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Game Info:

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds
Developed By: MAGES, Inc.
Published By: Degica, Rocket Panda Games
Released: January 23, 2015
Available On: Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 as Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive)
Genre: Action Beat 'em up
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10+, Fantasy Violence
Number of Players: 1-4 local or online multiplayer (mix and match)
Price: $11.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you Degica for sending us this game to review!

A couple of years ago, I reviewed Ogre Tale, the latest beat 'em up from MAGES, the same developer as this game. And while I certainly love the art and a whole lot more from that title, over time I kept being asked how it compared to this one, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds, its wildly popular predecessor. Now that I've taken it for a spin, I can see why. Phantom Breakers: Battle Grounds is arguably the better game.

The four main characters, Mikoto, Waka, Itsuki, and Yuzuha have their best friend Nagi taken from them by Phantom. They set off on a mission to get her back, and will stop at nothing to do so. Each of the four main characters has dialogue before missions and during boss battles; they say silly things that are mostly inconsequential - the main draw of the game is the beat 'em up action, and it certainly delivers on that.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a beat 'em up spinoff of an older (and soon to be remade!) side-by-side fighter called Phantom Breaker (which will be rereleased as Phantom Breaker: Omnia in 2022). Most of the characters are from that game, but given a chibi art style this time around, which is a morphed style where the heads are large and the bodies small. It's a popular style, and works great for a beat 'em up since many characters can be on the screen at once - or a big enemy can loom that much larger.

Combat takes place in real time, like is common to the genre. You strike your opponents with weak, medium, strong, and special attacks, which map to a face button on your controller. (While it may be possible to play the game with only a keyboard, it's strongly discouraged.) There is also local and online multiplayer, though when I tested it online didn't have any other players. You can play both co-op and competitive, though competitive is really more like a side-by-side 2D fighting game – your only opponent is the other player. For co-op, you play all of the levels of arcade/story mode (with dialogue skipped) with up to four players simultaneously. The first time I played this was with 3 friends, and it was awesome.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds
Highlights:

Strong Points: Hectic and very enjoyable beat 'em up with great multiplayer and tons of replay value; fantastic pixel art and music
Weak Points: Upgraded Overdrive release never came to Windows PC; each playthrough is fairly short (approximately three hours)
Moral Warnings: Lots of animated violence; part of the game takes place in the demon realm, where you can see a pentagram; some females have slightly accentuated breasts, with minor jiggle and cleavage; some male enemies look, act, or make sounds that implies they are at least effeminate

Combat typically involves lots of button mashing, as you attack the many enemies on screen, while trying to juggle and take advantage of as much stunlock as possible. (Stunlocking is where you attack an enemy, and they sit there for a second – so you keep hitting them over and over while they don't do anything.) Battle seems simple, and you can do reasonably well with somewhat blind button mashing, but there is more depth than you might realize. For one thing, since stunlocking enemies is so important to avoiding damage, ramping up intelligent combos is critical. For example, I found that starting with light attacks, and rolling up to medium, and then heavy is a great way to pile on the damage while maintaining stunlock. You can also sometimes sneak in special moves, which you can choose to unlock as you level up.

Most enemies drop coins, which represent points that help you do well on the online leaderboards, and gems which represent either experience, which you can spend after the level, or burst gauge, which you use during combat. There are several special moves that use the gauge, like the Outrange attack, which I'm pretty sure you start the game with, as well as other attacks that you can choose to spend your level up points on. These vary per character, and can be quite useful. It should be noted that the base game maxes your character's levels at fifty; if you want to go higher, you need to buy the Makise Kurisu DLC character pack, which also unlocks level ninety-nine for all characters. And for those paying attention, yes, it's the same Kurisu from Steins;Gate, another MAGES property.

There aren't a ton of levels, but each one is of a decent length, and there are a total of eight of them. There are five difficulty levels, including easy, normal, hard, nightmare, and nightmare+. I played enough to unlock all of the secret characters, which means beating normal and hard on story mode. All progress with a character is transferred between games, so I have a high level Mikoto, while most of the rest are somewhere in the middle – the first time we played was four player, so the starting four are all at least level 20. I highly recommend playing as a group if you can – it's a ton of fun that way; the four of us played for hours and enjoyed all of it. I have a feeling we'll do it again sometime – it's a blast. As for the other characters, there are six more you can unlock via the story mode, and two DLC characters; the previously mentioned Kurisu, and Frau from Robotics;Notes. She also unlocks level ninety-nine, so you can choose whichever DLC character you prefer if you want to pay to unlock that.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 74%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 7/10
Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Each stage has progressively more and more powerful enemies. The first one takes place in Akihabara, which is a rather famous place in Tokyo. The people you fight tend to be exaggerated caricatures, especially in the early levels. For example, some are rather oddly dressed guys, presumably otakus (anime super fans), wearing cat ears, while others are girls wearing what I assume are some kind of mask, and some middle ages executive types wielding golf clubs. And this is just the first level. Some have strangely effeminate-looking body builders, magic wielding girls, or even dark and demon-like creatures. Enemies run the gamut in this game. They disappear when you defeat them, while dropping their treasures for you to pick up.

It takes place in a mostly 2D side-by-side game world, with really detailed backgrounds done in a pixel art style. Everything looks really great; these are top-notch pixels. One notable difference to many games in this genre is that instead of having a single 2D plane to fight in, or alternatively an isometric play area, you instead have two rows, a front and a back row, that you or enemies can fight in. It adds an element of strategy, and gives you an option to dodge opponents' projectiles, and of course they do the same to you. Switching rows is fairly quick, with the press of a button, but you can't fight while switching, so it's all part of the strategy. Some enemies use this to avoid your attacks, so it takes some getting used to, but it's well done overall.

Like the graphics, the music are done in a retro style, with solid chiptunes throughout. The beat 'em up sound effects match what you expect, and the music is well done enough that they sell the soundtrack as DLC. It's good stuff overall.

Morally, as expected for a beat 'em up, there is a lot of cartoon violence. You punch, kick, smack with a weapon, etc. your enemies repeatedly until they fall over and disappear. Some females have slightly accentuated breasts, with minor jiggle and cleavage, but this is mostly in cut scenes and not continuously in your face. Some male enemies look, act, or make sounds that implies they are at least effeminate. Other enemies are darker or even demon-like in nature, and a part of the game takes place in the demon realm, where you can see a pentagram.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is quite an enjoyable beat 'em up that I figured I would like, and it did not disappoint. Since the series is set to make a comeback in 2022, I asked for this code several years past release, and they obliged. I enjoyed it enough to get the DLC for pennies on the dollar at the latest Steam sale. Despite some minor appropriateness issues, it's a lot of fun for most audiences, if the single pentagram or other dark creatures in the final areas doesn't stop you. If you are looking for a solid beat 'em up, especially if being around for a while doesn't bother you, then I would definitely recommend this title. It's a shame that the updated Overdrive release is exclusive to the PS4 and Switch, though.

About the Author

Jason Gress

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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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