Phantom Brave is the newest entry in Nippon Ichi's line of increasingly popular tactical RPGs. Those who loved Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and La Pucelle: Tactics will be pleased to hear that Phantom Brave follows the formula of these two games closely while introducing many new innovations to the genre that are sure to keep fans interested.
The story of Phantom Brave is decidedly anime-inspired. The hero of the story is Marona, a cutesy young girl who harbors a powerful skill: the ability to summon phantoms. One of these phantoms, Ash, was a sword-wielding hero in life and, in death, acts as Marona's guardian. These two, along with a host of other phantoms, all live on an island where Marona runs a phantoms-for-hire business. For a small fee, she will use her unique skills to take on the evils of the world. The stage is set for plenty of wackiness and, yes, wackiness does ensue.
For those familiar with strategy RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea the basic mechanics of Phantom Brave will not come as a shock. The player controls a set of combatants who battle against a corresponding set of baddies on an isometric field. Placement of units and combat strategies are vital for successfully vanquishing said baddies. Aside from this traditional framework, the combat system of Phantom Brave contains many elements that set it apart from any other entries in the genre.
Each battle in Phantom Brave begins with Marona, alone and weak, with a number of nasty villains on the opposite end of the field ready to gobble her up. Then she unleashes her phantoms. When summoned, each phantom must be confined within an object in the environment of the battlefield such as a rock or a tree. Each object has specific attributes associated with it. For example, a phantom that excels in melee combat, such as Ash, will benefit from being confined to a rock that will give him an attack bonus, while plant life tends to yield intelligence bonuses, which would be beneficial to phantom mages. Once conjured, Marona's host is free to move about the battlefield and stomp some evil, but only for a little while. Each phantom can only stay corporeal for a set number of turns and, if a phantom is damaged too severely during a fight, their stay is ended shortly. The player must use timing efficiently when planning out when to summon specific phantoms.
Certain characters and enemies can also form links to empower themselves. For example, some enemy units will be tied to a captain or mother unit that must be dispatched first to weaken the subordinate units. Marona's phantoms can also give each other attribute bonuses by linking together. In addition, characters and field objects can be picked up and thrown to gain position advantages or to damage enemy units.
Outside of battle at her home island base, Marona can create or rename new phantom units as well as items. Each phantom must be equipped with one of these items, which give them different abilities, before they can battle. Summoning both phantoms and items requires money, which can be acquired by fighting more battles. Marona's island can house a total of fifty phantoms, but overflow space is available for players that get phantom crazy. In addition, new phantom classes can be unlocked by performing various tasks, such as repeating certain battles.
The graphics in Phantom Brave appear to be a slightly upgraded version of Disgaea. Many backdrops from story sequences look like they are straight out of Legend of Mana. The graphics are quaint, but get the job done while sporting some intriguing character designs thanks to Takehito Harada, who also worked on the previous title. More familiar names from the Nippon Ichi family are back, including Tenpei Sato, who produced the score for Phantom Brave as well as its pseudo-prequels, La Pucelle and Disgaea. The formula seems to be working, so they are sticking to it.
The Nippon Ichi line of tactical RPGs continues to garner success in North America, and Phantom Brave will undoubtedly add to that list of successes. Fans of previous Nippon Ichi titles will be pleased to hear that Phantom Brave features cameos from some familiar characters. Regardless, anyone with a penchant for good tactical RPGs would be wise to give this one a try when it is released in late August.