Phantom Brave, which originally launched over a decade ago back on Sony’s PS2, was an experiment by Nippon Ichi which saw the first of its titles that moved away from the tactical grid style that it is renowned for. Having seen a couple of releases and a new storyline of Another Marona which was originally added into the Wii release of We Meet Again before showing back up in the PSP version of The Hermuda Triangle, the PC version has it all and this much more strategic RPG graces the PC for the first time.
For anyone that’s played the original or the ports you’ll find the same well crafted experience but with better visual resolutions in order to fill up the screen as the only “widescreen” release to this point would be the PSP and PSN~PSV versions. The ONLY issues with Phantom Brave on the PC are these: The character sprites themselves have received no upgrades and still look like those of the PS2 which contrast against the clear and crisp backgrounds looking very out of place. Secondly, is that the controller support works at 95%. The missing 5% comes comes if you move the left joystick too low in order to move down your character will move up. This held up from the 360 and XB1 controllers to the PS4’s. Now that those are out of the way, the rest is just as incredible as ever, if not better, as the PC has more processing power than the consoles it has released on.
Nippon Ichi has always had a good grasp on darker humour from the Disgaea series over to the one-offs such as Makai Kingdom and Z.H.P. (Zettai Hero Project). More than just its combat system, Phantom Brave differs from the rest as it is a serious enough story about a thirteen year old girl named Marona that everyone is terrified of as she has the ability to summon and control phantoms. Joined by the remnants of her parent’s friend Ash, who only exists as a phantom after he and her parents fell in battle, Marona takes on Chroma (Mercenary) work as she tries her best to keep to the values that her parents instilled upon her even if no one treats her with an ounce of respect as she attempts to pay the rent and hopefully eventually save enough money to buy the island that is her home.
Phantom Brave set the tactical bar when it comes to a Nippon Ichi title as unlike the rest, units only have specific durations that they can stay on the field. Unlike the enemies, Marona is the only living being on her team as the rest need to be summoned into play with objects that can be found on the battle map. Rocks, trees, bushes, vases, bombs, or even ally or enemy weapons alike, if it’s on the floor a summoning can be done. Picking the objects to summon a Phantom onto the field is important for several reasons and taking a look over the field of battle should be the first thing that any player does to know what they are up against.
With Phantoms only being present on the field of battle for a limited amount of turns, the last thing you want them to do is spend these turns moving closer to an enemy before disappearing. This makes scanning the field for objects and enemies alike important to plan out how you wish to approach a situation. Another reason for scanning the field of battle is that unlike a lot of other NIS titles, Phantom Brave works off of speed to determine a character’s initiative for their next turn instead of the “your” turn and “their” turn phases. A character’s speed therefore becomes much more important as having a higher initiative than your enemy will allow to get a few hits in before they even get a chance to have their first. The flipside is also true that if you put a slower character on the field maybe it is a better idea to have them a little further out so that if someone faster does get a few turns in they won’t all be attacks as they have to reach your unit first. These will become second nature after a few chapters with some new twists and turns through to the last chapter.
Checking over the objects on the field have multiple purposes with some of them highlighted above such as tactical positioning. The other reasons for looking over these objects are that they affect the stats for good or for bad of a Phantom when they are summoned into them. Phantoms do have their own stats but these are affected when summoned into the real world. A rock for example will skyrocket defence but in return will also severely reduce speed. Swords can lift both attack and defence without much drain to the other stats while bushes will make a Phantom faster. Checking the positions and how it affects your units will most likely take up the first few moments of any battle but it like scanning for tactical advantages becomes second nature.
In between stages and her Chroma work (chapters), Marona and Ash can wander her island in order to discover a few small secrets and take care of setting up the troops for battle. For returning players, yes the Bottlemail is still “up” there (points to the screenshot above - I don’t start the game any other way than with it and the tutorial sword with its unique skill). Other than looking for treasure however are all the shops that can be visited which are interestingly enough operated by the Phantoms that Marona can create. Given from the beginning are the merchant to buy real weapons, a healer to take care of anyone’s wounds, and a soldier who has the highest turn count available due to a special ability even if he’s slow as hell and not very strong. From there more can be created to upgrade weapons, fuse weapons or weapons and Phantoms together so that one obtains skills from another, change titles, and create dungeons to go into in order to acquire more of these said titles.
Buying real weapons though? What does that even mean? Swords, Axes, Spears, Knives, and other standard weapons can all be bought through the merchant. Anything however can be used as a weapon which is also where Phantom Brave differed a little bit. Trees, Bushes, Rocks, Crystals, Buffalo Skulls, and more can all be used and all have their own abilities that are divided into types. These can be acquired when a Phantom disappears from the field of battle. When summoning them there will be a confine percentage listed. This percentage is how likely it is for you to obtain this item. Bottlemails, which can only be acquired in specific manners, guarantee bringing these back.
While the Disgaea series has characters proficient with swords / axes / spears / fists and so on, Phantom Brave works more in elements that are divided up into seven different categories in which a unit has their own proficiencies with. Each of these types are independent of others so finding weapons that suit them is important. The more a unit uses a specific type of skill, such as a regular physical attack, the more special physical attacks can be used. A staple skill such as Hurricane Slash uses eleven points. Ash for example that is proficient in physical attacks, can eventually use it at least twice in battle turn if he’s used enough of these abilities.
This has done away with things such as mana making skill uses interesting as that is just one type. Ash who is also good with “Vital Physical” skills has plenty of other options if he uses up his entire first set. Not to worry though as there are a variety of skills that can be used with zero cost which helps store up these points to use more powerful skills. This has also made healers anything but useless and are the most powerful units at the beginning of the game as healing uses intelligence and they’ve got a lot of us. Marona who is good with both healing and Physical Magic is a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield is a healing staff and a bush have been merged granting her access to both.
While MP has been done away with in order to use skills, Mana is still very much in the picture in order to perform a few tasks. Mana is acquired when either a character or an item defeats an enemy. Taking a quick step back, Phantoms when summoned onto the field can be summoned either on their own or with a weapon, there is no other equipment. Each of these have access to skills and as mentioned Phantoms can be merged with items in order to learn skills without the use of that item in their hands which is VERY useful. Having access to more skills is a good thing but paying attention to what is acquiring the mana is also important.
Weapons need mana to learn new skills and level up through the blacksmith. They will gain experience but to reach the next level mana is required. This can be done either with a huge amount or simply a single mana if enough experience has been acquired. A Fusionist however can merge two things together. Marona and Ash are safe from being overridden but a normal Phantom can be merged into an item. Fusioning will need to be done at some point in order to keep items relevant as when adding more than one item together can grant different skills and make the item itself stronger and capable of leveling up further. Phantoms can also be merged together such as taking a Soldier's special ability to last longer and putting it into another Phantom that doesn’t last as long. There are a lot of possibilities.
As enemies become more powerful and as your Phantoms and items level up and merge in order to keep up against these foes, there’s one last edge that can be given in the form of titles. Titles are stat modifiers that can raise and lower a character’s stats. Attack may go up but defence may go down a little bit. It really depends on the title. Titles are on everything from the Phantoms created, the items bought or acquired, and the dungeons created. There is a Phantom that can be used to move tiles around which is great because some titles suck. For the non-crappy titles however, these can be attached to a dungeon and made better by completing floors and the dungeon itself. Attaching these to any Phantom or item will definitely give a better edge in battle.
Phantom Brave is just as amazing now as it was back when it released on the PS2. Character sprites not having been upgraded aside (really is a minor detail), the story, the combat, and the PC’s processing speed make it all more than worthwhile to either dive back in (or dive into for the first time) the lands of Ivoire. Marona’s story is one of the best that NIS has ever done and her adventures with Ash are only ever supported by great voice acting, amazing musical tracks, and overall well written dialogue for both them and characters that the two come across.
With that, I leave you all with Marona’s idea of Scarlet the Brave,
Scarlet really looks NOTHING like this but a young girl can dream about it I guess. Poor Ash!
Nippon Ichi Software
Article by Pierre-Yves