Review: Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle

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Through the last six (!) years I have been very critical about Sony and the PSP, and Matt and I have had plenty of good natured ‘back & forth’ about the system and its game library. But there is one area we certainly agree about – the PSP has LOADS of truly great strategy role playing games (SRPG). It also has quite a few mediocre SRPG genre games. The question is – where does Phantom Brave fall?

Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle is the third release of more or less the same game. The original was released for the PS2 in 2004 and got solid reviews. Then in 2009 a slightly updated Wii version was released and the reviews said that while the core game is still solid, not much had changed in the game in five years, whereas the world of SRPG had changed quite a bit – which led to fairly average reviews.

So what has changed for the PSP? Not much. And as you might expect, that is both a good and bad thing, and whether or not you should play this game comes down to ‘it depends’. I will explain what I mean.

The story revolves around 13-year old Marona and her ghostly guardian Ash. Marona possesses a unique ability to summon phantoms into the physical world, and as a result most people either distrust or outright hate her. Yet she remains optimistic, sure that by helping people she will fit in and be accepted for the kind person she is rather than being hated for her ability. The story is very ‘cutesy’ and often annoying … but honestly, it is no worse than many JRPG games that focus on young teen protagonists.

Phantom Brave is a unique SRPG in that there are no grids, no block-moves, and the ability to utilize the environment to ‘slide’ further than you could otherwise move. It is also possible to eliminate enemies by … um … throwing them off the edge of the ‘world’. This is a tactical move that makes no sense but is very useful. Otherwise what you get is a pretty stock-standard SRPG. What does that mean? Let’s take a look!

Every SRPG has a sort of ‘rock-paper-scissors’ tactical system: one ‘type’ is strong against another, but weak against a third. That is true here as well, but is handled differently. Marona can summon phantoms in place of physical objects such as rocks or trees for use in battle, and each summon has certain affinity to objects that will enhance their abilities.

This makes how and where to place summons critical to success, since you will need to align your allies strategically against enemies. Even more critical is ‘when’ – all summons have a limited number of turns. This means it is possible – actually more like inevitable – that you will lose a battle simply by running out of turns for your summons. It is a frustrating reality that will force you to spend too much time analyzing battles and repeating failed attempts.

Technically, the game looks like an average 2004 PS2 game, meaning it would have been visually impressive as a first-year PSP game in 2005 or 2006. In 2011, it looks bland and dated – even without knowing this is a port … you can tell it is a port. Fortunately music doesn’t age, and the soundtrack here is very well done and actually adds to the experience. I was surprised with the otherwise lackluster production to find voice acting throughout, but not only was it there – it was pretty good! You can even switch back to the original Japanese voices, but the English voice-acting is solid.

Phantom Brave is a long game, taking me about 60 hours to work through, including loads of ‘grinding’ to get powerful enough for major battles, and playing through the epilogue section at the end. But ultimately once I finished the game I realized that I would likely never play it again. This is based on a few things: the plot and characters are annoying, the combat system is more frustrating than fun, and there is just no real reason to replay anything – you saw and learned it all the first time through.

So while Phantom Brave is a solid SRPG with a couple of unique elements, it is weighed down by being a nearly seven year old game that has done little to make itself more modern. I actually got the PS2 game for my son after starting this, and played some – same game. It makes it feel more like a lazy port, which is a real shame. If you have never played the game on other platforms, and are really itching for a SRPG on the PSP, give this a try … but otherwise there are enough excellent SRPG games for the PSP that you can skip this without worry.

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Pros:
+ Solid turn-based strategy combat system
+ Unique movement and summon systems
+ Localization is well done
+ Wonderful character development system
+ Massive 40-hour story

Cons:
– Summon system more frustrating than tactical
– Too much grinding required
– Graphics are outdated
– Everything reeks of a lazy port of the (very good) PS2 game

Game Info:
Platform: PSP (UMD and PSN)
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Release Date: 3/8/2011
Genre: SRPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!