Phantom Brave PlayStation 2
by Koei Co., Ltd
Developed by NIPPON ICHI SOFTWARE
Release Date: Out Now
Last year we looked at one of the best turn-based strategy games ever made, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. The game thoroughly impressed us and it was an easy choice in making it our PlayStation 2 game of the year. After being so enthralled by the game we decided to look at what other games the developer, NIPPON ICHI SOFTWARE, had also been responsible for. To our delight we found that they had made a game before Disgaea called La Pucelle Tactics and were working on a game called Phantom Brave. At that time no UK release was planned but thanks to Koei that's all changed. Koei had the wisdom to bring Disgaea to the UK and they've also done us a huge favour by releasing Phantom Brave and they will also be releasing La Pucelle Tactics at a later date. Up first though is Phantom Brave so let's see if NIPPON ICHI can create another masterpiece.
The main two characters in Phantom Brave are Ash and Marona. Ash is a ghost, or as he is known in the game, a phantom. The game begins with Ash (then alive) on a venture with Marona's parents, Haze and Jasmin. The three of them were on the Island of Evil when they met their death. In a last ditch attempt to use all of their energy to restore Ash to life they managed to restore him but only as a phantom. Trapped in between the lands of the living and the dead Ash made looking after the now orphaned Marona his sole task. Marona like her parents before her (and also like Ash before he was killed) is a Chroma. Marona also has special abilities such as being able to see, confine (more on that in a moment) and communicate with phantoms. This ability has made everyone despise her. Despite this complete rejection though Marona still believes that one day people will accept her and want to be friends. Both Ash and Marona travel the Ivoire world sorting out other people's problems in the form of turn based battles.
If you've played Disgaea and think Phantom Brave will simply be more of the same then you will be in for something of a surprise. Yes the game is still a turn-based strategy game with RPG elements (some call them sRPG games or tactical RPG games) but there are some major differences with Phantom Brave that will really change the way you play the game. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the lack of a grid. Gone are the squares that dictate your movement and instead your character will have a circle around them to indicate how far they can move or the distance that an attack or spell can cover. This seems like a simple thing but it really makes your movement seem far less restrictive than with the grid system. You are also able to throw your enemies off the battle map, which is great. However whilst this initially seems like a quick way to thin down the number of opponents you have to consider that when an enemy is thrown from the map the remaining enemies slightly increase in strength. Also you can't throw the last enemy from the map and you must be aware that the enemy can also throw your phantoms from the map too.
Aside from the obvious removal of the grid and the ability to throw your enemies out of bounds, the other big difference between Disgaea and Phantom Brave is the concept of confinement. When a battle begins you will only have Marona. Marona can summon phantoms (you begin with Ash and a few others and as the game progresses you can create your own phantoms from a range of available classes) and confine them to various objects. The objects that she confines the phantoms to will modify their attributes so you have to be careful what you confine your phantoms to. I must make it clear that when I say confine I don't mean that the phantoms can't move from the spot where they are summoned (as in the dictionary meaning for the word). They can still move about freely but the object they were confined to will determine their attributes for that given battle. In another twist each of the phantoms, including Ash, can only remain on the battlefield for a set number of turns before they disappear. This limitation in using phantoms really makes you value them more and encourages you to be more skilful with your strategies. At first it comes as a bit of a shock but after only a short time you grow to appreciate the way confinement adds depth to the game. It also seems to make the battles go more quickly.
The longevity of Phantom Brave is amazing with 100+ hours of enjoyment on offer. Random dungeons and the ability to level your characters in to the thousands (in what other game apart from Disgaea could your characters reach level 9,999?) means that you could well be playing the game until this time next year if you're inclined to do so. When you factor in the ability to increase the abilities of your weapons too (it's also worth pointing out that most things in Phantom Brave can be used as weapons, even rocks), it all adds up to a game that will keep you entertained for as long as you're interested which will be a very long time indeed. Characters can be customised and even merged if you really want to do so. Rumour has it that Laharl (the main character from Disgaea) can even be found in the game although sadly we haven't seen him yet.
Phantom Brave, like Disgaea before it, uses anime styled characters and it's a look that works really well. The game has a simplistic, yesteryear, look about it but this doesn't take anything away from the game. Graphically the game could be said to fairly simplistic given the capabilities of the PlayStation 2 but a simple glance of the screenshots doesn't really give you the full flavour of the game. When you see those superb, way over the top attacks being carried out in all their glory it's really difficult to pick fault with the graphical elements of the game. The battle map can be rotated in 90° increments and this can help should your view ever be obscured by objects that are on the map. The games cutscenes are side-on 2D affairs which again look simplistic but they do have a certain charm about them that makes it difficult to criticise.
Disgaea was great for deaf gamers and Phantom Brave, thankfully, is identical in this respect. Comments made during a battle (that accompany an attack) are not subtitled but this is really the only omission. The cutscenes are all subtitled and all other information is shown in text. Like Disgaea, Phantom Brave has a wonderful help system within the game that will help you if you're ever stuck with what to do. The game manual keeps things brief but it does cover the basics fairly well. The game makes a good use of icons and the manual shows you what they all mean although most are self-explanatory.
Given the critical acclaim that Disgaea received it would have been all too easy for NIPPON ICHI to simply repeat the formula with Phantom Brave. Initially you might think they have but after only an hour's play you realise that in some ways Phantom Brave is very different. Different it may be but it's still excellent and another first class title from NIPPON ICHI. Removing the grid was a superb move and the concept of confinement was brilliant from a strategical perspective (as you are forced to constantly rethink your strategy) although had it not been handled so well it could have proved problematic. Phantom Brave doesn't contain as much humour as Disgaea did but this isn't surprising really as it has it's fair share of emotional moments where as in Disgaea you could laugh at virtually everything that was going on because that was the developers intention. The bottom line though is that although there are some key differences between the two games Phantom Brave is another turn-based masterpiece that like Disgaea before it is worth buying a PlayStation 2 for.
Overall Game Rating: 9.4/10
If Disgaea made gamers take notice of NIPPON ICHI then Phantom Brave will make them realise that they are indeed the masters of console turn-based strategy games.
Deaf Gamers Classification:
(Click the letter or here for details)
Deaf gamers will have no problems at all with Phantom Brave. Comments made by the characters during a battle (such as taunts when attacks are performed) are not subtitled but everything else is.