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Game Info:

Phantom Brave PC
Developed By: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
Published By: NIS America, Inc.
Release Date: July 25, 2016
Available On: Windows
ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood, Suggestive Themes, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
Genre: Strategy Role Playing Game
Mode: Single Player
MSRP: $14.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

Phantom Brave PC is the definitive (perhaps final?) edition of the highly regarded PS2 game of the same name. This version includes all of the extra content from the Wii and PSP ports, and has higher resolution backgrounds and interface adjustments to make it run and look reasonably well on PC. While not an ideal PC version, it is a decent enough port, and the deep and charming story as well as the complex gameplay systems are all here.

The main characters are Ash and Marona. In the introduction, it explains that Ash and Marona's parents were fighting a powerful evil force, and they were defeated. Just at the moment of death, Marona's father casts a spell on Ash preventing his complete death, but instead of remaining living, he becomes a Phantom. In this game, a Phantom is probably easiest to describe as a more powerful ghost – it's dead and yet not, as he can manifest physically for a limited time, and has a full personality. Marona inherited from her parents the ability to see and interact with Phantoms, which both grants her great power, and makes her an outcast and someone to fear from almost everyone.

Marona was five years old when her parents died, and Ash was left behind to help take care of her. Ash cares for her very lovingly, and Marona trusts him very deeply as well. Their relationship is one of the highlights of this game, and their intense care for and trust in each other comes through very clearly throughout the story.

At thirteen years old, Marona decides that she has to start working in order to meet her needs, so she heads out as a Chroma (which is what Ash and her parents also were in life) in order to offer her services to any citizens in need. Chromas are basically legal mercenaries for hire; their jobs range from finding lost items to defeating powerful enemies. Of course she is not the only one, with other individuals and companies competing for contracts.

Despite people's constant harassment because of her unusual (and frightening) power, she believes deep down the words of her parents – that she would face a lot of difficult prejudice against her, but over time, people would be swayed by her kind personality. Watching this happen is one of the highlights of Phantom Brave's main campaign. Over time, you come to really love Ash and Marona.

Phantom Brave PC
Highlights:

Strong Points: Wonderful characters; fantastic music; interesting variation on the SRPG genre; solid challenge, with a whole lot of character and item customization; tons and tons of content
Weak Points: Character art is much lower detail than the backgrounds, so it takes time to get used to it; at times very difficult (if that's a con) which can require grinding to overcome; controls could be better; requires a significant time commitment to make progress (not pick up and play)
Moral Warnings: Some blood and cartoon violence; foul language, with words like 'b*st*rd', 'hell', '*ss', 'd*mn'; sexually suggestive dialog in a few places, with references to breast sizes; some skimpy outfits, though most are on very pixelated sprites; alcohol consumption, drunkenness, and tobacco use; significant spiritual elements, most of your warriors, as well as one of the main characters, are Phantoms, which are manifested by possessing items; magic use

The second story, which is accessible via New Game+ or from the main menu, is called 'Another Marona'. This story is a bit darker, with more conflict between the characters, and more sexually suggestive dialog. I would recommend the main campaign be played first, with 'Another Marona' reserved for older gamers.

At first glance, it may appear that Phantom Brave is a Strategy Role Playing Game (SRPG) similar to other popular titles, like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics. In some ways this is true – it's a top down, hybrid 2D/3D game (3D areas with 2D sprites) with characters that move about the battle map with skills that affect friends or enemies with various areas of effect, and so on. Each turn, your characters, along with enemies, go in order of their speed attribute, and move into place to utilize the best skill or attack for the situation. It's a time tested and enjoyable game mechanic, and it works well here, too.

Despite a similar heritage, there are a few aspects of Phantom Brave that really sets it apart from other SRPGs. For one, rather than the more typical grid or hex based system for movement and combat, everything here is completely freeform. This means that if you are careful, you can step around objects, or find the exact shortest paths to make the most of your movement. This is really handy on slippery levels, where you can move really far with the smallest amount of movement. At other times, it can be a bit frustrating, as characters may not go exactly where you expect, or they can get stuck on something stupid, which wastes their turn.

The other, and much bigger change, is that all of Marona's team members are Phantoms. She literally summons her team members into nearby items, which then go on to possess those items, take physical form, then proceed to fight for her, until their time runs out. Each class has a summon turn limit – anything from three to eight – where they can move and perform actions. Once that limit is reached, they disappear and cannot be summoned again until the next battle. There is an incredible amount of strategy involved in both character and item summons, as well as placement; after all, a move-only turn is all but wasted. There is a lot to consider here, and a well executed plan can be very rewarding indeed.

The game system is really meant to be abused, by design. Much of the more difficult content expects you to know how to do this, and the game seems to expect you to use a guide or figure it all out via trial and error. Item leveling, skill leveling, character leveling, and even dungeon leveling, as well as titles, are all interlinked in that you can take advantage of the systems to make obnoxiously powerful characters with levels that are just nuts.

And there is also the fusion system. You need to fuse items together, generate random dungeons with various attributes, fuse characters together, and so on to transfer skills, mana (which levels skills), and more all in the pursuit of more power. The game has a character and item level limit of 9999 – which cannot be reached without a ton of fusions. Honestly, the fusion system is very complex, and that's not all of it – there is another tangential blacksmith system as well, not to mention merchants whose items level up as they do. And of course there are ways to abuse the game to get tons and tons of money as well. Exploits and powergaming opportunities are endless.

Phantom Brave PC
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 84%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 64%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

The presentation is a mixed bag. Graphically, the characters are very low resolution sprites, which looks jarring next to the much nicer backgrounds. Thankfully, there are filters you can apply to the sprites that helps somewhat. The backgrounds look better, though you can tell much of the improvements are just higher resolutions, with textures that are clearly dated.

On the other side, the music is clearly fantastic. The pure audio quality is top notch, and there is an enchanting mix of instruments and vocaloids that really sets the appropriate moods. There is also excellent voice acting that really helps you get to know each character. Top ratings here for sure.

Moral warnings are a mixed bag. On one level, we are talking about Phantoms - ghosts who fight for their living masters. There is emotional pain, and loss of life. On another, you see people with an undying desire to help others, and an unrelenting kindness that never gives up, and the rewards of that love. Marona also thanks God for her gifts and desire to help others and considers her powers to be from God. God is otherwise unnamed. You also see the consequences of lying, and other moral lessons.

There are also other concerns, like violence, language, and sexual content. There is cartoon violence, blood, and a scene has a man impaling himself. Foul language includes 'b*st*rd', 'hell', '*ss', and 'd*mn'. There is sexually suggestive dialog, mostly in the 'Another Marona' episode. Some outfits are very skimpy, showing skin everywhere but the required coverings, though it is rather low detail because of the sprite resolution as mentioned above.

Phantom Brave PC has a rather excellent story and game system, and is absolutely worth playing if you are looking for an extremely long and involving SRPG. If you like a quick pick up and play, this game is absolutely not that – I would never commit less than an hour or two at a time when sitting down to play this game. A game for lunch breaks this is not. While not without flaws - the controls are a little tedious on keyboard/mouse, and occasionally stubborn on controller (Steam Controller is best in my opinion because you can have both), and the graphics have a lot of room for improvement - it is a very good game, and worth playing. And as always, please consider the moral warnings before purchase.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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