Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle ReviewDustin Hill
Seven years after the original release of Phantom Brave and after travelling across two very different systems, Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle lands squarely on the PSP with extra content, cheerful game play and the quest to get to level 9,999. For the uninitiated, a strategy RPG varies from a traditional and action RPG in that rather than being placed in a static spot and fighting from there, you move around a turn-based field to engage each enemy. Troop placement, hazards on the field, landscape design and enemy/player abilities all play a part in the outcome of what could be described as a very flashy, and possibly easier, game of chess. Phantom Brave offers all of the above and more. In fact, the creators claim that it's the only RPG that allows you to, Do anything you want! and they just might be right.
You start by being handed an island with your main character Marona, a generally defenseless orphan whose only companions are phantoms; the ghosts of those who have died. She's not crazy, but Marona does have a very special power called Confine, which allows her to tether the souls of the passed to objects on the playing field. This temporarily gives them life in order to defeat the bad guys (which in some circumstances are little more than a rabbit with a sinister expression). Confine is the main strategy in the game (along with strengthening and high customization of your phantoms of course) because phantoms can only be summoned once per battle, can only stay on the field for a certain amount of time and the objects they are confined to give them bonuses or lower their stats, sometimes dramatically. So when you begin a battle, you're faced with several decisions on who to bring off the bench first, where and what to place them in and how that will affect the outcome of the battle. Phantom Brave contains much more than a press A' mentality to it.
In fact, the shear amount of options you have to change in this game borders on the ridiculous. Between battles, you can return to your island to heal up and get supplies for the next incursion but, there's more. As you progress through the story you gain access to different characters that have special skills they can offer you. The Merchant for example, will sell you weapons, the Blacksmith will make these more powerful and the Healer will remedy your wounds.
The Dungeon Monk will give you access to 100% random dungeons and the rewards for completing these are vast. This also mostly eliminates the need for grinding, playing a level over and over and over again in the hopes of making your team stronger, so there's always something new for you. There's also the Titlist who can place different titles on weapons, characters, dungeons and objects taken from the world. These titles increase, or decrease, stats, give you special powers, increase the amount of experience gained from enemies and many other handy effects.
There are others, but the point here is that you can give your fighting force amazing powers that border on the divine and you don't have to spend many late, tedious nights to do it. This is especially entertaining because the highest level you can achieve is not 99 or 100 like most games but instead, Phantom Brave only stops you at level 9,999. Good luck by the way.
The playing fields are original and well-designed (specifically in the Another Marona extra storyline). Level conditions vary and can be bouncy (like low gravity), slippery/icy and combinations of each. Along with their innate features (rocks slow a player's speed while increasing defense and flowers decrease attack but increase magic ability, for example) objects may have further special abilities that allow you to recover health every turn, increase your attack exponentially or double the amount of money and/or experience gained from enemies.
Did I mention you get an island? Secrets on the island that are discovered give you rewards, you can beat up your teammates if you get bored and you may summon and organize items to decorate your island however you choose.
Everything about the music, graphics and storyline are fun. The musical score is full of cheer, the graphics are comprised of very colorful sprites and the story provides enough motivation to continue playing. Though the story does have certain dry parts where you'll just be pressing X' over and over to skip all the occasionally annoying dialogue.
Like most Strategy RPGs, battles can sometimes take awhile. This would be more of a drag if the controls weren't solid and levels as inventive as they are. Despite this, some battles can border on tedium and drag out.
The main storyline is rather short and can be easily completed in twenty hours. In the original game this was quite a great disappointment because there wasn't much to do after you completed the story and little motivation to look.
Since Phantom Brave is a very large game being handled on the PSP, there are some frame-rate issues that pop up from time to time. A majority of these problems only occur on your island, where the PSP has to handle a large volume of objects at a time. Sometimes it runs smoothly on the island and sometimes it lags to an irritating degree.
Overall Phantom Brave has a lot of depth, especially over other strategy RPGs, and more content than your average player is likely to ever discover and comes with a bargain price of twenty dollars. There's plenty to do after you beat what is effectively a sandbox RPG on your quest to get just one of your characters to level 9,999 and just as Nippon Ichi claims, you can practically do whatever you want.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.