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  • Forgotten Gems #2: Phantom Brave

    October 30th, 2017GamespotUncategorized

    Welcome to the second installment of Forgotten Gems, where we look at some of the most underappreciated and overlooked titles from gaming's past. Last time we covered Freespace 2, a space-combat simulator that suffered at the hands of a publisher uninterested in doing anything to give it a chance at success. This time we'll be looking at something quite different, but before we do, here's a quick recap of the rules.

    • The game has to be at least 10 years old to feature in this series.

    • The game's critical or commercial success doesn't matter, though less commercially successful games are naturally more likely to have been forgotten, and as such are more likely to be featured in one of these articles.

    • Everything written here is just my opinion, and you're free to disagree and share yours in the comments below.

    And as a last note before we begin, you're also welcome to suggest games for this series in the comments. Just remember that I can only talk about games that I have actually played.


    Phantom Brave – The Ghost Whisperer


    By the early 2000s Nippon Ichi Software had begun to establish itself as one of the premier tactical role-playing game developers in the world thanks to titles like Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and La Pucelle: Tactics, achieving quite notable success with the former, especially considering the genre's relatively niche appeal. Around the same time the company also developed another excellent game for the PS2 within the same genre, called Phantom Brave, which was released in January of 2004 in Japan and later in the west as well.

    The game tells the story of Marona, a young girl working as a chroma (a kind of bounty hunter), on an ocean-covered world called Ivoire. The reason she is able to work as one is because she has the ability to see and talk to phantoms, and even bring them into the real world by binding their souls to physical objects for a limited time. Her closest companion is a phantom named Ash, who while still alive worked with Marona's parents as a chroma, but died during a chance encounter with an exceptionally powerful being.

    Marona's powers allow her to work as a bounty hunter, but they also make her an outcast because most people believe her to be working with or possessed by evil spirits, and are often hesitant to even speak with her once they discover who she is. This status as an outsider carries with Marona for much of the game as she tries to get people to accept her through her actions.

    Phantom Brave uses a similar battle system to the one found in Disgaea, with a few notable differences. Unlike the grid-based system found in Disgaea and many other tactical RPGs of the era, Phantom Brave has a gridless system that measures distance instead of number of steps a character can take. By participating in battle the characters and the items they use gain mana, which can then be used to strengthen the characters by combining them together, increasing their level cap and opening new abilities for characters.


    The most significant aspects of the battle system are related to Marona's abilities, as she can use objects in the environment to call forth phantoms to fight with her. In addition, the phantoms gain different stat bonuses and penalties depending on the object they are bound to. For example, a rock would give them a bonus in physical abilities, but lower their magical attributes, whereas a flower would do the opposite, bringing another layer of strategy into the battles.

    The amount of time a phantom can remain in a battle is dependent on its class, and new classes of phantoms become available by killing a certain number of a specific enemy type in battle. Marona can create new phantoms in her home island between battles, which she can then bring into battle with her.

    Visually the game looks very good even today, largely thanks to its cartoony visual style that hasn't been affected all that much by the console's hardware limitations. The backgrounds are corgeous, and the sprite work done for the game is beautiful, especially in motion. In addition the game's music is very good as well, providing a wide variety of music types that fit together surprisingly well. The soundtrack was composed by Tenpei Sato, who has also created the music for the Disgaea-series.


    Why Was Phantom Brave Forgotten?


    There were a few reasons for Phantom Brave's eventual relegation to obscurity, not the least of which was the simple fact that tactical role-playing games on consoles weren't exactly a massive genre in the first place, unless the game is fortunate enough to be a part of an existing, and already well-known, franchise. However, this wasn't the only reason why it was so severely overlooked.

    Naturally the game didn't received much advertising or hype from its publisher, as it was a completely untested property in a genre where games are rarely even expected to move a large number of copies in the first place. In addition it had the unfortunate fate of simply not being Disgaea, which was already quite comfortably filling the niche Phantom Brave was trying to fit into as well. The first Disgaea had been released just one year prior, its spin-off Makai Kingdom was coming out in 2005, and the sequel qould arrive the following year. Disgaea was just the more popular series that left little room for a game like Phantom Brave to flourish in the same space.


    Ultimately, as is so often the case with these things, the failure of Phantom Brave was the result of a number of different things happening at the same time. From a niche genre already quite full of quality titles not just from Nippon Ichi, but also other developers such as Square Enix who had just the previous year released Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, to lack of marketing of an unknown IP, all combined with what was just bad timing on the developers part led to the game's unfortunate fate.


    What Makes Phantom Brave Still Worth Remembering?.


    Perhaps the main reason many fans of tactical RPG's will likely enjoy Phantom Brave is its extremely fluid and easy to use battle system that offers a huge amount of depth to those who are willing to delve deep into its intricacies. The decision to abandon the grid-based system found in many other games in the genre works in Phantom Brave's favour, and is in my opinion an overall improvement over the system found in the first Disgaea for example.

    However, the game also boasts a very likeable cast of characters and well written story, all of which exude charm and are very well written. It's also filled with the trademark humour found in many of Nippon Ichi's other titles, most notably the Disgaea games, although Phantom Brave is perhaps a bit less adult-oriented with its comedy, owing perhaps to its young main character. The world itself is also interesting and unique in its design. Finally, the music and visuals expertly complement the overall style of the game.


    All these things together come together to create a game that is simply a lot of fun to play and experience, and fortunately doing so is now easier than ever before as the game was released on PC in 2016, and is available on Steam for a fairly low price for such a huge game. If you're a fan of the genre and especially the Disgaea-series, I highly recommend you take a look at Phantom Brave as well. It's a very different kind of experience, but one that shares a similar core with Nippon Ichi's more famous franchise.

    Phantom Brave is one of the sadly forgotten hidden gems of the PlayStation 2 library. Even for a console known for its countless excellent JRPG's, Phantom Brave would have deserved a place among the ones the console is today remembered for. The game was even ported to the Wii and PSP later, but never really managed to gain success comparable to its peers. The three version together barely managed to outsell just the PS2 version of the first Disgaea. Regardless, if you feel like playing a deep and rewarding tactical RPG, this is a very good choice in my opinion.

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