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Phantom Brave: We Meet Again

Score: 81%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Phantom Brave: We Meet Again is a remake of the original PS2 title that launched several years ago. A link at the end of this review will send you to the official website which points out the differences. This isn't a case of a huge overhaul, but a simple makeover.

The graphics, for example, haven't been given much of an overhaul. You'd have to be familiar with the old version to notice the differences. Characters are all still pixelized little sprites with static portraits that display when they're speaking. The maps are still a collection of blocky terrain. These are all elements typical of this kind of turn-based RPG, but still, not a major difference from the PS2 version. It is cute, but it's also oldschool.

Cut-scenes feature spoken dialogue, but unfortunately the performance is mixed. Some characters seem to be voiced as if they're reading a schoolbook to children. It sounds like each line is being read with blinders on, without knowledge of the whole script. Then you'll get little bright points, such as a bunny character with a voice actor who just gets it and reads naturally. Yes, you do get the option to turn the Japanese voices on instead of the English ones. Either way, you're going to have to deal with some very cheesy and uniquely Japanese lines such as "Fire of battle, reveal my heart... Psycho Burgundy!" When I hear that, all I can think of is whether I want that in a satin, gloss, or flat finish...

Music is typical RPG fare. You've got a theme to match each stage, like a jungle beat to match the jungle terrain. It's the kind of music that doesn't grate on the ears repetitively but doesn't overwhelm. You might find yourself humming to a few parts, but not ready to order the soundtrack. There are a few vocal tracks that play during cutscenes, but if you speed through the dialogue, you won't hear much of them.


Gameplay:

Of course, there has to be a story in an RPG. You play as Marona, a young girl struggling to make money on her own. She works as a Chroma, which is a profession that's not explicitly explained, but basically she goes around doing the dirty work of clearing monsters and whatever else her client may ask. She differs from most in that she can see and interact with phantoms. She is always accompanied by Ash, a phantom who had worked with Marona's parents when he was alive.

Marona is na´ve, and endlessly optimistic. Ash patiently attempts to guide her and get her to stand up for herself. For the most part, the story plods along trying to be heartwarming at every turn. Just about the harshest thing that Ash says to Marona is that "monsters don't give a damn about how you feel." He immediately afterward spends a good paragraph of dialogue and thought trying to make amends for it. The story focuses so much on Marona and Ash that it seems to skip over fleshing out the world around them. For example, why does Marona have to pay her phantoms money? It wouldn't seem like they'd have much use for it.

As for the actual game, Phantom Brave: We Meet Again wouldn't be a true strategy RPG without a steep learning curve, and it doesn't fail here. In the end, you're doing all the basics like upgrading equipment and leveling up, but you're doing them a little differently here.

To start, your fighting allies are all phantoms. Marona must summon them to the physical world before they can fight for her. To do this, she must "confine" them to a physical object on the battlefield. This could be everything from a flowerpot to a fish. Different objects confer different stat bonuses or detriments, so it's a matter of finding the best object for the character you want to summon.

Once you're in battle, there are a number of different crazy things that can happen. Anything can be used as a weapon, even bodies of friends and foes. Anyone can be thrown out of the battlefield, removing them from battle, making the edges of the field a dangerous place to be at times. One of the most heinous things some enemies will do is clear the field of all objects that they can, removing material you need in order to summon more phantoms. But there are resourceful things that you can do as well, such as use the weapons of your departed phantoms as vessels to summon more.

There is no armor to worry about, only the weapon that each phantom can carry. Weapons gain mana, which can be used to level the weapon up and also to combine it with another weapon or object. You never really have to upgrade to a new weapon, you can actually absorb the skills and attributes of another weapon into yours. You can also earn new "titles" by beating dungeons. Slap one of these onto an existing weapon to give it instant status boosts of different types.

Still, even with its different gameplay elements, Phantom Brave is still a leveling game. You can't level a character without putting it through battles. You can't improve a weapon without going through battles. At some point, you're going to have to go back and grind. One character with a set of very useful skills and spells can't wipe out the battlefield on their own: you have to train a large team to be ready for anything.


Difficulty:

Phantom Brave: We Meet Again is always easier when you've leveled past your enemy. There are some situations where it could be more difficult, but there seems to be a degree of mercy built in. Enemies sometimes miss their target and give you a bit more time to catch up. Enemies also reliably go after the lowest level character in your group. Since Marona has a large range in which she can confine ally phantoms, you can use this to your advantage by setting up a bait phantom far away from the enemy. They'll usually keep wasting their turns by traveling the field to pursue that character instead of attacking higher level characters in their path. While some enemies are programmed to clear the field of objects, you'll usually only get one of these bad guys in a bunch, so you can eliminate the threat and fight the enemies who don't have such smart ideas.

Yes, it seems if all enemies were programmed to be merciless and take every opportunity to crush you, they probably would. There still are some challenges. One stage in particular has an item that bestows the benefit of leveling up enemies after each turn. If you don't destroy the item quickly, you'll soon have some highly over-powered foes to deal with. Still, the solution is usually just to kill the troublemaker as fast as you can.


Game Mechanics:

Phantom Brave: We Meet Again doesn't seem like the type of game that should have mechanics issues. After all, it's simply a matter of selecting attacks and selecting enemies or allies. But this is just where the problem comes in. Phantom Brave boasts a "gridless" battle system as one of its selling points. Indeed, you don't measure movement range or attack range in terms of squares on a battlefield as you usually do. Instead, everything is measured in a circular range. In a grid system, you'll usually have one item or character occupying one square. In Phantom Brave, things can pile on top of each other in all manner of messy "pancake" stacks. What happens is that your tiny cursor has trouble selecting things when they get in these stacks. You can rotate the camera and then inch your cursor left and right, just barely getting the item you want to highlight for a split second, then your cursor falls off the stack. It can get so bad that I sometimes just wait for the enemy to move out of the stack on its own accord, rather than sit for five minutes attempting to select something with surgical precision.

Other than the selection problem, the menus are still a bit of a mess. It usually doesn't matter too much, and it doesn't break the game, but sometimes you want to know what skills a character has before you summon them. And there are some things in the game I like to call "strategy guide sellers." For example, the letter ranks that are assigned to skills for each character are easy enough to figure out, but they are buried under menus of text if you want to read about them. And since your weapon and your character both have stats of their own, it can get a bit confusing and cumbersome to try to compare characters. Not having played the original, I can't imagine how bad it could have gotten, as the menu system is one of the elements that got an upgrade for the Wii.

One thing that is surprising is the number of controller arrangements that Phantom Brave supports. You can do everything quite well with the standard Wii-mote held horizontally. But you can also plug in a Nunchuk for analog control or use the Gamecube or classic Wii controller.

Phantom Brave isn't a radical new remake, but it does have a few new features including the "Another Marona" story. There are new characters, a few new monsters, and some cosmetic updates. A digital art disc is also packed in as a bonus and it's loaded with concept artwork, maps, and promotional artwork from the game. If you haven't played the original, then this is the one to pick up. This is classic, old school strategy RPG gaming: solid, addictive, but nothing too special.


-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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