While Disgaea has gone from strength to strength in terms of releases, Phantom Brave has remained fairly dormant aside from a PSP and Japanese only Wii release since it first arrived on the PS2 back in 2004. With Nippon Ichi looking to test its franchises in the PC market the game has been given another lease of life and if anything it’s even more complex and hardcore than Disgaea.
It follows the story of a 13 year old girl named Marona who is protected by a phantom named Ash after losing both her parents to an evil spirit some years before. Marona is a young Chroma – a sort of sword for hire, and your initial goal is for her to earn enough money to buy the island she lives on.
The humour and art style is very much in keeping with other Nippon Ichi games though it is perhaps a little less full on than when Etna appears in Disgaea. This is a PS2 game at heart and there is little chance of disguising that. There is a blurring filter and the menus now look lovely and HD but you are still going to be stretching and scaling the picture with effects to fit modern displays rather than the game being rebuilt from the ground up. Level textures look decidedly muddy, Sprites are pixelated and it is hardly a graphical tour de force.
The interface is also clunky. If you’re not using a controller there is a quite counter initiative mouse and keyboard system in place. You may be able to move characters with the mouse but you can’t for instance then use a scroll wheel to cycle through options. It took a while to get used to. Save yourself the hassle and just use a controller.
Clunkyiness aside there is a really good game here and the depth of the thing begins to come to light quite early on. It shares a fair bit with Disgaea in terms of it being a turn based RPG and in terms of classes and skills levelling but there are key differences that the game is built around. The most obvious is the fact that you no longer have the grid system and instead everything is done with range circles. This really took us some time to get used to and to be honest it seems an odd design decision that doesn’t really add anything.
A more significant and important difference is the summoning system which is the games whole ‘thing’. Instead of lining up characters to take into battle your game will revolve around Marona summoning phantoms to aid her. Marona confines phantoms to objects which then come to life for a set period of time. For instance, if you want a tough fighter then confine them to a rock to give them strength and defence bonuses. Mages are best confined to plants as that boosts their magic ability. The options are long, complex and incredibly deep. The catch is that after a set number of turns the phantom will turn back into the original object and not be summonable again. This means that if you aren’t careful you won’t be strong enough to down the enemies and complete the level.
The range of classes you can summon is huge and then you can give them all sorts of weapons and objects as well. You can also give phantoms bonuses by confining them to objects which are receiving environmental bonuses. There’s the whole being able to pick up and throw things off the map as well but we suspect your head is already spinning enough.
Overall, Phantom Brave is showing a bit of age in its presentation and its mechanics in terms of controls are a little clunky. That aside this has got to be one of the deepest and most rewarding games out there. It’s a massive level grinding dream which is easy enough to get into but will take hundreds of hours to master. There is also a stupid amount of secrets in here and if you had this and Disgaea PC you’ll probably not have time to play anything else in your lifetime (You get all the PSP and Wii content as well so get ready for the long haul). Even if a lifetime of grinding doesn’t sound like you it’s well worth giving this a try as it remains unique and how many games can say that?