Phantom Brave was released in America on August 31st, 2004 with two editions available. The Phantom Brave – Special Edition came with a free soundtrack CD but a shortened instruction booklet when compared to the normal edition.
Phantom Brave was Nippon Ichi’s fourth release in the U.S. following Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure for PS1 and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and La Pucelle: Tactics for PS2. Games with which Nippon Ichi had seen significant sales success (particularly with Disagea).
Now without further ado, to the review!
In the year of 913, in a world called Ivoire, lives Marona, a 13 year old orphaned girl with a special ability to communicate with phantoms. Her ability brings resentment from others, but cheerful and optimistic Marona is not bothered. Marona believes in her parents’ teachings that people will one day come to like her as long as she stays compassionate and kind. Now Marona travels throughout Ivoire with her guardian, Ash the Phantom, taking jobs somewhat similar to a bounty hunter.
System: PlayStation 2
Also On: None
Release Dates: USA August 31st, 2004 – EU February 4th, 2005 – JAP: January 2nd, 2004 (August 3rd, 2006 for the “Best for the Family version)
Genre: Strategy (Tactical) RPG
Players: Single Player Only
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: NIS America (Nippon Ichi America)
Rating: T for Teen because of: Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
Phantom Brave re-imagines many aspects of traditional RPGs and needs to be approached as something new. Many of the underlying aspects are familiar and traditional, such as character levels and stats. Phantom Brave is a Strategy RPG, meaning that battles take place on a 3D map with a team of characters under the player’s control, and a host of enemies to fight on each map. While many games in this genre use a grid to dictate movement, this one is gridless. Characters can move a set distance in any direction. Attack ranges can, therefore, be a little sensitive, but with careful placement can allow players to maximize the enemies who fall into Area of Effect Attacks.
While these basics are not outside the norm of SRPGs, this game takes a whole new approach at this point. Play begins with Marona on the map, lots of enemies and lots of random objects strewn about. Marona has the ability to confine Phantoms (the rest of her team) to the objects on the map, temporarily giving them a physical form. The Phantoms have a turn limit, so after they have a certain number of turns (the number varies by the type of character), they vanish. The items a character is confined to will also affect the stats of the character. For instance, being confined to a rock will make a Phantom slower but also have a stronger defense. Players will need to pay attention to the items Phantoms are confined to in order to increase characters strengths or shore up weaknesses.
Play on the maps has one other quirk. Objects and characters who fall Out of Bounds (that is, off of the map) are gone from the battle. When enemies fall out of bounds, they increase the level of the other enemies on the map. The terrain of maps will have two aspects to notice. The first is how slippery the floor is. A slippery floor will allow characters to slide beyond their movement range, but may cause them to slide Out of Bounds. The second is how bouncy the ground is. A very bouncy floor can have a similar effect.
The game also has equipment, but not in the traditional sense. There is no armor to use. Instead, each character can hold an item. That item will alter the character’s stats. It will also guard the character by taking a percentage of the damage a character receives. The item will also have special attack and support moves the character can use. This is easy enough, but the items equipped range from traditional RPG weapons (i.e. swords, axes, staffs, spears, etc.) to any stray item that can be picked up (such as rocks, bricks, water cans, fish, clumps of grass and even other characters). Items the player owns can be leveled up and strengthened, as well as having hidden skills within the item unlocked.
There are two types of experience used in the game. The first, simply called Experience, is based on the level of characters defeated or objects destroyed (as well as a bonus received for completing maps) and is applied only to the level of the character. The second type is Mana. Characters and the items they wield, receive the Mana a defeated character or item has. Mana is used to strengthen items as well as in Fusions. Fusions take an item (or character) and fuse it into another. This process can boost an item’s stats, and also allow the transfer of skills.
There is also a third type of Experience, of sorts, found in weapon and skill proficiencies. Actions are broken up into seven types: Physical Attacks, Energy Attacks, Elemental Magic, Physical Magic, Space/Time, Status, and Healing. All actions beyond the basic action for each character or item requires spending points from that category (like spending magic points in most RPGs). Every action increases the experience with that action type, which will increase the points the character has to spend in that category. Every time a character uses a skill, that skill will also increase in experience. The experience will increase the skill level, making the skill stronger as well. All of this simply means that the more a character does something, the better they will be at it.
The game features one more truly unique feature. Every character and item has a title (there are a couple of exceptions for a few story items). The title will alter stats and may possibly give skills to whatever it is on. The title will have a huge affect on the strength of the items and characters they are attached to. Titles can be traded between objects giving one more area for players to improve their teams. Titles can also be leveled up through random dungeons. A Dungeon Monk will allow characters to go into a title, and every map cleared will make that title a little stronger. Every enemy in the random levels will have that title, so running through a strong title will make for stronger enemies to fight through. There are only two ways to exit a dungeon: clearing the dungeon (sometimes hundreds of floors) or using the Dungeon Monk’s “Return” skill which requires spending some money to use. Using fusion to give several characters this skill will be useful in making a hasty escape if enemies become overwhelming.
Like most Nippon Ichi games, character levels can reach level 9,999. While this is not necessary to complete the story, there are post-game battles and random dungeons which can keep players entertained long after the story has ended. Items and characters have a level cap (100 for characters) which is increased by the level of items fused to them, thus allowing them to reach the final level cap of 9,999.
So how does Phantom Brave rank on a scale from 1 to 10?
FUN FACTOR – 8
Players expecting a traditional game will find an abrupt disappointment. While many of the underlying aspects of the game show the traditional roots of the Strategy RPG, the overall play style and character development process are quite unique, even from other Nippon Ichi games. The story centers on a young girl so themes of the game and the story as a whole are often touching and sentimental. Having the team disappear after several turns and need to be replaced is often a shock to any entrenched RPG player. There are many unusual features of this game which are not the norm for the RPG industry, but players who can move out of the usual expectation of RPG games will find a very impressive and unique game. The numbers that can be thrown around, especially in item fusion, can seem daunting, but only need to be understood in concept to be used. The game is fairly accessible to new players but allows a great deal of depth of play and is open to development to allow players to select their preferred play style.
Graphics – 8
The graphics are hand drawn sprites on rendered 3D maps. The look and feel of the game is very colorful and nice to look at. It may pale in comparison to other genres, but is quite impressive compared to other Strategy RPGs.
Audio – 9
As with most Nippon Ichi games, the music is beautiful and well placed. Voice acting is good, and also includes English or Japanese voices. Sound effects are simple and appropriate. There may be room for improvement, but not much.
Ingenuity – 9
As previously explained, this game has a fairly out-of-the-box approach to the genre. While it holds the usual Nippon Ichi flavor, it is not easily compared to other games they have made, or any other game in the genre, for that matter. The core concept of the Strategy RPG is the same, but most other aspects of the game have been rethought and are unique. This is either one of the most impressive Strategy RPGs to be released in the last decade or one of the most bothersome, depending on what the player is expecting. Players looking for something new will not be disappointed.
Replay Value – 8
Unlike Disgaea, This game does not feature a New Game+ (a special re-release in Japan added the feature). After the story is completed, there are plenty of features for anyone who enjoys playing though, to keep them busy for quite some time.
Fans of Strategy RPGs looking for a new approach to the genre need to start with Phantom Brave. The game also features a touching story which is a little unusual for video games in general. Any player who loves customization and building teams will have a heyday. Compulsive collectors will be a little frustrated by the huge amount of character types and item types available. The ability to make huge overpowering armies with almost limitless potential also appeals to a certain type of player. Any player who thinks these things may be appealing should at least give the game a look. It could easily be a nice diversion from the standard cookie cutter selection of games on the market and may possibly become a new favorite.