Phantom Brave: Hermuda Triangle Review

Phantom Brave: Hermuda Triangle (Available on PS2, Wii and PSP)
ESRB Rating: T
Players: 1
Genre: Strategy RPG
Publisher: NIS
Developer: NIS
Release Date: March 8th, 2011

Parent Talk: Phantom Brave: Hermuda Triangle is a re-release of the PS2 Phantom Brave.  Like other JRPGs, it has cutesy, anime-style characters and instances of mild profanity or sexual innuendo.  The target demographic is likely teens or older due to the difficulty and time demands these games make.  People who like strategy games, particularly those that twist the genre, will probably like Phantom Brave because of its unique gameplay and quirky plotline.

Phantom Brave followed Disgaea’s journey to handheld systems.  The PSP is no stranger to PS2 ports, so we’re not surprised that NIS has turned to other games in its catalogue.  Still, Phantom Brave was a solid PS2 and Wii game, and the PSP version features the extra content found in the Wii release (including bonus characters and another scenario).  Among the flurry of other great PS2 RPGs, it’s understandable that the game might get lost in the crowd, but it has a new lease on life with this admirable PSP port.  It doesn’t skimp on content, and isn’t ruined by excessive loading.

The Great:
Unique, even now.  What comes to mind when you think of “strategy RPG”?  Most gamers would respond with Final Fantasy Tactics, or another RPG series with a chess-like battle system.  Phantom Brave emulates more obscure games Growlanser, where there is no grid to move about.  Party members have limited movement, but not by a grid.

At the start of battle, Marona is the sole presence, serving as a kind of “commander” for other units.  She can summon phantoms for assistance, but they’re confined to physical objects (rocks, bushes, etc).  They can equip armor and weapons, gain experience and level up, and have unique abilities/attributes.  However, phantoms can’t stay forever.

Interestingly, the objects play a special role.  Some rocks, bushes, or trees may sport bonuses or factors to consider-this is where “protection” comes in.  Sometimes an object “sends” a protective status to another, so by confining a character to the “receiving” object, he/she/it inherits the bonus.  It’s a clever idea not seen often, and significantly twists the gameplay.  There are tons of other customization options too, like upgrading weapons, fusing characters together, and more.  Most SRPGs play it safe, or incorporate some kind of job system to distance itself.  However, this really stands out.

The Good:

+ Deceptively long.   Hermuda Triangle can easily take hundreds of hours to complete.  Some gamers prefer to power through a game just to experience the story, Phantom Brave offers more for the dedicated.  In addition to the 20+ episodes, there are hidden dungeons and battles, bonus characters, and an entirely different scenario to conquer.  It’s a quick flow, with little emphasis on exploration or cutscenes.  A typical episode proceeds as follows: story segment, battle, then another story segment.  The story and dialog scenes are always brief, but get the point across effectively.  There are no towns to explore or places to visit; it’s just battle after battle.  Those who enjoy forming powerful parties and unique strategy may get hooked on PB:HT.

+ Sad narrative.  Unlike other NIS titles, which are more comedic, Phantom Brave has a legitimately depressing narrative.  The characters are cutesy and colors bright, but the story isn’t funny like the Disgaea canon.  It’s largely a tale of isolation and loneliness.  The cutscenes aren’t lengthy, and the presentation is modest at best, utilizing the not-so-impressive in-game visuals.  Even then, some scenes are surprisingly poignant and sad.  The extra scenario, titled “Another Marona,” adds neat post-game content not present in the PS2 version (though it’s available on the Wii).

+ A solid port.  The PSP version holds up well to the console couterparts.  Load times are relatively quick, the visuals are a bit more crisp thanks to the PSP’s screen, and the sound transferred well.  The soundtrack isn’t NIS’s best, but the ability to switch between English and Japanese voices is cool.  The English dub isn’t bad either.  NIS didn’t do much to enhance the experience from the Wii release, but there wasn’t much reason to.  The PSP version features better icons than the PS2, as well the option to change the display (“Blurred” or “Vivid” are available in the main menu), choices from the Wii iteration.  The PSP is far more streamlined, mostly because NIS thankfully incorporated the Wii touchups.

+ Secrets.  There are tons of hidden treasures, secret characters, bonus (random) dungeons/battles, etc, to uncover.  Cameos of other NIS characters is a plus too.

The So-So:

+/-Challenging, even early on.  Some gamers may welcome the challenge (fans of NIS will attest to this), but the high challenge may turn away more casual players.  Even early in the game, there are times when battles can be surprisingly tough (like an early fight where an enemy steals your gear and tries to throw it off the stage).  Completing the entire game requires a lot of patience, which some gamers may run out of.  Some battles in particular require you to resort to level grinding, which takes more of your time and elongates the game in a way some gamers don’t like.  If you don’t mind repeating some battles, then this is no big deal.


The Bad:

– Targeting.  The battle system is unique, but there are still issues.  Targeting units and moving characters around can be tough.  This is especially true when there are enemies “stacked” on top of one another (foes can pick each other up).  Targeting a specific enemy in this instance is astonishingly difficult.  Moving a character into attack position is also more difficult than it needs to be—sometimes you can just select “attack” and the character automatically shifts into range, and other times they simply don’t unless you manually move them first, then select attack.  It’s also annoying that characters can be bumped off the map.

– Not much else to do.  Outside of progressing the story or battling, there isn’t much to do.  Players can populate their island with various NPCs or customize characters to their hearts’ content, but that’s it.  Gamers who prefer meatier RPGs with a world to explore may want to pass here.  On the other hand, this was a design choice, and it’s a likable one.

The Lowdown:

If you’re in the mood for a solid PSP RPG, missed out on the console Phantom Brave releases, or a Disgaea fan, then this handheld port is worth a look.  While the PSP does host a number of quality strategy RPGs, there aren’t many like Phantom Brave.  If you prefer faster-paced games, or dislike the strategy genre, then this isn’t for you.