Ash, who was vanquished 8 years earlier on the Island of Evil, mystically shows up in Marona’s room. The little girl is laying clothes out on a bed and the two engage in a discussion that has ramifications beyond the clothing on the bed.
“Sometimes you have to speak up,” Ash tells her.
“How can you say that, Ash?”
“Even that little girl back there called you the possessed one.”
“Something mom and dad used to say … They said, ‘People will judge you because they can’t understand your gift, but don’t hate them … You were blessed with that power so you can help people.’ “
Prejudice has reared its ugly head in the world of Phantom Brave, a PlayStation 2 release from Nippon-ichi Software and Atlus. The sentiments seem to be at odds with the subtle and innocent – to the point of almost being childish – nature of this title. But if there is something that Phantom Brave does very well, it is the turn-based combat, aligned with some role-playing elements.
This two-dimensional adventure title sports anime graphical elements but borrows from turn-based tactical titles for the action sequences.
Haze, Marona’s father, was killed (though in his dying breath, he called on the power of “blessed chartreuse” – apparently they belonged to a race called Chromas, which believe in the power of color) during the opening sequence – which also acts as a bit of a tutorial for the game. The narrator explains that Marona lost her parents when she was 5 years old, but still follows the beliefs they instilled in her. She lives alone, and Ash occasionally visits. Ash, you see, hovers in the plane of existence between life and death, and is a phantom.
On the surface, the game seems to be a mish-mash of ideas, as well as incorporating overtly obvious notions. Marona can manipulate spirits and lives alone on Phantom Isle. She receives Sea Mail via bottles. One day an emergency bottle arrives with a job offer on Terra Firma. Marona rejoices because should they make enough, they will be able to afford to buy the island she lives on, and not have to worry about higher rent or eviction.
Of course, the first thing that must be done is to form a party of other phantoms. To start, you get a merchant, a healer and a soldier (not that tough initially, but willing).
This is during Chapter 1: Jill of all trades. Episode 1 of Chapter 1 is called The Possessed, and begins with a native of Terra Firma looking at Marona and proclaiming, “Hey, isn’t that the possessed chick? She doesn’t look so tough …”
Apparently, the bad guy has taken all the jewels on the island, as well as all the food. The villagers don’t have the strength to tackle the boss, so they hire the outcast girl to do the job. The game gets a little strange here simply because after you decide to proceed with the mission, you have to leave Terra Firma in order to return to Terra Firma to do the mission.
The combat is based on several factors, one of which is character speed. The fastest gets to attack first and may even get several consecutive attacks because of the speed. You move, attack (and the higher level you are, the more variety there is available in your attack moves) and then end your turn. The game does not have any auto-save points. You have to hit the triangle button to save progress. If you neglect that, you will return to the start of the game.
Marona is not much of a fighter (she can’t fight at all), so in order to battle the foes, she must confine phantoms to elements within the environment. She can confine Ash to a boulder, which will increase his defense. But once a phantom is confined, they will only be there for a finite amount of turns, and then they will disappear and not be able to return to the battle. Different environmental elements give different results. A flower increases intelligence and is good for magic users.
Also, some elements give off protection bonuses and you can either tactically use them, or destroy them.
Since Marona does little during the combat phase, except summon phantoms, it is a good idea to stagger the summoning of the phantoms during a, particularly large level. If there are mobs in the back of the level, you may actually use all the rotations (turns) and have your phantom warriors disappear before clearing the level. Should that happen, get ready to restart the level. Marona cannot accomplish the combat on her own.
Graphically, Phantom Brave presents a lush two-dimensional look. The special effects are merely average, and the movement is a little awkward, but serviceable. The musical score is bright and belies the theme of the game, and it is rather repetitive and can get a little annoying after 20 minutes.
The game’s controls take time to get used to, and players should not expect to pop into this title and play without first working through tutorials and understanding the core fundamentals. Applying them in the combat challenges seems easy, but combine that with the combat scheme and you need the time that the turn-based nature of the game allows to work through each scenario.
The game does have some elements of role-play attached to it, but that mostly is in regards to leveling your characters. You can find items to equip them with to increase their abilities, and you can buy items as well. You may have to repeat battles in order to level your characters for the next challenge – which can lead to a repetitive feel for this game.
There is little doubt that Phantom Brave is a mixed bag, offering up some disjointed moments in the storyline, but at its core is complex combat model, which will challenge any player.
This game is a mixed bag that goes from simple (and a tad frustrating) to thoughtfully compelling in the combat. The game takes on some very mature themes and undercuts it with a script that can sound childish. But in other ways, the combat scheme of this title is worth the price of admission. While the game itself plays out in some average ways, in terms of looks and sound, the combat model is challenging from top to bottom. The game can be very repetitive, especially when you re-fight battles in order to level up characters in order to advance to the next battle. Phantom Brave looks good, has some breakdowns when it comes to a fluid script, but sports intelligent combat.