December 9, 2009
Similar to the Disgaea series - a NIS America staple - Phantom Brave is a turn based strategy RPG. Simply put, gameplay is broken up into battles stages, with each taking place on a floating map. Players start off with only Marona, who then summons spirits to fight for her through objects on the map, such as bushes, bricks, or trees. Once summoned, characters get the chance to move a set distance and attack once per turn, with turns being based on the speed of each individual character on the board. Instead of the traditional grid that most of the Disgaea games use, there is no grid to move characters on in Phantom Brave, which is a nice change of pace. Free roaming characters just make things so much easier than micromanaging specific tiles. One nuisance of the game though is that when characters are summoned they disappear after a set amount of turns; this might not be so bad but the game only really warns the player one turn before this happens.
Phantom Brave offers a plethora of control styles to choose from, ranging from Wii remote, to classic controller, to Gamecube controller. Fortunately there is no tacked on waggle controls added to the game and everything is basically controlled through the use of d-pads or analog sticks. There are a few control problems that are really frustrating however, and one that is rather dumb. On the main island of the game, which players can return to between battles, there are characters and items strewn about that are all equipment for battle. To adjust the camera on the remote players have to hold the B button, then rotate the camera up, down, or left. Pointing down however causes Ash to attack the person or item in front of him, potentially destroying items.
One of the big parts of Phantom Brave is its traditional RPG style level system. Everything in the game, including items ranging from swords to rocks, all have full stats from level to HP and defence ratings. Admittedly the levelling can get a little addicting, but a lot of the time it just becomes a case of having way too much micromanagement. On top of having levels for everything with or without legs, there is also the ability to combine characters or items to increase their overall ability and level cap to level them up all over again. Sound tedious? It is.
Beyond the gripes about levels, the game is pretty fun and moves at a pace that keeps players engaged, without having to worry about too much level grinding. The game's plot progresses as you complete each mission individually, which is nice since it means players can grind prior missions with no fear of spoiling plot. It's great because players can naturally set the pace which the story is told to them, whether it's creating new characters to assist Ash and Marona or rushing through each fight. Those familiar with NIS America's other games will also appreciate their trademark humor and over-the-top characters.
There is also full English voice acting that is fairly decent, which is nice for those completely uninterested in listening to the the original track. The audio tracks themselves are fairly nice and provide a bit of a retro throwback feel to them. All of the tunes are rather catchy, one might even find themselves humming along to a tune as they navigate the menu or fight on a certain stage. Visually, Phantom Brave is a little lacking in its graphics. The art style is decent and fairly well directed, but some of the characters appear to be a somewhat sloppy looking. The entire game is done with sprites, and they are okay, though there probably could have been a few more frames to smooth out the choppy look of the characters animation from time to time. Granted, Phantom Brave is a port from a 2004 title, and its a decent looking standard definition game.
Having quite a long play time is pretty much a staple with most RPGs, and Phantom Brave stays true to this, touting at least 20-30 hours of main-story play, and that would take flying through the game with no side dungeons. There's a whole random dungeon aspect of the game that allows players to level grind, or even find secret characters. Beyond all of that, there is also a New Story Plus mode that can be done to play through the story a second time with the same characters already unlocked.
In-all there is a decent game to be had for fans of strategy RPGs and JRPG alike, and keeps a fairly open style that's inviting for those that may not usually play RPGs. The game's best feature coming from the non-grid style gameplay that cuts back on micromanagement while in battles. Phantom Brave probably could have done with a little better micromanagement in the items however, since the HP factor on the weapons became fairly frustrating pretty early on in the game. Overall there is a lot of fun to be had for those looking for a new RPG to play on the Wii.