Review by: Jonathan Hynes
Published: September 17, 2004
The unofficial, but undeniable torchbearers for the newly reinvigorated turn-based role-playing genre, developer / publisher Nippon Inchi has certainly been busy stateside this past year. With two titles – Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and La Pucelle: Tactics – already in the bag, it’s now time for the company to roll out its big gun. Though Phantom Brave is a spiritual successor to the two aforementioned offerings, it is also the game that bears the least resemblance to its predecessors, or, for that matter, to any other SRPG.
This particular world is comprised of a series of small islands, and on one of these tiny oases lives the chroma – or phantom hunter – Marona. Her ability to communicate with these half-living, half-dead spirits enables her to thrive as a sort of mercenary, though much of the world are ignorant to and therefore resent her powers. While her naive optimism allows her to look past this prejudice, she is fortunate enough to have someone to protect her from the job’s many threats. Ash, a phantom who dies while trying to protect Marona’s parents, now acts as her guardian, and has pledged his remaining life to protecting hers.
Seeing as Marona has the ability to communicate with spirits, recruiting additional phantoms to your cause isn’t much of a problem. You’ll start the game with only a handful of options, but once you defeat 20 of one monster group or a single humanoid enemy, that particular class will then become available for you to enlist. Unlike other turn-based RPGs, however, rather than employing a character and assigning them a job or class, phantoms are what they are when they first join your party, and their stats reflect this. Warriors will have higher attack and defense values, magic users come with elevated levels of intelligence and so on. You can also give your troops a headstart by purchasing additional experience points when you first recruit them, thereby allowing your older soldiers and mages to keep pace with newer, stronger classes as they become available.
In between missions, the phantoms that you recruit will accompany you back to your tropical home, though these squatters certainly make themselves useful. This is because the bulk of the characters are specialists not only on the battlefield, but off as well. The merchants, for instance, are pretty good at pilfering you a little extra cash during battles, but once back on Phantom Isle, it’s time to set up shop and sell Ash and Marona a few items, thus combining two game functions into one. Conveniently, the more that you use this character both in and out of battle, the more varied his or her selection of merchandise becomes. The same thing goes for your healer – who becomes more proficient with her craft as she heals your party in and out of battle – as well as a slew of other classes including the blacksmith and fusionist.
Equipping your characters with the proper goods is essential, and while the one-item-per-character restriction may appear to simplify gameplay, I assure you that the system is far from rudimentary. First, you must contend with the fact that not only is there a population limit on the island, but that your weapons, in addition to your characters, take up space. Secondly, besides boosting your basic statistics of attack, defense, intelligence, speed and so on, the items that you equip also control which abilities are available for use in battle. Without using the techniques that are described later, there’s no way to carry over a skill once you switch weapons.