plenty brave

I still haven’t finished Tales of Symphonia, but the lure of more tactical RPG goodness brought me to Phantom Brave. Despite its cute cuddly exterior, a seriously dark heart beats. For people familiar with other Nippon Ichi products, Phantom Brave’s anime-ish sensibilities may be familiar. While it does feature many Nippon Ichi TRPG trademarks, it deviates quite a bit from Disgaea and La Pucelle in both style and gameplay.

Symmetrical docking? (Castile on the left, Marona on the right)

The story follow a nine-year-old Chroma (bounty hunter) named Marona and her phantom guardian, Ash, as they struggle to live. Because of Ash’s ghostishness (I love making up words), Chroma is labeled as “the possessed girl” and gets abused by everyone. She also receives a steady supply of hate mail. Unlike Disgaea and La Pucelle, Phantom Brave‘s story is downright depressing. After a few hours, I really started to feel pity for Marona. Poor girl cannot get a break in the world. There is also a severe lack of humor… the trademark goofiness that was in the previous games is noticable absent from Phantom Brave. I sure miss Etna’s next episode previews as well as Gordon’s antics.

Bringing the story to life are the trademark Nippon Ichi 2-D sprite graphics, which are to RPGs as Guilty Gear is to fighters. The graphics remain very similar to the two previous titles, but small improvements are noticable, for example, the map and characters now can be rotated in 45 degree increments and the 3/4th view can be adjusted to a top-down view, a la early RTS games (Dune 2). The story is told mostly in a side-scrolling view similar to La Pucelle, though some dialogue does occur on the battlefield, a la Disgaea.

The battle system is overhauled and is radically different from the previous two titles. For one, turns are now based on speed instead of the “one side at a time” method. Whereas Disgaea had an almost unhealthy obsession with attack, now attack must be balanced with speed in Phantom Brave. It forces more well-rounded characters, but it also takes away from the ability to link combos that was so much fun in Disgaea and La Pucelle. Also, characters are now not limited by grids. Instead, they have free reign over the battlefield… this felt weird at first in a TRPG, but it eventually grew on me.

Through the game proper, there are only two unique characters: Ash and Marona. Most enemies and characters seem vaguely familiar… and even prinnies and Devil Flonne make a guest appearence.

Characters are development through a combination of fusion, titles, and mana. Development seems very familiar to those who played the earlier two games… fusion is basically the same as in La Pucelle, except monsters do not need to be sacrified to merge items. Mana is the same as in Disgaea, and it allows skill transfers between merged items or characters. Unlike Disgaea, starting stats of characters are bought with cash instead of mana. Titles bring a little uniqueness to Phantom Brave as each character and item has a title. Titles alter stats, add skills, and maybe even offer proficiency bonuses. There is a character class called Dungeon Master who create random dungeons. Leveling is fastest in here, and so are the top flight items and titles.

Overall, I find Phantom Brave to be an entertaining game. The story is lacking compared to Disgaea, but the battle system and huge variety of character developmental choices keep me interested.

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