If you’ve ever wanted to break phantoms and very creepy men all day, then I have just the game for you.
Developer: 5pb. Division 2, MAGES.
Publisher: 5pb., Degica
Platform: Xbox 360, PS Vita, PC (Reviewed), PS4
Release: Feb 27, 2013 (X360); Aug 12, 2014 (PS Vita); Jan 23 2015 (PC);
Jul 21, 2015 (PS4)
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a 2D, side-scrolling beat-em-up with some RPG elements mixed in for flavor. You start by picking one of four high-school magical girls with badass weapons and cut through waves of enemies to rescue their friend Nagi. It includes eight stages in which you beat the living hell out of a ton of very creepy monsters and even creepier people. Each area has two rows that you can switch between at will: the foreground and the background. This gives the game a bit of extra spice in what may otherwise be a mundane button-mashing brawler.
As you defeat enemies, they will drop little red gems which add up at the end of each stage to level up your characters. As you level up, you get points to spend on power-ups, such as stat boosts and new abilities. The levelling up is a little tedious, but it gives the player some extra incentive to play each character again and again.
The combat itself can be chalked up mostly to continually button-mashing the same button or two again and again, since most of the enemies are not especially difficult until you get toward the very end, and even then you really only interrupt the button-mashing to switch lanes every now and then. There are a few different combos you can pull off using the different special abilities mixed in with normal attacks, but it isn’t usually necessary.
Phantom Breaker gets very repetitive, especially if you try to level up each character, but even so the combat is oddly addicting. There’s something entrancing about beating up the waves of enemies and collecting the miscellaneous shiny things that explode out of their bodies when they die. Most of the actual fun comes from trying to rack up huge combos or during boss fights, in which lane-swapping and using abilities becomes much more necessary.
Finally, I highly recommend playing on a controller rather than using the keyboard. The controls are rather clunky either way, but the controller is a little less so as well as more confortable.
The story of Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds almost seems to go out of its way to be as generic as possible. It’s basically a typical damsel in distress story with an evil demon thing and inter-dimensional travel. It’s hard to tell whether the game is taking itself seriously or not, but it is somewhat charming all the same.
The graphics in this game are a nice blend of the anime “chibi” style and they 16-bit-ish arcade-style. It’s all very cute, colorful, vibrant, and visually pleasing with a nice retro feel.
The character design is very well done. Most of the enemies are unique and interesting, especially the humanoid ones. My personal favorites are the men in suits that all seem to have a dildo jammed into one eye and the giant fat cyclops-looking things. The main heroines and especially the bosses are all really neat, too.
While not immediately attention-grabbing, this game’s music is pretty good. Much like the graphics, the music and sound effects has that retro arcade feel to it.
What really does stand out, though, are the sound effects. The enemies, especially the demons, make some extremely disturbing and creepy sounds as you pummel them back into oblivion. Some of them sound like the voice-actors are deep throating the microphone while receiving the Heimlich maneuver. Come to think of it, that mental image is about as creepy as the sound effect itself.
One last thing to mention is that Phantom Breaker is voice acted entirely in Japanese. The dialogue boxes are in English, of course, but the voice acting is fixed to Japanese. Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to that detail is up to you.
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is currently available on Steam for $11.99 USD, which isn’t bad, especially considering the surprisingly hefty amount of content it has. If you’re really looking for a beat-em-up that will keep you occupied for a good long while, then this price is definitely worth it. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to wait for a small discount down to about $5-8.
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is interesting in that it’s very repetitive, but it has enough content to keep you entertained for a long time. Along from the four main characters, there are several unlockable characters, each of which can be levelled up to a surprisingly high level cap. The visuals are a neat combination of cute and creepy, and the same could be said for the sound quality. Overall, it’s a nice game to kill time, and it has plenty of stuff to do for the completionists out there, but it doesn’t necessarily excel in any particular aspect.
+Cute / retro art style
+Unique character design
+Unique sound quality
-Generic / forgettable story
Score: 3 / 5