Phantom Brave – We Meet Again – Staff Review

We Meet Again, Phantom Brave. It’s been a few years, hasn’t it? You sucked up a healthy portion of my time back on the PS2, you slick little TRPG. I had a blast with your free-and-open gridless maps, your extensive and esoteric concepts of what constituted a “weapon,” and your down-again-up-again story. Yes, we had good times. So how’s that intervening half-decade treated you?

On the Wii, now, eh? A popular move. Glad to hear you’re not wasting your time with that “waggle” nonsense. A fidgety, every-decimeter-counts system like your own could never tolerate my caffeine-soaked nerves. When I’m trying to thread an area attack through a crowded space, I’m glad you’ve decided to stick to the more precise (if less novel) wiimote-vertical-with-nunchuk, wiimote-horizontal (NES-style), Wii Classic Controller, or GameCube controls. Though your manual may have had a sneezing fit while trying to explain itself – it states that the GameCube’s A button is for “CScornofflr mtex scommand,” whatever the hell that means – once you get rolling, onscreen prompts are always available and quite helpful.

Sure you will, Ash. Hey, how's that lack-of-a-corporeal-body thing workin' out for ya?
Sure you will, Ash. Hey, how’s that lack-of-a-corporeal-body thing workin’ out for ya?

Aside from input methods, what has this move brought you? I see your menus and text look sharper than your previous outing… not true HD yet, though, but certainly cleaner than before. You’ve still got those big, beautiful sprites for cutscenes, and the range of animation… it’s not quite VanillaWare, to be sure, but it’s still welcome. And what’s this about a new scenario, playable right from the get-go? A kind of alternate-continuity retelling of the story? While being able to play as a number of particularly luminary figures from the get-go is a neat idea, this new sidequest does seem a bit… truncated, at least compared to the bulk of the original story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice little diversion, but it seems  a bit too detached from the “true” story and doesn’t really serve much of a purpose except eventually giving you a bunch of new and interesting characters that can be migrated to the main game. (Take it from me, a Marona with angst just doesn’t seem like a Marona.)

I’m glad to hear, though, that the original story comes through unadulterated, heart-wrenching tale though it may be. Poor, pure little Marona, orphaned girl living alone with her phantasmal guardian Ash, having to labor as some kind of exorcist-for-hire (despite her reputation as “The Possessed One”), being spit on and ridiculed time and again… it breaks men’s hearts to see her struggle, and brings a tear to every dry eye to see her keep her chin up and persevere in the face of it all. Many “D’aaawwwww”s are had when she finally makes a friend, and a collective cheer rises when her new allies begin to combat the rampant poormouthing and gossipmongering among the people of Ivoire. Congratulations, Phantom Brave, you officially have a Moé Elemental as your main character.

Your battle system, too, seems to be just how I remembered it: a huge, convoluted miasma of numbers, proficiencies, bonuses, fish, movement radii, cacti, record players, corpses… a truly mind-expanding realm of possibility. If it’s not bolted down, it can be used to house an ally or beat down a hostile. Tufts of grass, flowerpots, bricks, trees, starfish, bones… your diversity is commendable. (And expanded, it should be mentioned, in the new scenario with the addition of such armaments as dumbbells and bread.) It’s all a bit much for the first-time player, though, and will likely lead to several epiphanies throughout the course of the game, mostly as new, strategy-altering classes such as the Blacksmith, Fusionist, and Titlist are made available. Yes, one of your strengths has always been your versatility; the way around a problem can usually be solved by grinding, but also can be solved potentially by a reassessment of strategy and optimization of resources on hand. That’s tactics. And that’s what I loved about you.

Now, if only you had corrected some of the fluffyness in your AI. For as much as I love my strategy and planning and preparedness, seeing the big nasty get caught up on a terrain foible and essentially skip their turn makes me feel a little empty inside. Here I am, guns at the ready, prepared for whatever you throw at me… and you proceed to fail to jump up a ledge after 6 or 7 tries, then concede the point and stand there in your shame. Frankly, sir, I find that a little annoying. I understand you’ve taken a big step forward in breaking free of the grid, but – and I have little compassion after these five years – you can do so much better than that.

Despite the occasional fits of epic fail on the part of the enemy units, you still show us some genuine difficulty. Your level curve ramps up considerably at the end-game, more-or-less coercing us to – as mentioned before – grind or find some more inventive solution (such as pounding all those items we’ve been collecting over the course of the game into one massive super-grass that gives even bigger stat bonuses and stronger attacks). Not to mention the extensive post-game content, bringing you in line with your cousins, and featuring a couple cameo appearances as well. Yes, you’re veritably loaded with interesting playable characters this time around; I have to feel bad for all those also-ran classes, though, that can’t compare with the likes of Raphael or Sprout or That Owl Guy From Chapter 9. Let’s have a moment of silence for them.

This is the Blacksmith. He will be your best friend. (So long as you don't stare at his eyebrows.)
This is the Blacksmith. He will be your best friend. (So long as you don’t stare at his eyebrows.)

‘Kay, that’s over with. Speaking of breaking silence, how’s the sound these days? I’m impressed that you’re returned the majority of the original cast, save for one notable exception (though Vic Mignogna serves as an adequate replacement for the melancholy Walnut.) The sound, likewise, runs its familiar gamut from said melancholy – with plenty of violins – to more upbeat, energetic tunes during most battles, often punctuated with strains of vibrant Spanish guitar. That being said, it doesn’t really forge any new ground, does it? It still seems that if one hears your music, and Disgaea’s music, and Makai Kingdom’s music, they really won’t be able to make distinctions between them. Not to say that your music is bad, mind, it’s just a little… samey.

Despite all that, you’re still in pretty good shape, Phantom Brave. You’ve got enough going for you that you’re still distinct from your brethren, yet those who know them have a good idea what you’re all about. You’ve got some tricks up your sleeve, some surprises in store, and an uplifting (if tragic) story to tell. I wouldn’t trade our time together for the world. (Or $5 store-credit at Gamestop, for that matter.)

‘Till we meet again, Phantom Brave. ‘Till we meet again.

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