Playing Phantom Brave: We Meet Again
was truly a unique and entertaining experience. You play as Marona, an orphan being raised by her parents’ former companion, Ash. After being defeated by Sulphur, a mysterious villain who appears at the beginning of the game, Marona’s father Haze attempts to revive Ash but only manages to turn him into a phantom. Ash then vowed to protect Marona. The story is both touching and mysterious; Marona is clearly lonely and misunderstood, while Ash’s loyalty to her is worthy of applaud. The death of Marona’s parents isn’t fully explained, nor is the haunting demon that defeated them. Marona grows up to become a Chroma (more or less a bounty hunter) similar to her parents, but is consistently taken advantage of and harassed as the “Posessed One” due to her ability, called Chartreuse Gale, to see phantoms like Ash. As you progress through the various jobs that Marona undertakes, Ash begins to notice an unsettling pattern to the enemies that they are facing, which foreshadows the imminent reappearance of Sulphur. The progression of the plot and the character development really capture the essence of each of the characters and their stories.
I’m a huge RPG fan, but coming from the Final Fantasy series I was unaccustomed to the gameplay that I encountered in this game. As opposed to Final Fantasy’s fixed position ATB system, Phantom Brave
is based on a limited circumference of movement in which you will have to maneuver in properly in order to come up with a favorable fighting stance. This was a major flaw of the game. Initially, this seemed interesting to have to calculate your range of movement as well as your and your enemy’s position in which altitude is also significant. I preferred the fixed positions in battle that you had in Final Fantasy. Movement in Phantom Brave
became a guessing game of where you could move to appropriately hit your target, and where you wouldn’t freak your character out into bouncing all over the screen or tripping over things. If there is a discrepancy in altitude, your character will often replicate a seizure – bouncing side to side and finally coming to settle at 0 dm giving you no extra room to move even if you’ve really only moved a distance of 5 dm. Of course, you could always redo moving but it becomes a hassle. I liked the idea of having range as a factor to fighting ability, but the one-click movement was glitchy and inaccurate. Disgaea’s grid system could have solved this problem, so I’m not quite sure why they decided against it for this game.
Nevertheless, many aspects of this game were meant to be exploited, which I was grateful for because it made the game all-around more challenging and stimulating. With a set of characters, and the succession of each level providing you with more unlockable characters, you build skill through the appropriate weaponry that must be equipped with its complementary character. This is also another aspect of the game that I found to be foreign. The weapons are really where your characters level and gain new abilities. I wasn’t particularly fond of this aspect, as I prefer to ingrain my characters with set traits that I end up coming to rely on. At the same time, however, this aspect of gameplay certainly made playing each character an experience that was constantly in flux, as you change weapons and customize them. You can do this in one of two ways: either by utilizing your characters’ non-combat abilities to buy and customize weapons, or obtaining weapons from each battlefield.
In terms of obtaining a weapon mid-battle, you can steal weapons from enemies, or you can lift objects including any character – live or dead, foe or friend. You begin to learn what abilities each item provides when wielded; for instance, lifting a friend will give you the “body swing” move where you whack your enemy with your ally’s body (which is hilarious). Generally, if you have a selection it is good to keep in mind the stats of each item as well as the character’s stats to try to compliment them. Buying from a merchant is also an option. This is another instance where your tactical play comes full force. Although most characters have certain classes that they pertain to, their abilities are relatively flexible and can be manipulated in multiple ways. First, buying a weapon from the merchant will allow you to preview stats and compare which weapon would be most appropriate for each character. For instance, Marona isn’t much of a fighter so I relied on her healing abilities and chose weapons that built upon that. The other characters/classes come to be significant to gameplay, as well. The blacksmith is able to improve stats on your weapons by spending your mana, which you can generate most effectively by using your weapons. By using the blacksmith, you can add extra moves/spells or increase the level of the weapon. You can further mold your characters by visiting the group fusionist who combines items or even characters together. Here, you will also spend your mana points so you must choose where and how to spend it wisely. The dungeon master is also important, as you can level your characters through battle here as opposed to the mundane task of replaying previous levels and islands.There are a lot of considerations to take into account when developing characters and choosing which to summon and when to summon them. Your decisions will be altered depending on the difficulty of surrounding enemies, as well as the length of the level. The summoning system itself is a unique one; Marona confines the various scattered objects on each level with a phantom of her choosing. These are the objects that you can choose to wield as a weapon, so you’ll have to plan ahead as to whether or not you want the object in question to be used for confining or for weaponry. Certain objects will also be more beneficial to certain characters, same as when wielding them. I generally took to the tactic of scanning the field first in order to come up with a list of characters I would call upon in sequence to be used effectively. Each phantom will only remain on the level for as many turns as they are allotted, another factor in choosing which character to confine at which time. There are instances where I would let enemies battle amongst themselves before I even made a single move, thereby decreasing the amount of enemies I had to battle. Some enemies will even pick up objects and toss them O.B. (out of bounds), but you can retaliate by throwing them off the level, too. But be careful, because if you’re too close to the edge chances are a hit will knock you over.
There are a few general aspects that when taken together can either make or break a game. Phantom Brave
for the Wii has many of them down, with a few exceptions. The controls are one aspect of the game that I found to be an inconvenience. Targeting is unreliable, and I was forced to pass up turns at times because I literally could not target an enemy to make use of that character and its turn. I’d grow tired of fumbling with my joystiq with a tree blocking my view, and would pass them up just for the chance to move on. Range of attacks were also a bit of a nuisance as you could be in a fairly good range but still not have the ability to attack your opponent. This was not a limit of your individual character’s range of movement, because often times the problem was that I was too close. Uh…eh? Again, I would partake in a guessing game of where to move first before I could use an appropriate attack; this is something that should’ve been automated along with the targeting. This proved to be particularly aggravating while in a dungeon. Here, movement is vital because your character will end up bouncing all over the place if you don’t move them properly. The bad controls was just that much more blatant when going through about 15 stages for a dungeon. The exit option also felt a bit laborious rather than challenging. To exit, you either have to finish the dungeon or summon your dungeon master and use his ability “return” to exit. So you have to summon him, make sure he doesn’t die, wait for his turn and finally leave the dungeon. Many a times I have had to cancel on lunches because I couldn’t exit a dungeon, and being the ever hardcore gamer that I am I refuse to have gone through all the work and not save!
The UI is also confusing. It took awhile to get accustomed to – so it was no obstacle that could not be overcome – but it is definitely something they could have improved on. The interface for customizing weapons and character stats are cluttered and just plain badly organized. For instance, visiting the group healer I didn’t even realize you could heal weapons until I noticed the faint “+” sign on the bottom corner of my screen that read “items.” I had assumed that you would just inevitably have to sacrifice your weapon to complete a stage. I haven’t experience the original PS2 version myself, but I hear stat charts are much more clear and easy to read.
I have to say, a decent UI system and controls really win me over because of the possible frustration that they threaten against a game. Even so, I’d say the storyline makes up for where the UI and controls were lacking. The characters really come into their own personality, and you grow to feel affection (or hatred) for them. I became invested in Marona’s quest to maintain her faith in people, and Ash’s obligation towards Marona. Even the dialogue is engaging, whereas I find most dialogues in games to be pretty lame and just fluff. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely had its cheesy moments; it wouldn’t be a Nippon Ichi game without it. Although some of the voice-overs (ahem, Marona’s) aren’t the most pleasant, the voice actors did a decent job of capturing the emotion of the characters. There’s also the option to choose the Japanese voice-overs, which I personally found a bit more convincing. The music is fitting, as well, and gives a good addition to the sound of the game without overriding the scenes. Although some people might be put off by the visuals in the game, I thought they were sort of adorable and didn’t mind at all that they were on the grainy and blocky side. This isn’t one of those games I look for high-end graphics from, but more so the storyline and gameplay, which Nippon Ichi delivered on.