It’s no secret that I love the Disgaea series. Hilarious dialogue mixed with accessible yet challenging strategy creates an intriguing experience. Plus, the games are almost overwhelmingly customizable. (And I want a prinny, dood.) So here’s the million dollar question for you: What would happen if some of the elements of the strategy genre were changed and the story took place in the islands? You would have Phantom Brave: We Meet Again for the Nintendo Wii. Gamers interested in strategy games should stop reading now and go get this game.
Phantom Brave follows a young teenager named Marona. She is a Chroma, which is a demon hunter. What’s the problem? Her late parents’ best friend, Ash, haunts her. He follows her from place to place, making certain she is safe. The people around her can hear his voice. This has “earned” her the title of “possessed.” Plus, she can summon and confine phantoms into objects. With her strange powers and her phantom friends, what will life bring endlessly sweet Marona?
Yes, I admit the story sounds a bit melodramatic. And, in some moments, it is. However, fans of the game will quickly tell you that it is worth enduring. What sets it apart from its siblings is the fact that it shows its story. Period. Story scenes usually take place in front of gorgeous, hand-painted-looking backgrounds with enlarged sprites in front of them. While the sprites look a tad out of place, they do allow for characters gesturing and greater emotion to show on the characters’ faces. Even better, some conversations take place directly on the map, and they include the character gestures. It makes the story more meaningful. Nippin Ichi are not just master strategists; they can be master storytellers when they put their hearts into it!
If you’ve played any of the Disgaea games, you’ll probably feel right at home with the gameplay. What makes Phantom Brave different is the way it handles the strategy. First, there is no grid. Your characters move around the map in 360 degrees. It’s cool. However, it can be a minor pain to move them around on slippery surfaces or when jumps are involved. Thankfully, as long as you don’t initiate a command, it is not a problem.
Speaking of commands, this is where things can get a little strange. Marona needs to summon and confine phantoms in order for them to help her. Phantoms can only be on the map for a certain amount of turns (this includes Ash). If you’re not careful, you will not have the phantom you need when the time is right.
Second, each phantom has certain skills and affinities. The former just means that each character class is unique. More classes open up as you progress through the game. The latter means that they are meant to use certain weapon types. This is where things get interesting. All of the potent skills are tied to a weapon. For example, if you want a slime to use spells, you must equip a magic book on him/her/it. Spell users, such as witches, can master using weapons and continue using magic. The coolest part of all of this is that you can combine (“fuse” as the game calls it) characters and weapons together. Taking the previous example further, you can fuse that said slime with a magic book, and the slime will become a magic wielder on its own. Weapons have the ability to gain levels — provided they have necessary experience and mana — with the help of a blacksmith.
And did I mention that you can also change the titles of characters and weapons?
If all of this sounds overwhelming, it really isn’t. Phantom Brave slowly introduces new ideas as you progress. It’s surprisingly intuitive. The game is grounded and downright organic. It grows as your skills grow. How you develop your party is up to you. The options you have will grow and improve with more time and effort. It is awesome.
My only complaint is that you have to tell the game if you’re using one of the Wii-mote options or the old Gamecube controller. Past that, all three control options (classic controller, Wii-mote, Nunchuck and GC controller) work rather well. I do admit I’m partial to the GC controller; it just feels right playing a game like this with a traditional controller.
Graphically, Phantom Brave is a bit of a mixed bag. There are gorgeous backgrounds. The entire world has a tropical island feel. It’s bright and sunny (contrasting to Marona’s difficult life). Then there are the sprites in front of the backgrounds. On their own, they are not bad looking. However, they do not look right when they are in front of the backgrounds. I think it has to do with the simple fact that the backgrounds and sprites are two different art styles. Otherwise, characters move around the map well, swords swipe and spells are cool and flashy. Commands are cleanly laid out. Character classes look unique.
Sound wise, Phantom Brave has all the proper bells and whistles. If you are familiar with the series, you will probably recognize a few tunes here and there. This is not to say it does not have its own identity. One song is downright creepy as your party takes down ghosts. Other songs are upbeat and catchy. The music isn’t the most memorable, but it works. There is voice acting, and it is good. Ash’s voice doesn’t always jive with me. I thought Marona’s voice would also grate on my nerves, but it hasn’t yet. Ultimately, the voice acting helps create a real world.
Overall, if you own a Wii and are looking for a great strategy game, just go out and buy Phantom Brave: We Meet Again. There aren’t any gimmicky Wii-mote motions, and it controls perfectly. It’s warm, accessible and just downright enjoyable to play. This is a strategy game that feels like it could take place in our universe. And for $30, there is no excuse not to pick up this game unless you already own the PlayStation 2 version. So what are you waiting for? Go sail the high seas, kill some evil monsters and summon some phantoms. All it takes is a little bravery.