To call Nippon Ichi games ‘esoteric’ barely begins to convey just how impenetrable they really are. To date, there are probably about seven people in the world that actually, truly enjoy games like Disgaea and La Pucelle. They are grindy, stat-heavy, and full of all sorts of juicy secrets that no sane person would ever find without reading a tome-sized strategy guide. Phantom Brave does not buck the trend.
The one shocking twist of Phantom Brave is that it puts the players in control of a pre-teen girl who doesn’t shoot magical fireballs or even swing a giant sword infused with a demon’s soul. All she does is summon spectral servants from the very Earth itself. Which, by Japanese standards, is downright normal.
Marona, our spirit summoner, calls her allies from rocks and trees, conferring bonuses to unit stats depending on their source. Trees benefit mage users, while the durability of stone helps the physical classes do their thing. Summoning points also determine longevity, and with a limited amount of summons per level, part of the challenge is determining how many of your crew to bring out at once. Attacking full force in the beginning can leave you with nothing to finish off the few stragglers at the end. Marona is your only permanent unit, and she is as fragile as expected.
The Wii port of Phantom Brave adds effectively nothing, save for an extra art CD. The true benefit of a rerelease of this game comes from how frustratingly difficult Altus titles can be to find more than a week or so after release. While the problem isn’t as bad as it once was, it’s nice to have another option. Now that Phantom Brave has been released for the Wii, perhaps it will find seven more people able to survive its dense nature, and move on to slavishly devote hundreds of hours to its nuance.
That’s really the end-all be-all of it. People who will like Phantom Brave already know it. They’ve probably got separate memory cards for their Disgaea saves, with different level 9999 characters on each one. The art style and idiosyncrasies of this game will be immediately familiar to fans, and almost inscrutable to anyone new. Still, there’s a specific (very rare) type of person who will be completely entranced by it. If you’re of that ilk, or you’re feeling brave, there’s a whole lot of game here.
System: Nintendo Wii