I’ve been playing Phantom Brave on and off over the last… year? Two years?

Anyway, I finally beat it yesterday afternoon.

It’s… okay. I like the Nippon Ichi style of strategy RPG but there were some… issues with Phantom Brave. Okay, so for starters, I prefer random dungeons (via Dungeon Monk) over Item World… kind of. I really don’t like how completely uncontrollable the output of a random dungeon is. I mean, why can’t you pick a range or upper limit for the random dungeon based on the monk’s level?

No, instead you have to keep tapping “create” and “cancel” until you find something that’s in the level range you’re looking for — and then look for a dungeon that has the number of floors you want. And the right size. And mix of enemies. And equipment restrictions. Yeah, so the problem is there are just too many variables.

The typical level of Phantom Brave takes way too long to play out — admittedly not as bad as Disgaea, but notably not as good as Makai Kingdom (I realize MK released later). It might have something to do with each character being made to take their turn in-order, rather than MK allowing you to move all your units at once then waiting through the enemy turns.

I dunno. I have lots of other little gripes.

Initially, I didn’t like the fusion system but I grew to appreciate it when I finally realize that each character really only gets a single piece of equipment. When you consider than you will basically never have more than 8 characters on the field at once, it’s a lot easier to let got of those equipment pieces over 80+ once you’ve collected a lot. (And you will, as you get farther in the game.)

Fusion of characters is weird, but arguably not as weird as the fusion of items. Now, item fusion powers the game near as I can tell. That’s because your characters only level up by participating in combat and killing dudes, but items can be used by pretty much anyone. So if you want an ITEM to help you level your dudes, you only need one — you use that item to power level a dude, then fuse them to another character.

Titles are a hilarious part of the game which always gave me something to share with my wife. I’ll admit that my favorites were all the dumb permutations of “title X” and “Weed” equipment. Cool weed. Skinny weed. Love weed. DieNow weed. Uber weed. Ichiban weed. Favored weed. Fond weed. And the list goes on, and on.

I’m a disappointed with the distribution of titles though. In the early game, titles generally like 0-2% changes to some stats, and that’s just pathetic when your stats are already in the 9-20 range. What is +2% on 10? Well, it’s… maybe +1. Depending on whether the game rounds up. It seems to me like the MINIMUM non-zero bonus should be 5% because that’s the equivalent of a +1 in D&D.

Increments of 5% would be good, too. There might not need to be AS MANY titles if they just… I don’t know, apportioned them better. There are pretty clear builds in mind for certain character types… I dunno. This seems like an area where the game could have done a lot more. There is also NO mention of titles or their implications in the game, which is a shame because again, they’re hilarious. They deserved some kind of acknowledge in the story.

Speaking of the story… it was okay.

I was frustrated by the “innocence” of Marona, the main character, and how the game’s story kept seemingly trying to displace her with her guardian “protagonist” character, Ash. He was a false protagonist though because Marona was main character AND protagonist. She just seemed overwhelmingly passive through most of the story. Ash wasn’t the main character but the story kept ACTING like he was.

And then, well the game ended. And Ash wasn’t the main character or the protagonist. The story wasn’t about him, or his development, or his issues. Which was fine, you know. Because the story wasn’t about him. It just… well, it seems like there was a disconnect. Why was Ash featured in the game’s art, and not Marona? It was her game. Why is Ash the controllable character, and Marona follows him around. Why?

But, back to the mechanics.

I didn’t particularly like the SP system or the “elements.” They were weird and nonsensical to me. Every character has mana points (“SP”) for each type of element, including like, normal weapon attacks, special weapon attacks, healing attacks, support attacks, nature attacks, time/space attacks, and “energy” attacks (fire/wind/ice).

You get more SP for an attack type by USING that attack type, so it takes lots of battles to increase the amount of SP you get for each type unless you focus on just one type. And really, most characters are only good at improving a couple elements anyway, so it pays to focus on those elements–and it goes around and around.

At the end of the day, I fused one super-weapon (a dead tree, btw) and equipped it to Marona–and used her to solo a lot of maps because it was less work than trying to level specialist phantoms. *shrug* That seems like a design flaw. Ish.

I dunno. I mean, I liked a lot of stuff about Phantom Brave but it felt like it was lacking in a lot of areas. I might have appreciated it more if I’d played it closer to its release date (mid-2000s) but then again, I liked it a lot now. I might NOT have liked it when it came out.