The PSP is a veritable gold mine for RPG lovers. You can even get more specific than that. It’s a gold mine for SRPG lovers. It’s even a gold mine for people who had a large SRPG collection on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 and would like to own those games again and also be able to play them on the bus. Between Front Mission 3, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, Jeanne D’Arc and Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions I didn’t really think I had more room for SRPGs on my PSP. Then I remembered how much I enjoyed Phantom Brave on the PS2 and I have enjoyed it all over again on the PSP.
Marona’s parents were monster-fighting mercenaries who were killed by a demon named Sulfur. Now Marona is an orphan doing the best she can with the help of her parents old apprentice Ash. Ash is no ordinary apprentice though – he’s a phantom. Everything is going okay (not great, the locals don’t trust Marona since she can talk to phantoms) until Sulfur’s minions start showing back up. At that point it is up to Marona and Ash to defeat Sulfur and save the day.
Things get interesting in a couple of key places. First, Marona is not a great fighter. Her primary role in battle is to confine phantoms to ordinary objects to create warriors. Your phantoms each have their own level and stats, their weapons have their own level and stats, and the object to which they are confined affect those stats each time they are confined. If you confine a phantom to rock, for example, he is going to turn into a warrior with a high defense rating and a low speed rating. Confine that same phantom to a plant, however, and he will have a low attack rating and a high intelligence rating. It’s important to keep track of who you’re confining where as the phantom you’ve trained up to be a mage won’t do a lot of good confined to a rock. And you shouldn’t necessarily just confine everything you’ve got in the first turn. Phantoms can only remain confined for a finite number of turns before they leave the battlefield. It’s an interesting system that forces some different strategies than a more traditional game might suggest.
Second, Phantom Brave eschews the traditional grid for a more free-form movement and attack system. Characters can be moved around the battlefield in three dimensions confined by a radius. This means you can jam fighters right up next to each other and need to pay attention to how close you are to your enemy as attacks are less effective the further away you are. Just because you connect doesn’t mean you’ll knock the enemy on his backside.
Like other NIS SRPGs, Phantom Brave has enough depth to either keep you occupied for hours upon hours or drive you stark raving mad. There is a ton to do here. There is the main story, there is leveling up your phantoms and their various weapons in randomly-generated dungeons, there is combining weapons to create better and stronger weapons, there is fusing weapons to phantoms, and there is fusing phantoms together to create better and stronger characters. If you run out of things to do in Phantom Brave then you’re not looking hard enough.
Phantom Brave has a lot going for it. There is a mountain on content here, the main characters are likable, the loss of the typical SRPG grid is refreshing, and the character and item fusion mechanics are sufficiently different from other SRPGs to make Phantom Brave worth your time even if you’ve already got a strong stable of games on your PSP. If you’ve never played Phantom Brave, or are just looking to replace your old PS2 copy with a version that can be played on the go, you won’t be disappointed.
Pros: Endless supply of randomly-generated content, lack of grid is neat, confinement system makes for different strategies than a different SRPG would suggest
Cons: Like other NIS SRPGs, Phantom Brave can be daunting