Have you ever played a game and got the feeling that it belonged somewhere else, perhaps on a different system? As much as I loved the XBLA version of Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds (PBBG), a little while after I reviewed it, I found myself wishing that I had a means of playing it on the go. If only the game were available for the Vita. Hey, look at that! Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is now available for the Sony Vita! With the transition to Sony’s portable platform, the game remains largely the same. Scratch that, it remains exactly the same; the gameplay is still fun, frantic, and addicting. I will have to argue, though, that it plays even better here on the Vita.
If you aren’t familar with the game, PBBG is part beat ’em up, part role-playing game, and part fighting game. The closest thing I can compare to it is the classic NES title River City Ransom. It originates from a highly rated fighting game in Japan, titled Phantom Breaker, that has never made its way to the U.S. The developers decided to take that original game, scale things down, and roll the proverbial video-game-era clock back about 25 years, mix in a couple of other genres, and "chibi"-ize everything.
Just because things look about 25 years old doesn’t mean they play that way. The animation used in the game is top notch and extremely detailed, in the backgrounds and especially in the characters. It looks very stylish and is a joy to see in motion on the Vita’s gorgeous screen. The multi-tiered backgrounds are really well done in particular, giving you a wide variety of backdrops to battle across.
PBBG certainly doesn’t break the mold for any of the genres it pulls from. The game plays things pretty much by the books, especially in the story department. Your sister has been kidnapped and it is up to you and your friends to travel to another dimension to rescue her and return normalcy to your daily lives. It’s simple and extremely predictable, but it serves its purpose and keeps you semi-entertained between battles. Even the flow of the game is predictable: the first level really comes across as a button-mashing experience, since you will fly through it with a fully powered character, but right after that you will be completely stripped of all of your powers and forced to start from square one. Once this kicks in though, it will become clear that this is more than just a simple button masher.
Once you have been stripped of your powers, you will spend the experience that you gain from defeating enemies on increasing your stats and unlocking powers from your skill tree. This works wonders at teaching you the fine mechanics of the the game’s deep combat system, which are simplified from the original fighting game. Things are a lot deeper than they seem on the surface. There are three attack buttons and a special button; the three levels of attack string into each other in what seems like endless combinations, offering tons of attack chains. Plus, you have parries, special attacks, and throws to mix in, which all come to you over time. Now, when you combine the robust options of these controls with the numerous playable characters, each with different weapons, the game offers a ton of variety.You only start off with four characters to choose from, but after completing the game’s story mode, you will have a much larger cast to choose from (plus available character downloadable content).
Just like the original XBLA game, PBBG on the Vita also gives you a couple of modes of play as well. In addition to playing through a story mode, which you can finish with one character in about two hours, you have the choice of arcade and cooperative modes. Once you beat the story, at least on the first difficulty level of choice (additional difficulties will become available), then you can tackle the same stages over in the arcade mode to vie for a high score. Cooperative play is also available both online and off. Sadly, the versus mode from the original game didn’t make the transition, but I don’t think that really dampens the experience. Cooperative action is where the fun is; if you want competitive, then track down the original Phantom Breaker fighting game (via import).
The one aspect of the game that I truly think overshadows everything else, though, is the absolutely rocking chiptune soundtrack. The OST for this game is still amazing and among the best that I have heard in that genre. These are truly great tracks that keep the action moving forward. The development team put a lot of the songs up for download back during the original release and I hope that they do the same here, because the music truly outshines everything else (and that is meant as a compliment, not to degrade any other aspect).
While there is a lot of repetition in the gameplay, that really comes with the genre and is something that you can’t fault one particular game for. The developers have gone a long way to help alleviate that sense of monotony with the various RPG elements, like character leveling and the skill tree, which does a great job of keeping things fresh as you advance your characters. Despite the loss of a mode in the transition to the portable platform, the game has actually improved thanks to the Vita’s controls. It feels so much better with the Vita directional pad than it ever did on the Xbox 360 controller, and as a result, it's a better game overall. If you made the mistake of overlooking this game before, now is your chance to make up for it and pick it up on the Vita. You’ll be glad that you did.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, certified news monkey. I have been blogging on the industry for close to a decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die.
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it... end of story.