Ghost in the Machine (Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds – Vita – Review)

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While derided for its poor translation, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds’ description on the PSN Store does illustrate two important points.

Smooth animation of retro 8-bitGraphic is highly evaluated, and player is increasing even now. Moreover, it has attractive game system of (Maximum)four on-line and off-line simultaneous co-op game play.

First, we can see a publisher experiencing growing pains, as admitted here on their FaceBook page. But, no matter the hiccups, 5pb pushed through to develop and publish a game they believed in. The other fact on display is how difficult a time Phantom Breaker has in explaining itself, hindered by odd choices and buried explanations.

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While I struggle to better understand just what I’m doing, it’s inarguable that Phantom Breaker allows the player to feel powerful, no matter how adept they may be with the game’s finer points.  Your introduction to the game, through its Story Mode, makes this painfully clear, as it puts the player in control of the fully leveled  character of their choosing. In these opening moments, the world bends to the player’s whim, with each button press resulting in on-screen chaos. Once this tutorial of sorts concludes, your ablities are torn away in true Metroid-like fashion. At this point the hooks are set, but Phantom Breaker isn’t quite strong enough to reel us in.

The inclusion of these RPG mechanics is meant to keep us coming back, doling out goods little by little along the journey. The problem is these morsels are few and far between. A single playthrough of the game’s story mode doesn’t put you very far along the character’s growth. While this is meant to keep us coming back for more, it’s difficult to tell exactly what I’m supposed to be aiming for. At the conclusion of each stage, depending on your performance, skill points are provided to spread across your three base stats (Attack, Speed, and Defense) as well as a flow chart to unlock abilities. While the former are easy enough to understand, the abilities can be harder. Moves like “SP Attack 2” and “Counter Burst lv 1” are listed without explanation, and considering their descriptions are placed in the Pause Menu, you may not know just what you’re spending your points on. It’s all a bit silly, and while it’s great that I can reassign points as I please, I’m still left clueless as to how well I’m building my character.

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The process may be confusing, but I can’t deny the depth of Phantom Breaker‘s combat. There are plenty of special attacks available, and in the right hands, one can hold their own against the game’s more demanding difficulties. While most anyone starts out button mashing as the game begins, it feels great to get a grip of the mechanics and ambush your foes with a screen clearing special. Enemies are not afraid to gang up on you, forcing you into corners while they hammer on. The game’s stages are two layered, so bouncing between the foreground and background can help escape these kinds of situations. Knowing what to do and when to do it becomes important as the games proceeds, as Phantom Breaker doesn’t break a sweat when loading the screen with a heaping of enemies, both big and small. A minor annoyance comes into play here, as your character can become obscured, as seen in the screen below.

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While my argument is to display a problem with the game, screens only serve to remind me of how gorgeous it is. The sprite work is the most detailed I’ve seen this side of Tribute Games, siding with chunky outlines over the more painterly qualities of something from Vanillaware. The characters animate well, and our heroines stand out nicely from the demented hordes. The creativity seen in the enemy designs is amazing, and when coupled with the backgrounds I’m happily reminded of Viewtiful Joe. The locations themselves are, for the most part, based in reality, which is a shame considering how fantastical the enemies are. The game’s end presents the only surreal landscape, but it’s a boring maze stage that loves to hide its own enemies.

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Can you spot the baddies?

While the prospect of Phantom Breaker‘s online can liven the experience, I’ve had poor luck finding other players. In the matches I could find, the connection would be lost partway through, and I’d be booted to the start menu. A brawler like PB:BG can really shine in a multiplayer environment, but the community may not be there. I’m going to keep trying, and in a week’s time I’ll make any changes necessary to this review.

While a run through Phantom Breaker‘s Story Mode is enjoyable, I’m not convinced it’s something I can return to time and again. While I can keep making progress with my initial avatar, the XP begins to slow down as I crawl to the next character level. The thought of starting from scratch isn’t as enticing as it needs to be. There’s fun to be had here, but Phantom Breaker lacks the feedback loop to keep me coming back for more.

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