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Developer:
Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PS2
Release Date: August 31,2004

by Patrick Mansfield




“Imagination Knows No Limit…” No truer words could be spoken about Nippon Ichi’s game, Phantom Brave. Phantom Brave is the third game this year from Japanese Nippon Ichi, which opened up an American publishing office, NIS America, in Anaheim, CA. Since this is Nippon Ichi’s first solo project--Disgaea was published by Atlus and La Pucelle was published by Mastiff--the question arises: Is Phantom Brave up to par with its siblings or does it surpass them?


Story Nippon Ichi’s stories were top notch in its first two games and Phantom Brave is a solid continuation of that. The difference in Phantom Brave, however, is a much darker story which retains some of Nippon Ichi’s humorous subplots and dialog. The story starts off in the year 913 in the World of Ivoire (Ivory), as Ash (18) and Marona’s parents are killed by an evil creature. As Marona’s father, Haze, spoke his last words, he turned Ash into a Phantom. Phantoms are souls that are trapped between life and death. Eight years later, Marona (13) works as a Chroma, sort of like an adventurer for hire, earning money to get by. She is now guarded by Ash, who vows to protect Marona to return the favor to her parents. Marona’s life is not an easy one--not only is she orphaned and working for a living, she also has a special ability that makes her feared and hated amongst the populace of Ivoire. Her special ability allows her to communicate with Phantoms, which she wants to use to help those who dislike her. She holds very firmly on the belief, given to her by her parents, that as she keeps on doing good that “one day, everyone will come to like you.”


Already the game tugs at the heart and it does not get easier from here. Within the first couple of chapters, I was literally appalled by what was happening to Marona. However, I did not turn away, hoping that something good would come to Marona. To my chagrin, as the story progresses it becomes increasingly dark. This dark story is sure to make the most stalwart of people cringe and cry, and could possibly turn some Players--those expecting a light-hearted affair--off. Nevertheless, I loved Phantom Brave’s story very much.


Graphics Graphically, Phantom Brave has not evolved much from its two predecessors. When compared to its predecessors, Phantom Brave does manage to outdo both, but that is expected for a new game. Characters, items, effects, and enemies are all still 2D sprites and the battlefields remain 3D. While this does not break any new ground, it is an acceptable standard--the sprites still look great.


Sound Much like the graphics, the sound has not really changed. The music pretty much sounds like it did in the last games, and it would be nice to hear something new. I'm not saying that it's bad, but I'm not saying that it's great either. On the other hand, the voice acting is still superb, and Nippon Ichi still continues its tradition of offering both Japanese and English dubs for the characters’ voices.


Controls It is pretty unnecessary to talk about controls in a turn-based game, but Phantom Brave’s controls work great. The cursor during battle responds smoothly to the left analog movements, as does Ash on the Phantom Isle. The map rotation is still limited, but gives you eight different directions to view the field and three zooms, with the top-down zoom really helping on certain battlefields.


Gameplay The basic Strategy/RPG gameplay is still intact, but Phantom Brave throws in some new potentially frustrating and confusing aspects that may drive off new Players to the genre. Phantom Brave is a pretty standard Strategy/RPG when it comes to the basic commands of attack and move, but it also throws in the lift/throw command to spice up battles. Expect a lot of leveling up because Phantom Brave is not an easy game and at times can be really frustrating.


Battlefields are now lack grids and the Player’s characters move freely (most of the time) along the terrain. The maximum movement range for each character is shown on the map by a red circle, and as the character moves, the Move (Mv) decreases. The characters can continue to move around until their Mv, which is counted in dm (decimeters?), is emptied. This can help immensely for characters that may need to do a hit and run to make up for a lack in defense. For example, a Phantom named Rex, the Fighter, may move up to an enemy, attack, and move off in another direction. Moving is handled in four ways: 1. The Player selects move while on the character, which shows a dotted line trail to the point of the Player’s cursor, allowing precision movements within its range. 2. The Player selects move while the cursor is on the field and the character will move towards it (even if it is outside its range). 3. The Player selects a single target attack and puts the cursor onto an enemy, the character will move to it (provided it is in range) and attack it. 4. The Player selects a multi-target attack and the Player can freely move the character within its range by holding the Square Button and then attack by selecting its targets.


There is more to movement, however. Each battlefield has its own conditions that will affect how all units on it move. Even within a single battlefield there may be various conditions, so this may require an astute Player. The two conditions are how slippery and how bouncy the terrain is, both of which are self-explanatory. Bounce does not always effect movement across terrain, since it requires an initial jump or fall to trigger. Units will slide and bounce based on the severity of the condition. A Phantom named Ellen, the Amazon, may move across a very slippery, very bouncy patch of terrain. If Ellen comes to rest on this terrain, she will slide in the direction she moved, but she will not bounce.


The last new addition to the battlefield is what is not there, the Out of Bounds. Out of Bounds is anywhere on the map that terrain does not exist. Anything that is not nailed down (except Marona--she is always set back on the battlefield) can be thrown/hit/slid/bounced Out of Bounds. Once something has gone Out of Bounds it may not be used again for the rest of the battle. As this does sound like a godsend to just eliminate your competition by throwing them out, whenever an enemy unit has gone Out of Bounds its fellow units will become stronger (instant enemy level ups). The last enemy on the battlefield, however, may not be knocked Out of Bounds.


The newest aspect, and the most frustrating, is confining. Confining is summoning your characters into items on the battlefield. Marona is the only character with the confine ability. Having to summon your characters into objects may sound pretty bad, but each battlefield has numerous items to summon them in. The only bad thing about summoning your characters in battle is that they have a certain amount of turns before they must leave the battlefield. Once a character runs out of turns, called REMOVE, they may not be used again in the battle, but may be used in the next. There is a chance, called the Obtain Rate, that after your character runs out of REMOVE that you will obtain an item; upon failure the item remains on the map.


Summoning your character is an essential part of the strategy of the game. Do you summon your best fighter, into a rock, to have him wipe out all the nearby enemies or do you send out your weaker fighters in two weeds? Choosing the right item to summon a character is key as well. Choosing a rock would give you added defense, resistance, and attack, but it would cost the character intelligence and speed. Alternatively, choosing a weed would boost intelligence and speed, at the cost of attack. Much goes into deciding what is best for the battle.


As mentioned before, you summon your characters into items, such as rocks, but you equip them as well. You can even use your enemies (or friends) as weapons, whether they are alive or dead, but your character will take damage if your character is holding an enemy unit and it reaches that unit’s turn. Every item has its own stats (including HP), equip stats (what it gives when it is equipped), confine stats (what it gives when it is confined), abilities, mana, and experience. A character may own equip one item at a time, so it is important to give that character what they need. Both mana and experience are received by the item being used in battle or special events. Experience levels up the item’s stats and the mana is for gaining new abilities as well as buying a quick level up. There is a very important unit that you must create if you want to utilize the item to its full potential--the Blacksmith. The Blacksmith allows you to buy new abilities with your item, using its mana. It is important that your weapons do not get hit during battle, because if their HP reaches 0, they will break. Items can be repaired (at a healer) to prevent this.


Characters and items can be combined together by using a Fusionist. When combining you can pass on abilities, mana, stats, equip stats, or even confine stats. A good use of combining would be like so: Item A has 1000 mana but its ability costs 2000 is combined with Item B that has 1000 but is no longer desired. Now Item A has 2000 mana and can afford its ability. This is a great way for your character to learn every move without having to switch between items after every battle or bringing in your own confining item to tip the scales to your victory.


It is amazing how many different stats go into Phantom Brave. Each character or item has a large amount of stats. Both have the standard attribute stats (HP, STR, INT, etc), experience, mana, equip stats, steal stat, guard percentage, and resistances (ranging from -100% to 100%) to fire, wind, and ice. Characters have several additional stats, one is an additional attribute stat, DARK, which increases when that character kills a friendly character. Then each character has seven types of SP, which allows them to do special abilities. Each SP must be increased individually by using ability that uses that SP type (do not worry, some use 0). After that, characters have the Mv and REMOVE stats (mentioned earlier). Items, of course, only have the confine stats.


One last “stat” would be the title each character and item has. Titles are received when the character is created and the items already have titles. The titles are not really stats, but they do influence (sometimes heavily) that item/character’s stats, SP type proficiencies, abilities (can give new ones), and how it gains XP. Titles can be given by the Titlist, who must be created, but the Titlist only has a small amount. New titles can be gained by sacrificing items/characters or using the random dungeon feature (discussed a little later).


A good portion of your time will be spent on Phantom Isle, which is Marona and the gang’s home, and there are some secrets hidden around the island. Here you can use Marona to create new Phantoms, which will not only increase your army size, but also some new Phantoms will bring their services to the island. In addition to the previously mentioned Phantoms, there are many more, such as the Dungeon Monk and the Merchant. The Merchant, obviously, sells items to your party for a fee. The Dungeon Monk is where you can create random dungeons, with various levels, monster types, and more. Dungeons are great places to level up your characters, gain new items, and receive new titles. Dungeon titles are randomly generated (so they look silly), but they can potentially be very helpful since almost every level of the dungeon that you complete will increase that title’s attributes (maybe even an ability or two) or unlock new Phantoms to create. This can make the dungeons really hard too, since all the enemies in the dungeon will have this title, and a long way down the line it could be very difficult.


Final Word Phantom Brave may not be for newcomers to the Strategy/RPG, but veterans will definitely enjoy it. The gird-less system is not that difficult, but the confine system is quite confining (pun sadly intended). While it may not break much ground visually or audibly, the game’s story and solid strategic gameplay definitely warrants picking up Phantom Brave.


Final Grade: 93%




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