Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Phantom Brave PC (PC)

Developer:Nippon Ichi|Release Date:2016 (2004 on PS2)|Systems:PS2, Wii, PSP, Win

This week on Super Adventures I'm playing the relatively new PC port of classic PlayStation 2 game Phantom Brave! Because trying to figure out and then explain a complicated turn-based tactics game from 2004 seemed like a smart use of my free time.

The trouble with these 'Phantom' games like Phantom Brave, Phantom Crash, Phantom Dust etc. is that it always takes me a few seconds to remember which is the tactical RPG, which has the mechs and which is the one with the cards. In fact I ended up playing The Phantom Pain for 142 hours before I realised I'd put the wrong game on. (That's totally the right game to put on by the way). To make things more confusing, the next year Nippon Ichi released a similar game with the Japanese title Phantom Kingdom, which then got renamed to Makai Kingdom in the West, despite 'phantom' being an English word already and 'makai' being a Japanese word. A word that just happens to show up in the title of their earlier game Makai Senki Disugaia, aka. Disgaea.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, there's a game that gets it right; no one's going to mix that one up with Phantom 2040. But someone might mix this game up with Disgaea, so I intend to mention the game constantly to point out the differences, and similarities.

Alright I'm going to play Phantom Brave's main story for a couple of hours or until I beat a proper boss, whatever happens first. I've played it before on PS2 so I'm sure I'll all come back to me... though I've never seen that mysterious 'Another Marona' button before. It's tempting, but I'll leave it for now.

(Click the pictures to view them in an incredible 1280x720 resolution, though I'm sure it can do better).

The game begins on the Island of Evil in the year 913, Ivoire Calendar Calender, where Ash and his friends have ended up surrounded by evil. I don't know what they were expecting, but if it was irony then they're out of luck. The survivors should totally check out the Island of Cake next though.

Not that any of them are likely to make it out of this alive. The man with a potted plant for a head is bleeding little pixel blood and things seem bleak, so Ash (the guy on the right) tells him to get Jasmine (the other one) somewhere safe while he takes on every enemy single handedly.

These cutscenes are really different to Disgaea's as they've dropped the giant portraits and and gone with giant animated cutscene sprites instead. I like them.

PlayStation 2
The difference is less obvious in the original PlayStation 2 version with its ultra low resolution and blurry sprites, though either way it's still pixels over a painting. I like my pixels art sharp so I've switched the bilinear filtering off on the PC game, but I'm leaving the new UI graphics options on, because you can see how much better the upgraded message box looks.

It's all voiced in any version you get and the acting's very solid. It even gives you the option of switching to the original Japanese voices, which is nice.

Hey, Ash's desperate battle doubles as a tutorial! That's handy for me as I can just repeat whatever it tells me and not have to do any explaining of my own.

This is a very Disgaea-looking turn based battle I'm in, but I've already noticed two big differences: there's no grid and characters take their turns individually rather than moving together as a squad. Which kind of sucks, as I relied on those team attacks a lot.

On the plus side I can rotate the map in eight directions, compared to Disgaea's four, though that does come at a price.

The sprites are now even tinier than Disgaea's!

There's another change to what I'm used to here, but that's mostly because I've never played the PC port of a Disgaea game: I can use the mouse! Or the keys, or even a controller if I'm feeling really crazy (which I am).

With no grid my character's got the freedom to move to any position on the level within the red circle. I can move as many times as a like during a turn, even after attacking, but each time I take a step I use up some of my "dm" (distance to move) and the red circle gets closer. No point in conserving it though as I'll get it all back on the next turn.

So I selected where I wanted him to go and let him find his way over there.

I can also move Ash directly by choosing an attack and then sliding him around inside the red circle until I've got an enemy within the blue area-of-effect cylinder. That'll be handy for when I want to get around an ice level without sliding right off the stage. Not that there's whole lot of penalty for falling out of bounds, I'd just teleport back onto the map.

The game's successor, Makai Kingdom, would change this so that you have direct control all the time, which I prefer because it makes it a lot easier to get the character precisely where you want them to be. And then Disgaea 2 went back right back to square one by having a grid again.

My collection of regular attacks and special moves are all shown together into the same move list, so the only attack I have is a straightforward 'Strike'.

Can't complain though when it gets me an instant kill!

There doesn't seem to be any way to turn off attack animations to speed things up, but if they're all as short as this was that's not going to be a problem.

Alright that's all the hurt I can inflict on this turn, but I've got big plans for my next two moves.

No Ash I wanted you to stand next to the enemy, not jump up onto his head! Why did the cursor snap to him when I moved it close? How does this help me? Why would the game even let me stand here?

Fortunately I can cancel any move I make as long as I haven't hit anyone, so I've got as many tries as I like to get him into the right place. And sometimes it takes a few tries, especially if it says "Slippery" and "Bouncy" down there on the bottom left. On the plus side I can sometimes use my momentum to my benefit and get a little more distance than I'm technically allowed.

I instinctively want to move behind the monster to get a damage bonus, but I don't think it works like that in this game. Not that I need the extra damage when I'm already one-shotting these tutorial enemies. And when I kill this demon and remove him from the turn order, it should become my turn again for the third time in a row and then I can go one-shot his buddy too.

I beat the tutorial before the enemies even got a chance to make a move, but then this floating collection of monster parts appeared and murdered everyone! Seriously, the screen went black so I didn't get to see any gore (well any more than what's dripping out of the creature right now) but our heroes are definitely dead.

But before he died, Plant Pot had just enough strength left to use his "Miracle Chartreuse" technique to bless their passing, which presumably involves swigging enough Chartreuse that you don't care so much that your friends are dead and your arm's fallen off.

Cut to eight years later, where we learn that Plant Pot and Jasmine left behind a five year old daughter called Marona and she's been living here alone on a considerably less evil looking island all this time. Well, kind of alone, as it turns out that the Miracle Chartreuse technique actually kept Ash in the world as a ghost to look after her.

Marona's actually doing just fine on her tropical island; it's the outside world she struggles with, due to the fact that everyone out there hates and fears her due to her inherited ghost summoning powers. They'll still hire her when there's tactical turn-based combat that needs doing, but they treat her like crap, they barely pay her and on the last job they wrecked one of her dresses! Now she's wearing a blue dress that makes her look even more like a lemming.

But she's still upbeat about things. Crazy upbeat in fact; she's convinced that if she just keeps helping people they'll eventually come around to liking her. So she's always hyped to check their Sea Mails for new jobs, even though Ash has to filter out the hate mail first.

Funny thing is, this isn't played for humour. Disgaea's a comedy about bad people wreaking mayhem across the Netherworld, but this is much more like a fairytale, complete with narrator. It seems like they were aiming at a slightly younger audience this time.


It eventually ran out of cutscene and gave me some more gameplay, and it turns out that I'm still controlling Ash.

The island's my home base and I get to run around it in real time chatting to all my Phantoms and stacking them on each other to form a tower. The game just gave me a 100 bordeaux reward for getting onto the roof, imagine how much cash I'll get when I make it onto the tree!

I still like the game's art style, even though it already looked plenty retro back on the PS2, but it's kind of weird how the background behind the island... is a painting of the island. Also the characters don't have idle animations like they do in Disgaea, instead they keep walking on the spot like it's a NES RPG.

Here's the PC version's choices when it comes to sprite filters by the way. Filter 1 is pretty much how the game looks by default on the older systems and Filter 2 is... nasty. You can turn the filtering off and get sharp pixels on the Wii and PSP too, but it's probably best to leave it on as those pixels get kind of mangled on a low resolution screen.


I've started off with one soldier Phantom for my squad, plus a Merchant and a Healer I can chat to when I want to buy things and heal up after fights. But unlike... basically every other game ever made, I get to take all three into fights with me and level them up. I doubt I'll be allowed to take a break and buy new swords mid-fight though.

I won't be doing anything mid-fight unless I get off this island, so I'm going to set sail for the island of Terra Firma, seeing as it's the only place I can visit on the world map right now.

It looks to me that they must have found the original high resolution art downscaled for the PS2 game because these backgrounds look absolutely accurate to me, though the text has clearly been redone. I can tell because they've put a space between "IVOIRE'" and "S" up at the top that wasn't there in the earlier versions.

The game asks if I want to "Skip demo?" when I select the next level, which is weird because what it's really asking is "Skip cutscene?" On the original PS2 game it used to say "Skip event scene?" so it's something they've made more confusing for whatever reason. Though it's hard to be too bothered about what they call the cutscene skip option, when the end result either way is that I don't have to sit through cutscenes. 


This particular cutscene starts with villagers of Terra Firma whispering to each other, wondering about why their elder is hiring a possessed 13 year old to solve their current crisis, and talking about how he must be planning to fight evil with evil. To them Marona is basically the creepy little girl with ghost powers in horror movies that crawls out of the TV and eats your soul, except she's really nice to everyone and no one believes that it's not an act.

It turns out that these villagers have been suffering a series of thefts and we've been hired to resolve it... by fighting the White Wolf Army. Ash thinks that this is way too tough for them and Marona agrees, saying that they'll just have to negotiate with them instead!

This is all you get outside of battles by the way. There's no dungeons or overworld to roam, I can't go to towns and chat to NPCs, all I have is my island base and my storybook cutscenes. So I'm going to go fight something.

Hey, the optional tutorial's back and this time I'm learning about Phantom Brave's unique gameplay feature: confining. Just ignore the 'K' in the bottom right by the way, the interface keeps switching from controller to keyboard when I press my screenshot key. It's actually very good at showing you the appropriate button to press, considering it's a port of an old PS2 game.

Marona's the only character I have who isn't an intangible spirit, but she's got the power to temporarily bring Phantoms into the physical world to fight for her by confining them to items on the level. The item disappears and the ghost appears in its place. I've got to choose items carefully though, as they'll affect my ghost's stats. For example, confining a Phantom to a rock will increase his/her defense, and decrease speed. Though if you're looking at the screenshots you already knew that.

The remove number in the top left shows I've got 5 turns before Ash turns back into a rock and I've lost him for the rest of the fight, and the 'Take Home' percentage on the right shows that he's got a 43% chance of taking the rock home with him when he goes. Which is good news if I want to keep rocks but bad news if I want to have it handy so I can confine someone else to it.


I won't bore you with how I beat the tutorial fight (I followed the instructions and hit all piss-easy enemies until they died), but I will bore you with how character recruitment works.

After a fight I can return to the island to heal, save and spend my bordeaux creating new warriors of various classes for my team, with the option to spend more cash during creation to get better base stats. They're each given a random title (this guy's 'Common') which also affects their stats, so I've got to keep exiting and returning to the character creator until I end up with one I like. I'm hoping that 'Upset's a decent rank as that's what's bolted onto my new Witch. Titles change a character's colour so I can tell at a glance what quality they are... I just don't know what the colours mean.

The best thing about the character creator is that if you leave the name blank it gives them a random name, which is saving me from hours of pain as I assemble my new crew. I figured they'd also want a weapon so I used the money I had left over to buy a couple of swords for them. Unfortunately I've forgotten how equipment works in this so I don't know what to do with the things now I have them. I'm hoping if I have them in my inventory they'll just appear scattered around the next battlefield.


Oh shit, I just started the first proper fight and they've got me fighting Wesker! He’s got 41 health and that seems like a lot at this point, so I'm a bit concerned. Especially as my new swords didn't turn up like I hoped.

I've got plenty of bushes and trees here to use as weapons though, or even better I can confine my new Phantoms to them and take advantage of the 'HP Heal 30%' and 'Reinforce 30%' that's flowing into them from that stone in the corner. This Protection system replaces Disgaea's Geo Panels as the way units get special effects during battle, so if I find an enemy getting invulnerability from a stick (for instance), I'll have to destroy that stick before I can hurt them.

After some careful consideration on how best to use my limited resources, I decided to confine everyone I had to everything I could and then I sent them out to hit slimes. Turns out that Ash is awesome at hitting things, while everyone else is dealing between 3 and 0 damage right now. Well except for my Witch, who's kicking ass with ice magic. I thought she was a red mage, but hey I'm not complaining. Every enemy has their own random elemental resistance percentage for fire, wind and ice, and the third of enemies with a weakness to ice are getting obliterated.


Though once I killed all the slimes the level immediately ended, and everyone on the field collected some bonus EXP and then left. I wanted to kill Wesker!

Fortunately the game lets me replay fights, so I healed up and recovered my Witch's SP on my island and went right back to give the battle a second try. This time though I've worked out how the equipment works: every character can be given one item to carry into fights with them. There's no armour to equip, but the item they're holding will affect their stats and give them new special attacks.

For instance, if I was carrying a pumpkin I could use the 'Pumpkin Parade' skill to send out a horde of bouncing pumpkins against an enemy. But anything can be used as a weapon, absolutely anything, and characters can acquire the skills from them, so play the game for long enough and you can start doing stuff like this:

I recorded this on the PS2 version from one of the demos that comes on when you leave the title screen on long enough, as I'm not quite at this level yet. Someday though.


On the next stage I discovered enemies protected by the power of… double EXP. If I kill the red slime I'll turn the effect off, so I’m going to try very hard not to kill the red slime.

Different character classes are better with certain skill types, letting them unlock new skills faster, so I should probably give Marona an item that suits her abilities as a healer. She'll do better if I buy her a cane that comes with special moves that use her RES stat instead of ATK to determine damage.

But fuck that, her base stats are all so bad that I'm giving her the best sword I have and turning her into my toughest hero whether she wants to be or not. One thing I remember from the first time I played the game is that Marona might be weak, but she's the most important unit I have and I can't afford to let my better fighters get the kills and hoard the EXP when they'll all disappear after a few turns. I will, at some point, be in a situation where Marona's the last one standing and I intend for her to be able to deal out the necessary damage when the time comes.

Seems that the blue slimes are giving a massive stats boost to this snobby blacksmith over here on the other side of the field, so I'll want to stay well clear of him until they’re all dead.

So my objective is: kill blue slimes, kill blacksmith, kill red slime, in that order. The blacksmith should (theoretically) stay well over there and mind his own business as long as I don't get close enough to get his attention, but it's hard to say for sure. Enemies do weird things sometimes.

I'd describe how the battle played out, but there's not much to say. I summoned some characters, spent the first few turns moving up and hitting slimes, then confined Ash to a cactus at the end to finish off the blacksmith. He's my heaviest hitter so it seems smart to save him until I urgently need something hit hard.

Now I’ve got the ability to create a blacksmith, who can level up my items! I've also got the ability to get rid of Shammy forever as the guy's just stinking up the place at this point.

The more characters and items I have lying around on the island, the more bonuses I'll get while I'm out. Items accumulate mana for example, which is necessary for levelling them up and other interesting things that I can't do yet.


I'm already at the boss fight for the first episode, but he's just hanging around at the other side of the map throwing slimes at me right now. Well he’s trying to anyway. Half the time his pathfinding glitches out and he burns through all his dm by accidentally jumping on their heads over and over. Either way I'm not feeling need to confine backup just yet. It's not that I've made Marona amazingly overpowered, these idiot slimes are just not fighting back.

In fact you can tell she's still crap as I only get one shot with this Beserker special attack before I'm out of SP. That's why I keep moving around and fine-tuning my aim to try to get as many enemies in the triangle of death as possible.

What's interesting is that there's seven types of attack, and they've each got their own supply of SP. So I could cast Giga Ice until my magic SP runs dry and still have a full tank of life SP left to cast healing spells, which is good because there's no potions in this. The SP I start with is all that I get.

With the slimes defeated I went up against the (fake) leader of the White Wolf Army himself and discovered that his numbers are way bigger than Marona's numbers. So I brought Ash in to kick the crap out of him. Mission complete, time to go back to bask in the adulation of the villagers and collect a big sack of money.

Well this went about as well as could be expected. First Marona refused to speak up when the elder paid her a third of what she deserved, then an owl freaked out when her kid tried to give her a lollipop. This game is really not a comedy.

And that's the first episode done.


I'm getting a good collection of junk lying around my island now. Every time I bring an item back or get a new character it'll appears here, at least until I've reached my 50 population limit. Then it'll go into storage and won't accumulate bonus mana.

A new episode means a new newspaper in my mailbox, so I can see what Marona's own personal J. Jonah Jameson has to say about her this week. Plus I got new hate mail!
"Ivoire’s better off without you. If you like Phantoms so much, why don’t you join them in their world?"
Literally a letter telling a 13 year old girl to kill herself, that's... great.

But Marona's also got a new job offer! Now we're going to Vapor Island to save the place from... Phantoms. Oh. Well it seems that our latest employer is the only person in this whole archipelagos who hasn't heard that Marona's kind of pro-Phantom. But the poor girl's so damn happy to finally meet someone friendly that she doesn't see that it's all going to end in misery when they inevitably find out the truth.

Before I go into battle though I'm going to see what I can do to make my characters and gear better. I've got a Fusionist now, which mean I can combine items and Phantoms to get better stats and new abilities, at the cost of mana (and the item being combined obviously). The better the ability, the more it costs to inherit, so my warrior's about 449,968 mana short from being able to get Energy Saver from that useless farting soldier.

You can see in those boxes on the right that a Phantom's attributes can't be improved by fusion, but an item's can be and this can make a massive difference to a unit's stats if I do it right.

Here's the stats of a starfish I picked up, showing what would happen if I fused a weed onto it. The item's stats are on the left, but I only get a percentage of those stats as a bonus if I wield it as a weapon. Some of the percentages are minuses though, so my upgrade is taking it from -7 INT to -8! I don't just need to raise an item's stats, but the percentages too, or else I could be giving myself a massive stat penalty by equipping it.

Fortunately raising the percentage is easy, as fusing something with a better or equal percentage will boost it by 5%. But if I do this enough I'll eventually end up with a weapon with a percentage so high nothing can boost it any more... unless I start fusing other items together to make a better item to fuse with it. And so on. Forever. So I'll need to stop myself falling into the trap of grinding level 1 over and over to get enough weed to get my sword's speed stat up to 105%.

For whatever reason they decided it'd be a great idea to hide these important percentages for the Wii version and this carried on to the PC port too, but they were patched back in thankfully. PS2 and PSP versions both have their percentages intact.

Alright, I'm going to go sort out this Phantom problem then.

Oh hey it's Steve Blum! This guy's the anti-Marona in that he's eternally miserable, hates everyone, is obsessed with getting money he hasn't earned, and his special move is burgundy instead of chartreuse.

The downside of playing the game in widescreen like this is that the characters get their heads cut off by the message box sometimes, but you can see his portrait picture so it's fine.

There, I fixed him. No one would ever know.

Anyway Walnut here wants to kick my ass, because I'm a Chroma (monster slayer) and he's a Chroma Oxide (person who steals the bounties from Chromas), so now I get to have an epic fight against my new arch-rival!


It's always nice when I can get the camera into a position to see the whole level. Shame that the level design never gets much more interesting than this though.

I remember from the Wesker fight at the start that enemies with a yellow health bar are optional, so really this is between me and Walnut. In fact he's slaying all the enemies around him with flashy special moves and stealing all my potential EXP!

Another thing I remember is how cunning I had to be to defeat my rival the first time in Disgaea, making use of Geo Panels and decoys, staying out of range of super-charged archers, and ultimately throwing the guy out of range across a chasm each turn so he couldn't destroy me. In this fight on the other hand I confined a bunch of Phantoms, walked over and kept hitting him until he couldn't get up.

Sorry Walnut, I think I'd prefer to hang on to my reward.

Oh for fuck's sake...

He told my employer that Marona's that evil possessed girl everyone's talking about so she gave all the cash to him instead. Worse, we finally found one person who didn't hate Marona and now even she's turned against her!

Still, not even this can crack the girl's unbreakable optimism!


And while Marona's crying herself to sleep, Ash is outside wishing that Plant Pot had never brought him back as a Phantom with his dying breath. Not a comedy game.


Oh damn, I don't know what's more amazing, this guy's sexy wolf assistants or his face. Actually I think they might be warthogs. And hey there's a Pleinair cameo hidden in the background!

(She's the character designer's mascot and part-time playable character. You can't unlock her in this game though).

I should turn the game off now as I've played long enough to defeat my rival (once), but I just want to get a bit more story done. Also I've found that if I replay older levels they sometimes have a new character class hanging around for me to defeat and acquire, like Wesker in the first level. I want to get my hands on something with a high speed stat, like an Owl Knight, so I can get its face all over the turn list.

Plus I can also chat to them on the island and have fascinating conversations.

It seems that my Phantoms' dialogue is put together from random sentences so I've got new gibberish to look forward to every time I visit them.

Something else I've been playing around with is titles, which is a very bad, terrible, not good thing for me to do at this point. These things can utterly break the game and turn you into a god, so if you ever find yourself in a walkthrough and see it mention a trick involving titles then I suggest you skip right past it and read something else. At least until you reach the post game content. Sure omnipotence sounds fun, but do you really want a game with no gameplay?

So I won't tell you how to misuse them, but I will mention that every character and item comes with a title that modifies their stats and these can be swapped around with a Titlist. But that's not all! The game features procedurally generated dungeons just like Disgaea's Item World, and you can swap a title onto them too, basically turning them into a title world!

All I have to do is get to the bottom floor of the dungeon and I can claim my title back with improved stats and new abilities attached to it! The catch is that the enemies get tougher the further down I go and there's no items to recover my health and SP down here. Though I can always pay a fine to escape, go back to my island Healer, and then come back to finish it later. No need for Mr. Gency exit items this time.

Dungeons are a good place to unlock new Phantom classes, obtain items full of mana, and get EXP without grinding old levels. Though they're also filled with enemies that think it's hilarious to steal my super-sword with the boosted attack and speed stats on it. While they're holding the sword they get all the bonuses themselves, so Marona goes from being the Slayer to being the fragile sitting duck, and I get to watch them race around bringing about the End Times. So I need to be careful about that.

Either way there's going to be super-powered weapons lying around the battlefield as my heroes all drop them as when their timers run out. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though though as it means that when I have to bring out one of my crap underleveled characters they'll be able to pick up the sword and get a huge stat boost.

The trouble with the Dungeon is that it's like a game in itself, so if I spend too long in here I can become too powerful for the story battles.

When the turn order looks like this you know you've already gone too far. Either that or you've reached one of those weird stages without enemies which you automatically win without taking a turn.


Wow that's weird, I'm still playing this?

I'm going to stop now, but I just wanted to say that the game gets bonus points for letting my Merchant jump up onto a catcus wielded by my Fusionist to get high enough to smack that plant creature perched on the pillar. Though things are going to get awkward on her turn when she needs to take a swipe at something.

There was an ichiban sword and a winsom PoisonRck and some great weed on this stage, so I confined units to them, killed all the enemies but one, and then kept skipping turns in the hopes that they'd take something back home with them when they disappeared. Not my favourite part of gameplay, especially when the slower Phantoms take forever to appear in the turn order.

Okay, I came away from this with some good items to fuse here, but I need to do a quick run through of a dungeon to get some mana first, and... actually how about I end this already and I write up a conclusion instead.


Well I don't think I'll have to worry about getting Phantom Brave and Phantom Pain mixed up any more. I realise now that Phantom Brave is the one about a notorious figure that the world hates and fears building a private army on a base in the ocean and carrying out mercenary work for various groups, after their family was torn apart by a villain who'll soon be a threat to everyone unless they stop them.

I mentioned back in my Disgaea article that I'm usually not the biggest fan of tactical games, but that seems more like a lie with each new game that I write about. For some reason the Nippon Ichi (and XCOM) games click with me in a way that the rest of the genre typically doesn't. In fact I remember writing that "it's actually a good thing that Disgaea doesn't have a PC version, because then I'd have to uninstall it before I could ever get anything else done," so I guess I should be careful what I don't wish for because Nippon Ichi then immediately went and made a PC port and followed it up with Disgaea 2 and Phantom Brave. I'm very grateful they did though because this is actually quite good.

But I'm not a huge fan of the story this time. A lot of Disgaea's appeal for me came from its humour and this is pretty miserable and earnest by comparison (at least until the jokier post-game). You get to visit fantastic tropical locations and watch a young girl's spirit get crushed at each of them! Not her guardian spirit Ash, I mean her upbeat cheerful attitude. Plus despite one character alternating between bleeding to death and drinking himself to death, and another another surprising me by saying "shit", for the most part the plot seems aimed directly at young kids. It takes place in the fairytale middle ground between being sickeningly sweet and a relentless downer, and even though I was rooting for the heroes, I wouldn't have regretted skipping their cutscenes.

The soundtrack leans more towards the gratingly cheerful side, though I can't really say that it's bad. In fact it's not even unbearable! Which is impressive considering how many times I had to hear the same tunes on a loop. It's got the same composer as Disgaea, Tenpei Sato, so I suppose that shouldn't surprise me. The game looks a lot like Disgaea as well, which looks a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics, which came out in 1997, so visually it's a little dated at this point. I'm liking the new upgraded HD backgrounds though, even if they contrast even more against the low res sprites. The art design's great and the pixelwork is beautiful, well animated and expressive, so it was easy for me to forgive the resolution mismatch.

It's got a really slick interface too and that makes it a joy to play once you get used to it. Stick a podcast on and you can lose hours to this even when it's being too easy. In fact to be honest I kept playing it for a while past where I stopped showing screenshots... long enough to beat the game, get most of the post-game characters, then most of the Hermuda Triangle characters, and then get partway into Another Marona with a new character. Though I was replaying old levels to get items, new classes and EXP along the way, so I can't be sure of how much grind is required or how difficult it's meant to be. I didn't lose a single fight until going up against... the fifth post-game boss I think, and I'm crap, so I'd say it's likely easier than your typical turn-based strategy game.

Plus even though it's the kind of game where you keep GameFAQs open just as a reference for the mechanics, the tactical side felt more basic than Disgaea for me somehow. It didn't have me checking the range of the enemy archers, blocking off paths with my tanks, swapping geo symbols or forming giant towers of people to throw around. In fact the lifting and throwing is kind of spoiled by the fact that you can't do it while you're holding an item, and you're always holding an item. In fact the other character's probably holding an item too, so you'd end up lifting it from their hands instead of lifting them up. Also the lack of a grid means it can take some fiddling to get characters in the right place or targeting the right enemy, and it causes some pathfinding issues for units on both sides. It doesn't help that the AI is as a dumb as a brick.

But it's still got that team development side to add a bit of complexity... and keep you voluntarily grinding to get the mana or junk you need to bolt new skills onto your crew and improve their weapon's stats. Unlike XCOM there's no risk in this side of the game of making a wrong move and leaving your team incapable of continuing, and there's no permadeath either (for characters or items), so it's a very chilled out experience. You are encouraged to be quick and efficient during the fights, you can't hang around and be too methodical as all your characters will disappear, but I didn't feel pressured by the time limits like I usually do.

Though it did give me more motivation to make sure Marona got more than her fair share of EXP and weapon damage, seeing as she's the only one who can bring new units out, and won't vanish on you when the timers run out. This led to me eventually making a bad decision, as I became more concerned with what I'd need to combine to raise the % multiplier for my sword’s SPD stat than about who I was going to stab with it. By the end of the game I'd overcompensated so much for Marona's crappy stats that she now existed in a frozen world where I'd have to skip turns a dozen times just to let another character have a go. I wouldn't recommend it.

I think that's my biggest issue with the game actually. Not that you can become overpowered, but that the speed stat has such a huge influence on the turn order. You don't just have to make sure that your characters' SPD stats get levelled up, you need to get it levelled up roughly equally for everyone in your team or else it can be four turns for one character, and then one for the next. I probably would've liked it better if I could move all my characters in the same turn like in Disgaea, though it's hardly a deal breaker.


Phantom Brave is a complicated game so there's probably all kinds of tweaks and changes between the ports that I'm not aware of, but here's how things seem to me:
  • The PS2 version from 2004 is the original and it's just as playable as any of them, though it's missing out on the Another Marona and Hermuda Triangle content and it's very low res.
  • Five years later it got Wii port called Phantom Brave: We Meet Again, which is weird because surely the PSP one should've been next. This version generally looks a lot better (though it's not HD) and adds the Another Marona storyline which has tougher fights on familiar maps. But they hid the equip percentages for some reason when they reworked the menus, and the New Game+ they've added seems kind of pointless as Marona retains her end game level while the enemies don't get any harder.
  • Then a year or so after that it got a PSP port, Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle, which looks about as bad as the PS2 game but has all the Another Marona content and the Hermuda Triangle stages. They're basically just post game boss fights to unlock new bonus characters, but I'm not going to complain about being able to bring Unlosing Ranger and Asagi onto the team.
  • And twelve years after the original game they released this PC version I've been showing off here. Phantom Brave PC includes all the content, has way higher resolution art for the backgrounds and interface, and you can play it with the mouse if you choose. The only downsides I can see to this one is that it refused to play an attract mode demo when I left the title screen on for a bit and there's too much of a gap between the letters "IVOIRE'" and "S" on the map screen. Oh, plus it keeps forgetting my graphics settings every time I load it up.

tl;dr: It's a bit like Disgaea except I didn't enjoy it as much because of reasons. Though it does earn bonus points for not having all that Dark Assembly bullshit.

Phantom Brave PC has a free demo on Steam, which I’m pointing out because demos are awesome. Here, have a link to its Steam page.

Man, what are the chances that the exact day I'm ready to post about Phantom Brave, Microsoft goes and releases Phantom Dust for free on Xbox One and Windows 10? I played the wrong Phantom game!

Thanks for coming by and reading my words by the way, they'd be pretty useless if no one looked at them. Feel free to leave a comment if you want to.


  1. I have one of the PS3 Disgaeas. I played it for about half an hour, it made my head hurt, and I haven't played it since. I should give it another try, although every time you mentioned Geo Panels in this post, I shuddered.

  2. hey bro, do u know of any jap side scrolling beat them up SNES or sega games? I used to have some of those games while I was a kid. Those were actually better than final fight and the likes.

    The thing is, I cant remb their english names and their names were in chinese fonts and perhaps some japs. I couldn't find any of them in simulator websites, and no ones know about them. I am thinking if u had played those, please share their names here.

    1. Gourmet Sentai: Bara Yarou on the SNES is the only one that jumps to mind.


Semi-Random Game Box