Phantom Brave (PAL) box

It is always tough to follow up on a cult hit. When everyone is expecting you to come up with something new and refreshing that dispels any thought that all the hard work you did was merely that of a one-trick-pony. That you will forever be known as the creator of one great piece of media. Many have tried to follow up their smashing successes, many failed. Some even ask the immortal question; “is it even possible?”. In the case of Nippon Ichi, they already had a tiny hold on the strategy RPG market with two titles before releasing their big break. Critically acclaimed for their success with “Disgaea: Hour of Darkness”, many wondered which direction they would turn. Their next release “Phantom Brave”, was their hand. But was it a full house or merely a bluff?
The game tells the sad tale of Marona, a nine year old orphan, shunned because of her ability to see the dead, goes on a mission to find herself and somehow make a quick buck. She is assisted by Ash, a phantom who knew both of their parents, and how they died. When Ash notices some familiar Phantoms, he begins to fear the worst. The narrative isn’t of the norm, as is with most Nippon Ichi games. However, it is a lot more serious in tone as well. This is quite a surprise because the issues the game deals with are either heart-warming or just plain harsh. The other characters play a role into how she learns lessons in life, and indeed how to break the barriers between herself and others.

Beautifully drawn cutscenes, combined with a deep plot make you want to forgive Phantom Brave for its shortcomings...

As to the actual game, its similar in style to Nippon Ichi’s previous effort. What is different however, is the newly incorporated Free Movement system. Instead of grids, characters move in a radius. The problem is that on occasion the battlefield is as chaotic as a child’s untidy bedroom. The confinement system effectively allows a little girl to temporarily imprison people into rocks, amongst other things and make them her slaves. Since it’s temporary, this becomes the game’s biggest problem. Characters never stay on the battlefield as long as you want them to, and therefore you easily become heavily outnumbered. Since Marona is the only person always on the battlefield, you are constantly hoping she survives.

What the developer gets fully right is the look and voice of the game. “Phantom Brave” is undoubtedly a very pretty game with stunning sprite based visuals. But it is the soundtrack that steals the show by having some of the most wonderfully crafted music and sound in any game to date. Whilst not memorable in many ways, it feels right. I do think that somebody got a little vain however as the music also appears on a separate disc. Perhaps he knew just how annoyingly broken the game actually was.

 The screens don't really tell the horror that is the confine system...

The games main marketing drive is also its biggest disappointment. While they nearly got it right with the movement method, being able to control an army of possessed rocks is as futile as attempting to drive lemmings away from a cliff. It is a huge shame as well as the serious undertone and atmospheric presence of the title had a chance for greatness. A magazine on the cover of the box was quoted in saying “A wonderful blend of tactical action, beautifully-told narrative and subtle humour”. This quote alone shows that the people who looked at it then took as much time looking at it as the quality control enforcer spent eating doughnuts and drinking beer.