[Preview] Phantom Breaker

[Update: I received my copy of the game only a few weeks from the original release date. That was several months ago and the game is still not out.  This has been changed to preview so it should be approached as such.]

Phantom Breaker is an anime styled fighter from 5pb that approaches simple controls instead of complex commands.  This being the first fighter the company has produced, it is a test to see how this company does with something different.  Likewise, it’s a big step forward for 7sixty games who localized it here for the west.  It’s their first console game and first localization since branching from Southpeak Games.

While the game certainly hits niche appeal with it’s characters and appearance, does it actually work for those looking for something more?

Phantom Breaker plays off of a very simple control scheme. Three buttons are used for light, medium and heavy attacks, with a fourth button reserved for all special attacks.  It is quite possibly the best system a button masher could ever hope for.  It’s so simple that if you want to shoot a fireball, forward + special will make it happen. This system makes it extremely simple to pick up and play and makes virtually no difference between pad and stick play preferences.  Phantom Breaker requires little to no memorization  and no need to concern yourself with missing button commands.

An automatic special button would be grounds for concern in most people looking for advanced play, but there are plenty of interesting things going on with the battle system.  The one seen the most often will most likely be the counterbalance.  Any attacks that are triggered at the same time sets up a flashy collision between the characters, nullifying both attacks.  Adding to this is a parry move that will nullify the attack in similar fashion to what Street Fighter III offered.  Quickly press forward in to the attacker at the right time and you can nullify their attack.

Likewise, hitting the special button before your opponent attacks nets you a push back that opens the opponent up to attack.  In exchange, you burn 1/4 of your meter.  It does carry a risk as failing to block an attack and getting hit boosts meter for your opponent.  This follows with an emergency mode that can be activated to break any combo for the cost of the full meter.  Doing all of that offers a lot of variety towards giving you many different ways to stop a rush down.

The system really accentuates meter monitoring with the various different ways to use it.  The meter itself builds to two major tiers.  Building to 100% sets the player up to expend meter in most levels by using a heavy special, Overdrive, or emergency mode.  What the heavy special does is allow the player to hit the directional button with special and heavy attack to activate a more powerful version of the player’s standard special.  For people that can capitalize on combos ending in special, this is a good method.  At full meter (200%), hitting just special and attack creates a hyper special that’s pretty flashy, difficult to avoid and extremely damaging.

Overdrive however seems to offer the biggest change to your game plan, even though you have to sacrifice all of your meter to activate it.

When you first choose your character, you are given the choice of “Hard” or “Quick” styles of fighting.  They are key in two very specific areas.  Let’s look at a “Quick” fighter first. When activating Overdrive mode as a “Quick” style fighter, you will slow your opponent to a crawl allowing you to rain down pain upon them.  This gives you a chance to mount a huge combo on your opponent, if they don’t block you or knock you down during it.

“Hard” style fighters don’t have this luxury of slowing down time in their Overdrive state. What instead happens is the character gains a temporary armor state that negates the effects of an attack.  It’s not as flashy and it has less to offer than the potential for a huge combo. What it does is create a pretty neat asset in trapping people.

To further differentiate the styles is the way parries change between the two.  In “Quick” mode, you will sidestep an attack to press forward.  While this works ideally in cutting space between you and your opponent, it does offer some risk when combo moves are utilized. You will still have to respond to any follow up attacks. In the case of “hard” mode, it simply reflects the attacker back which sets you up for a counter situation if you are in range.  .

The focus will be on adjusting towards your preference in play style.

What this all really builds up to is a different fighter than a BlazBlue, Melty Blood or even Street Fighter.  The system is relatively simple to pick up and play because it builds it’s complexity in to the counter system instead of the controls.  This works out in a lot of ways as you can hand anybody the controller and they can button mash their way to a fun game.  Mastering the counters makes it so advanced players don’t have to put up with the button mashers, especially since the system is geared so much around setting up meter.

Unfortunately, nothing in this system will replace any of the fighters already available.  The difference of the two styles doesn’t change enough for the system and being cheap is simply to easy and rewarding.  It’s not going to be a game circulated at EVO, but really the point was to appeal to a broader audience with the controls and Phantom Breaker does that

[Solid System] [Easy to Play] [Simple Controls] [Unique Counter Style] 

The roster of Phantom Breaker is kinda small.  Ten are originally available at the start and with enough prerequisites, it opens to fourteen.  While each character is unique enough to make a case for the roster, the ease of the control scheme makes this a reasonable complaint.  The game has a long arcade mode and a story mode to add some features to the title, but ultimately it’s not going to change the fact that there are bigger fighters out there with double the roster.

What we get with the cast however isn’t bad.  There are characters that play to all different styles with strong rush down types like Ren and Rimi, long range characters like Mei and Fin, and even a nice cheap boss fight in Infinity.  While I’m sure the archetypes are a bit off putting to some, the fact that they don’t push it is commendable.  These characters thankfully aren’t pushing boundaries  to overcompensate.

Phantom Breaker has a real doujin quality to it which is kind of it’s charm.  So much so that you even get the chance to fight in front of Tokyo Big Sight, the odd shaped building where Comiket occurs.  There is some legitimate care put in to the fighters and their moves, but they do draw a bit of inspiration from other games.  I can’t play as Cocoa without thinking of Wolverine from X-Men: Children of the Atom.   The characters are animated well, but there are plenty of prettier fighters to compare it to.  What highlights Phantom Breaker really seems to be the effects created.

There really is a lot of flash created between moves like Overdrive, Emergency Mode and all the counter moves.  This doesn’t move to the backgrounds though.  The camera is also a bit weird as the background doesn’t really follow the characters as it moves to change the perspective of the central image.  It’s an interesting method, but it tends to leave a boring field where the fighters rotate around something pretty off in the distance. It’s not unpleasant to look at, it just removes a lot of personality out of the levels making for only one or two really memorable stages.

The story itself is pretty simple.  A man in a black robe named Phantom gives everybody a magic weapon and has them fight it out tournament style.  The winner gets their most desired wish granted.  So you have some fight to get revenge, some to save a loved one, and one simply fights to stop the fighting.  Even with a comprehensive story mode, it’s not extremely deep in presentation with most of the text being back and forth dialog between combatants.  Characters are all somehow related to one another through a sister or friend.  Funny yet is the fact that 2 of the fighters are fighting each other for the exact same goal.  It’s not a brilliant story despite having characters from lauded visual novels Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate.

Localization wise, the game has some issues.  The characters are written extremely stiff.  Bouncy characters like Mei, the pop idol magical girl are written devoid of any real pop.  Most of these characters don’t have a really interesting story in the first place, which makes skipping some of the stuffy dialog a non-issue.  It’s really a shame thought that a game with so many different personalities is really so uninteresting to read.

Worse so are some bad lines that stick out like a sore thumb. I shouldn’t have to read a double negative, but Cocoa’s story has a real beauty for a line in “it’s not like I’m not wishing for this. But my fate calls for it.  I can’t resist it.”

What’s weirder is the victory taunts given after defeating an opponent in arcade mode or versus.  The game doesn’t want to work off the general mantra that games like Street Fighter had with lines like “Are you man enough to fight with me?”  Instead, they are character specific taunts focusing on some storyline stuff.  It’s odd to hear somebody talk more to their personality than to general boasting.  For example, Rimi says to Kurisu, “you use the same words as the nerds. I’m a little envious.”

I don’t play fighting games for story or the witty repartee, but I’d have liked a bit more care put into it.

[Variety of Characters] [Niche Appeal] [Simple Story] [Simple Backgrounds] [Stiff Localization] [Localization Errors] [Small Roster]

Phantom Breaker will be retailing at the discounted price of $40 as a special edition package. Included in this package are 2 double sided posters, a calender, and a 100 page strategy guide.

As a niche fighter, I can’t begin to guess what the online life of this title could be, but it’s a full fighter with a long arcade mode and tough boss fight.  It has 4 unlockable characters so you’ll be playing for a while to get them.  The game is simple to play, so you can bring anybody in to play it with you.  It doesn’t have robust features or crazy customization.  It is what it is.

I’m not sure if I could have made the claim that Phantom Breaker would be worth $60.  At $40 with a bundle of limited edition goodies, I’d say that sounds about right. Plus as an added bonus, you get to play as two popular anime characters.  That’s a plus.

[Special Edition Package] [Discount Pricing] [No Extended Features]

I don’t think Phantom Breaker is going to set the professional fighting game community on fire.  Those looking for a decent fighter however can find something enjoyable here.  It’s a first attempt at breaking in to the fighting game mold and in that respect, it’s a job well done.  The localization leaves lots to be desired, but what really is to be expected of a fighting game’s localization?  Gameplay rules above all else in a fighter and this one has a really easy to learn play style with a very interesting counter system.

If you can get past some of the quirks and a few of the flaws, there is a fun fighter that’s just a bit different from the other games on the market.

[Solid System] [Easy to Play] [Simple Controls] [Unique Counter Style] [Variety of Characters] [Niche Appeal] [Simple Story] [Simple Backgrounds] [Stiff Localization] [Localization Errors] [Small Roster] [No Extended Features]

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