, Wii, and PlayStation Vita before finally setting foot onto the PC. As such, it would be unfair to judge Phantom Brave‘s visuals based on today’s standards. While the game has indeed received some fine-tuning throughout the years, it definitely looks as though it has been around for a while. In spite of this, Phantom Brave PC has not lost any of the charm that it had originally in terms of aesthetics. The spritework and locations in which players visit are all quite vivid and add plenty to the overall experience. The amount of graphical work originally put into Phantom Brave is a nice testament to the fact that there have always been game developers dedicated to sharp visuals, even when technology was more limited.
Though also a bit aged, the auditory side of Phantom Brave holds up pretty well too in many aspects. The primary example of this lies in the voice acting. As weird as it may sound, I’m not entirely sure how to define just why I find the voice acting within Phantom Brave so appealing. Although this may not be of help to everyone, the best way I can describe it is by saying that it’s “very PS2 NIS America quality”, and mean it in only the best of ways Sure, some of it is a bit cheesy at times but each voice actor within the game manages to carry with them a certain unique charm and the game manages to bring to the table both voices we’ve heard a million times before yet never tired of as well as a group of new and refreshing voices. Unfortunately, the music and sound effects within Phantom Brave fall a bit short when compared to voice acting. It definitely isn’t bad, in fact I would say that it still falls on the “good” side of things, however it’s obvious that the developers put more of their time into making sure that the characters sounded good which left less time to make other parts of the audio sound nice. Sure, sure, the voice acting is probably the most important part when it comes to the audio, but I’m the type of person who will love a game tenfold if it has within it a gripping soundtrack (with bonus points for neat sound effects).
Phantom Brave PC has already proudly declared itself the “definitive version” of Phantom Brave and, you know what, it’s right. Between the intriguing story, largely appealing gameplay, and large amount of that special NIS zest, Phantom Brave PC is a very solid choice for both old fans and newcomers alike. With an already impressively-sized original game, additional content from previous releases (Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle and Phantom Brave: We Meet Again), and a meager $25 price tag, there has never before been a better time to become a Chroma.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc ; Players: 1; Released: July 25, 2016; Genre: Strategy RPG ; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on review code supplied by the game’s publisher, NIS America.