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Game Reviews

Phantom Brave PC

A great port of the PS2 classic that still provides hours of enjoyment for those willing to put in the time.

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It’s official: I still don’t have any complaints with Japanese developers porting their games to Western PCs via Steam! In fact, these games seem to just keep getting better and better. We recently saw a solid port of Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair, for instance. Naturally there are plenty of Japanese RPGs to check out lately as well, including legendary strategy RPG developer Nippon Ichi Software bringing Disgaea to PC. This is good news for JRPG fans as they’ve recently ported Phantom Brave PC, another strategy RPG in the same vein as their other cult RJPG.

Phantom Brave stars Marona, a young orphan girl who works as a Chroma. Chroma are essentially mercenaries working for money; in Marona’s case, she’s trying to buy the island that she lives on. She doesn’t live there alone, of course, and therein lies the issue. Marona possesses the power of Chartreuse, allowing her to see and interact with ghostly phantoms. While these harmless spooks are her friends, the rest of the world considers Marona’s power abominable and shuns her. The game’s generally about Marona learning to deal with this through inner strength and open-minded companions. It’s also about Disgaea-style level grinding, of course.

Phantom Brave differs from Disgaea in a few key ways, though. Perhaps most immediately noticeable is the fact that combat doesn’t take place on a grid. Instead, characters and attacks are given circular movement ranges and radii; you can squirm your characters around and make some surprising maneuvers given your freedom within that radius, like hitting multiple enemies by catching them in attack ranges with pixel-perfect precision. Things do tend to be a bit more chaotic than a grid-based game like Disgaea, which is bound to be a love-it-or-hate-it situation, but I found the increased freedom of movement to be liberating.

The other thing you’ll notice is that you’ve only got one character out on the field! Each battle begins with Marona herself as well as whatever item you’ve given her to equip. Unusually for a protagonist, Marona fits the healer archetype, so she doesn’t deal much damage and she’s not going to last long without some protection. Fortunately, Marona can summon her phantom pals into battle by Confining them into objects; anything will do, be it weapons, armor or environmental objects like rocks and trees. The fetter that you choose to Confine a phantom into will have effects on that phantom’s stats, like a sturdy rock being a better choice for a tank or a graceful flower improving stats for clerics. This also imparts a sort of time limit onto battles, since phantoms can’t stay Confined forever and will vanish after a certain number of turns.

Carefully raising your phantoms and choosing the right objects to Confine them into is key to victory, especially when you consider that you want to finish battles quickly. You can customize your phantoms to your liking, of course, including selecting from a wide variety of classes and gearing them up with all manner of weapons and armor. One interesting twist in Phantom Brave is that the efficacy of skills can be based on various stats; Marona, for instance, specializes in the RES stat that normally serves for magic defense and has very low stats otherwise, but she can be a terror if you gear her up with spells that do damage based on RES.

Naturally, Phantom Brave lends itself to the sort of game-breaking nonsense that Nippon Ichi titles are known for. Here’s just one example: Marona might be a fairly weak character who’s not suited for solo combat…but what if you train her up and give her a super-powerful weapon? Marona’s not subject to the time limits associated with Confinement, so she can be a truly devastating force with some work, such as by boosting her speed so she can take multiple turns at once. Likewise, optional systems like randomized dungeons and futzing about with characters’ titles allow you to push the limits even further. You can beat Phantom Brave without doing any of this, but diehards will find plenty of value to extract by breaking the game in half over the course of dozens of hours.

Phantom Brave PC is based on the Wii version of the game, so it includes plenty of bonus content to check out. It also runs nicely; while I didn’t have many issues with the initial release of Disgaea PC, post-release reviews showed that I was an outlier, so it’s nice to see that Nippon Ichi’s shaped up a little on the technical side of things. As always, this is a gorgeous game with graphics that have remained timelessly beautiful; everything becomes a little pixelated up close, but that’s not the end of the world. Likewise, the voice acting is generally top notch.

Even though it takes a certain mindset to really wring a Nippon Ichi title for everything it’s worth, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be enjoyed by everyone. Phantom Brave PC certainly falls into that category; the main story, with its themes of discrimination and prejudice, holds surprising relevance to today’s social issues, and the rock solid strategy gameplay helps ensure that you’ll have a good time commanding the phantom legions into battle. It’s an easy recommendation. Now how about a Steam release of Soul Nomad & The World Eaters, huh, Nippon Ichi?