Nippon Itchi, a software company that cannot be called popular by any means, but has a cult following for the quality of games they produce. Usually sticking to consoles, and with that mostly Sony consoles too, it seems recently they are slowly putting their toes in the PC gaming market, and I couldn’t be more excited.
First we got Disgaea 1, a game that players can easily sink thousands of hours into, and how we get Phantom Brave.
Phantom Brave is a bit of an odd child in Nippon Itchis games, it has a different take on the strategy gameplay that is found in all of their other games, however, it is a game that makes it work, and whilst I don’t think there is as much replay value here compared to their other games, it is a game that easily justifies its price.
Phantom Brave follows Marona, a young summoner who lives on an island, Maronas parents died whilst on a mission, as laid out in the opening cinematic, now she is protected by Ashe, the Phantom of her parent’s best friend, who has taught Marona whilst she grows.
You follow Marona as she travels around the world, killing or exorcising Phantoms, however, Marona is feared and hated, as summoners are rare, this is the crutch of the story, as she tries to deal with this fear, and attempts to change how people see summoners. The story is very enjoyable, a step above of those found in Disgaea universe, which at some point does feel like a lot of slapstick comedy.
Gameplay is where this game excels, Marona can store multiple Phantoms with her, each phantom has their own stats, levels and abilities that can be used, just like most strategy RPG’s. However, they are phantoms, without any real body, so Marona must summon them into items on the battlefield, from trees to bushes, swords to rocks, there are limited items on the battlefield per level that can be used. Each item grants different stats to the Phantoms also, meaning you need to think about what you want to use and summon.
Bushes seem to be better for Mages, trees and swords for warriors, and rocks for tanks. However, you can summon any Phantom into any item, but it changes their stats and can make it more difficult to win a level. There is also the limit on how long each Phantom can stay, they have a set amount of turns they can be summoned for, and after that they leave.
Marona can also fight, however early in the game she is extremely weak, only managing to deal 1-5 damage per attack, and very easily defeated, meaning relying on your Phantoms to protect her and complete each level is necessary.
Another difference is that there are no grids in Phantom Brave, each character has a range they can move per turn in a giant circle, with careful use of this, you can move even further by using he slightly floaty physics in the game. In Ice levels though you need to be careful, as moving to much will fling you across the stage, sometimes falling off and dying.
Abilities also need to be used carefully, you can get through the game just fine using the auto target, however if you are a little more careful, it becomes possible to hit multiple foes with the same attack, where before the game would only target just one. You can also angle them just right to push foes off the match, or into other enemies, to set up for an even bigger attack.
The game also comes with the additional content that was added in the wii re-release, which is a chapter surrounding Marona, but no more extra content here.
Now graphically, the game looks bad, I mean it looked bad on the PS2, it looks just as bad here, there has been no real graphical improvements added apart from high def text font, which is…. nice I guess to have. However, the sprite work is nice, and in cut scenes is something lovely to see.
But this game has not aged well, it looks very similar to FF tactics on the PS1…BUT Nippon Itchis games have always been about game play, and thank god the game play is solid because the graphics are never.
Overall Phantom Brave is a fantastic game, and easily a game that strategy fans have to try at least once, the grid/top down strategy games are falling out of favour, and this helps to keep the genre alive. Its not a perfect game, graphics are poor and in some parts dreadful, but the gameplay and quirky story helps make it a much more enjoyable game. 8/10 overall, for a game that isn’t as in-depth as others in this genre, but replaces that with a hell of a story.