Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: August 31, 2004
Buy 'PHANTOM BRAVE': PlayStation 2
With the disappearance of the Final Fantasy Tactics series, gamers have been craving some sort of game to fill the void, especially those individuals who lack a GBA with which to play FF:Tactics Advanced. Last year, our cries were answered, and we PS2 gamers were presented with a spectacular tactical game far surpassing Tactics (in my opinion). Now, another year has gone by, and the developers at Nippon Ichi are at it once again, bringing us the sequel to Disgaea. (Well, as much of a "sequel" as FF8 is to FF7.) NIS America welcomes you to Phantom Isle to begin your quest as the Phantom Brave.
As you may have guessed, Phantom Brave is the name of their new and improved tactical game, chronicling the story of a cute 13-year-old (Chroma Marona) and her phantom guardian (Ash). A Chroma is someone who isn't very well-liked in the world but is needed to vanquish evil enemies such as dragons, beasts, and devils incarnate. In other words, it's a way of life, especially for this 13-year-old. Having no parents, she relies entirely on herself and on Ash, who miraculously survived the battle that cost Marona's parents their lives. Ash's survival is thanks to their final prayer, but he now lives as a Phantom. Out of gratitude for their action, Ash continues to live by protecting Marona with all of his heart, and you will understand it well when you hear his hero's chant. He vows to protect the life of Marona, and this is where the story begins.
Marona is an innocent girl who is hated by the entire world, and boy, does this really hit home. I couldn't help but feel sorry for her, and I kept thinking, "What is wrong with this world; she's only 13!" No one should have to endure the torture she has to deal with. But this strategy is also a nice and quick way to feel really attached to her and understand her pain. At times I couldn't help but feel tears welling up in my eyes. But the story isn't the only great part; the game-play is just awesome.
The game is now a truly tactical one, and you really have to prepare ahead of time. Don't be stupid like me and bum rush the first map – I was able to get a Game Over on the first stage. What makes this game harder than Disgaea is the fact that characters now have a "time left to live" counter. This counter informs you of the number of moves left before the Phantom unbinds from the world. Of course, this means that someone has to bind the Phantom in the first place, and the only person who has this power is the possessed girl whom everyone hates. She has the ability to confine Phantoms to objects on the map, like rocks, pillars, weeds, trees, skulls, and much more. Each object has its own statistics, so for example, if you have a magic user, it's wise to confine them to a skull because it gives more INT and RES. On the other hand, if the person is a melee fighter, you should confine them to a bone, giving them an extra bonus in ATK and HP. In addition to the stats given as objects to which Phantoms are bound, items on the field are also given a set of statistics for when they're used as weapons.
Weapons play a key factor in this game, making your character stronger than they really should be. However, this is only applicable if you combine (or, in this game, fuse) weapons together using – you guessed it – a fusionist. The fusionist allows your characters and weapons to gain new skills and boost your stats. This, of course, is best used when the weapon or character does not gain that skill on its own. Some characters and weapons will gain skills as they level up, but weapons need to be unlocked for this to happen. To unlock a weapon, you would talk to your blacksmith and upgrade the weapon's abilities. Even so, this doesn't accomplish nearly as much as what the fusionist does, because when you fuse one item with another item that is of a higher level, the stats get insanely high, leading to an easier victory.
Victory is usually achieved by defeating all of the enemies on the map, and it's generally a good idea to scout out the terrain ahead of time, taking note of where the enemies are, allocating certain enemies to certain characters, and if enemies are across the map to confine those characters when the opponents draw near. If you confine all of your allies at the beginning of the battle, you may never reach the other side of the field, leaving Marona to battle the remaining enemies on her own. This is very bad unless your Marona is insanely powerful, which mine is not.
The best way to make your character become very powerful is to run through the random Dungeons created by the Dungeon keeper. This is the best place to level your characters because in these maps, you gain the most experience and also encounter the greatest challenges. They're especially useful for leveling up your low-level characters; on one map, I was able to instantly advance my level 1 character to level 42. But remember: take only what you can handle, for if you try something too hard, you may end up with a Game Over (and that is never a good thing). You can escape the level by using a dungeon keepers skills but he must live to execute that skill. If not, you must finish all levels and objectives in these Dungeons to escape: defeat all enemies. When facing harder enemies, I accomplish this by using a few characters to knock the enemies into Out of Bounds territory, leaving my entire team to face only one character (because 10 versus 1 is a more likely victory than 10 versus 10). Although knocking out or throwing enemies has its advantages, there is also a disadvantage to it – the remaining opponents level up depending on who is thrown out. This makes your enemies stronger, but at the same time, it gives you more experience when you defeat them.
The maps no longer use fixed movements – it is now based on a radius of how far you can move. I think this is a good thing because now it plays like Arc the Lad, giving players a free environment, but one thing I dislike is that the AI can be stupid sometimes. There are times when your character will get stuck trying to get to one place, and he or she will constantly jump back and forth until you lose your entire turn. To avoid this, I suggest that you control the movement manually. It might be slower, but you have a better chance of reaching the desired spot. Once there, you can then utilize your character's skills.
Each character has his or own skill set. For example, Ash is more aimed towards fighting, so he gains the ability called the Rising Dragon, and I have to say that it's one insanely powerful move. Marona, on the other hand, gains the ability to revive, which is a crucial technique that is needed in order to keep your characters alive because you can have at most 16 Phantoms on the map, including objects you brought from Phantom Isle and the characters themselves. In other words, eight Phantoms that are equipped with items can be confined to the map. Also, when a Phantom dies, it stays on the map, keeping the count. So there are two ways to deal with it: kill the Phantom completely and make his soul spiritless, or revive the Phantom. I personally prefer reviving them because a spiritless soul requires not only money but also a sacrifice in order to be revived later. A sacrifice is an item you do not need or want, and I usually buy something from the store just for this purpose.
The store plays an important role in the game because this is where you can buy new weapons for your characters. You can equip them or just keep them in Phantom Isle to gain experience, which you can use later by combining them with other items you already love. As the game progresses, the store gets different items and new, stronger weapons. Instead of stocking a wide selection of weapons, the store carries weapons that bear different names.
Names are very interesting in the game, because the name of your character or item can determine how powerful or weak it will become. For example, if you have a failure Phantom (aka Failure Ash), his stats will deteriorate, killing almost all of his skills, strength, and power. However, if you have a Great! Phantom, he gets many bonuses in stats, making him more powerful and an essential player for the game. You can change titles by using the titlist, and you gain more titles when you banish items from the Phantom Isle.
Phantom Isle is the island where you reside and where all of the objects are kept. You can have a total of 50 items and characters on the Isle at any one time, but this should be more than plenty. In order to use the item or character, they must be summoned on the Isle, or else you will not be able to confine them in battle. Remember that when a character becomes spiritless or you gain a new object, these items will generally be stored for safe-keeping until you summon them into the world. Summoned items and objects are the only ones capable of gaining the experience and mana that is necessary to upgrade or combine them. Additionally, while on Phantom Isle, you will get to enjoy one of the many tracks off of the soundtrack they have compiled for the gamers.
The audio in the game is great, and once again, they provide you with the option to listen to it in its original Japanese or dubbed in English (which I avoid, since I think people should play it the way it was meant to be). The tracks in the game are somewhat catchy, and for some odd reason, you never really get sick of it despite it being repeated over and over again. It's just that good of a track. The battle cries can get on your nerves, though. Due to technical difficulties, they once again couldn't have the battle cries in Japanese, but in an effort to appease the audience that complained about the battle cries in previous games, Nippon Ichi allows us to adjust the volume of the battle cries, making them mercifully non-existent. I have to hand it to Nippon for taking that approach, and to Tenpai Sato for making such outstanding music for this game.
The video in the game is also pretty nicely done. It isn't FPS quality, but it's a pretty good quality for this type of game. All of the maps allow for 360-degree rotation and are usually filled with objects you would see in those terrains. The sprites load fairly quickly and look magnificent, but you can't just take my word for it – it's best to try and play for yourself.
Overall, I really enjoyed this game. There are also guest appearances from characters from the previous tactical games, but I'll keep that a secret until you find them yourself. The dungeon can keep you occupied for ages, so there is really no end to the game, yet one thing to note is that there is no new game. I don't know if there are several endings, but do play it after you "finish," because there are secret maps to play even when you've finished your crusade. This is another fine job by Nippon Ichi, and I hope to see another title from them soon. Give this game a shot, especially if you were a fan of Disgaea.