Phantom Brave

On January 7, 2008, in General, by Neil Stevens

Well, being without a keyboard for a week, I couldn’t work on money making projects, online political activism, or a whole lot else. So, I played Phantom Brave, and just this morning got done with the last thing there is to do in the game, apparently. My conclusion: It’s a good game that could have been great had they taken their time.

I still think La Pucelle is the best game of the series, but Phantom Brave had a good shot at beating that. Plot-wise the game went right back to the old formula, with interesting characters and an engaging plot, as opposed to Disgaea’s silliness up front with a melodramatic end.

System wise, Phantom Brave is interesting in that Nippon Ichi got ambitious while paring down a lot of Disgaea’s ambition. The Item World’s complexities are long gone, replaced by the much simpler fusion system. Equipment slots are gone; each character may carry one item now. The assembly (or equivalent) is axed. Acquiring jobs comes from defeating them, and not from some mystical set of events.

But there’s complexity, I say? Yes. Phantom Brave ditched both the combat map’s grid and the team turn system. Instead, characters are free to move arbitrarily on the plane, and likewise have more flexibility in the vertical direction as well. This allowed them to add sliding and bouncing effects to the maps, which would have been great except that the movement system could not handle them. The problem was that the movement AI just choked badly quite often, especially on bouncy maps.

I guess the bugs evened out, sometimes being a great break for me because the AI would be at a severe disadvantage, and sometimes hurting me badly because they’d cause a turn to be completely wasted, but this game was not quite ready to ship. I know the new combat is complicated and of course completely new to Nippon Ichi, but this needed more testing.

Another bug comes in the turn system. Even though turns are supposed to be based on an individual character’s speed, adding more characters to a team (via confining) could cause a character to get more turns. I routinely summoned Ash just to get a free turn for Marone after Ash’s Quick Attack turn. This effect only magnified when my ‘build team’ of four other characters also got Quick Attack.

Also, if you make changes to Phantom Island and then start a new chapter by going to the mailbox, those changes sometimes would be lost.

The Disgaea stuff was fun, too, and the final, final, final battle was a worthy one, even though because I had Ash and Marone with equipment made from level 9999 items, and their own levels over 2500, I won it in two turns (one Omega Thunder from Marone, and one InvisiSlash from Ash for the win).

So overall, I came away mixed about the game. It was a good concept, but felt rushed in execution. Still, though, I plan to pick up the fourth in the series to see if it’s more polished. Not that I ever again expect the polish of La Pucelle.


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