Phantom Brave has quite the gaming history; it never seems to go away.
First released for the Playstation 2 in 2004, the Nintendo Wii in 2009, the Playstation Portable in 2010, and now on the PC in 2016, Phantom Brave is one of Nippon Ichi Softwares most loved strategy Japanese role-playing game. It holds true to many of the developer's typical mechanics with a few iteration of its own.
To be perfectly honest, I love revisiting the things of the past.
In this case, I reflected on the PS2 era when I was far younger than I am now. I remember cruising the aisles of GameStop to look at the games and seeing Phantom Brave many times but never thinking much of it. At the time I was far too engrossed in the usual kiddy things like giant robots and superheroes, never actually giving JRPGs a chance. Because of this, I got into JRPGs late in life, aside from a couple of games on the Playstation One. When I got into it, I couldn’t say that it was my kind of thing, but because Phantom Brave is such an iconic game, I wanted to see what I missed out on as a kid.
Phantom Brave, as stated before, is an older game from the makers of the Makai/Disgaea series and is being redistributed for PC. This version contains all of the content from two previous iterations that expanded upon the original release. These two titles being Phantom Brave: We Meet Again and Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle. This makes the PC release the current standing definitive version, and at the current going price of $24.08 at retail, I count this as a definite plus in the game’s favor.
Gameplay is very similar to Disgaea but with enough differences to keep it from being a rehash. The review time I have is reasonable enough for most games but for a game such as this, I only managed to scratch the surface of what was offered as the game is meant for significant amounts of time being put into it. With the level cap being level 9999, you'll need more than a couple days. There are many interesting features in Phantom Brace, the most interested being the combat. I found myself surprised that the movement style was open-ended in that there was no grid to move along like in other Nippon Ichi games, opting for each character having DM points that govern how much said character can move on the map. By having this, a character can move as much as they want during their turn so long as their DM does not hit zero. Other interesting mechanics of the combat are the Phantom System in which the main character can summon supporting combatants or helpers. It starts you off with Ash (the second main character), a soldier, a merchant, and a healer, each of which specializing in their given profession at a fee or donation, except Ash. Another interesting mechanic is the throw function in which a character in combat can throw an object or even another character in a given direction to conserve DM points.
While there is a lot of combat to be had, there is also a lot of plot, of which some things are not explained right away. This wouldn’t be a problem if unknown terminology wasn’t being thrown around. I found myself having to pause the game and consult the wiki at the beginning to figure out what some things were such as the main character’s job as a Chroma, which is a very fancy way of saying “Soldier of Fortune.” The game starts with a party consisting of Ash, Jasmine, and Haze, who are quickly killed by a massive demonic monster during their quest on the Isle of Evil. In their final moments, Haze attempts to revive the party from imminent death but only has enough energy to revive Ash as a Phantom, an entity that exists somewhere between life and death. With their last words, Jasmine and Haze wish to have him watch over their infant daughter Marona. At this point there is a considerable time skip of 14 or so years and picks up when Marona is in her early teenage years, living with the immortal Ash on a secluded island in peace. From here we learn that Marona can communicate and see the various phantoms that appear invisible to the normal townsfolk. Because of this, Marona is thought to cooperate or be possessed by evil spirits which essentially casts her as a Pariah. What I found hard to believe is just how many people disliked Marona on fear of her alone without really taking a chance to understand her. Marona is a kind young girl that sports a bright palette of colors in her design; It’s like hating a puppy because everyone says it’s a hellhound.
On the subject of design and color, this game boasts some of the absolute best sprite work I have seen.
Just like the other Nippon Ichi titles, a lot of detail and effort is put into the creation of these sprites and their animation. Almost every character that I came across had various distinct emotions that felt rather natural in an anime kind of context. The movement in combat is fluid with the exception that the characters are always in a walking motion for some reason. Aside from the sprites, the backgrounds of towns, the main character’s homes and the isometric battlefields that are fought upon are very pleasing to the eye and give some of Nippon Ichi’s newer stuff a run for their money. I found it hard to believe the age of the game when seeing how good it all came together.
Ultimately, I am not a big fan of JRPGs, but I can appreciate every bit of work that was put into this game. I find that a lot of them are worthy of a cinematic series like an anime or movie series but as a game, the story massively overshadows gameplay, and Phantom Brave is no exception. I feel that the gap between gameplay and storytelling is just a bit wide for me; however, this is a usual staple of JRPGs in comparison to western RPGs. To say that this is a knock against the game is like being upset that a first person shooter game does not give me a good look of my character’s face. It’s not the point of the design. In the end, the game boasts an incredible amount of visuals and a classic Nippon Ichi story that helps build the world different than the one the Makai/Disgaea series resides in. If I could give this game one thing, it is that its mechanics surprised me and was a lot more intuitive than I went in expecting. If you are a fan of JRPGs, I heavily suggest this game as it offers a lot that should line right up with your interests. However if you are not a fan of Japanese Role Playing Games, I can’t say that this will be the game that will make you want to change your ways.
Phantom Brave does a lot of right things and looks fantastic to boot. Few knocks against it would be the story’s terminology is a bit confusing at first and with how much story there is, it's easy to get lost. The other small knock I would give would be the English voice acting. After starting the game up with it, I found myself quickly scrambling to either turn the voices off or turn it to subs. Luckily, they offered the option to have the original Japanese voice audio. If you don’t mind reading subtitles, this is the way to go.
As a final note, Nippon Ichi has been releasing their games on the PC, regardless of my opinions on JRPGs, I respect the hell out of this decision. I have a lot of friends that love these kinds of games but no longer have or have never had a console to play them on.