PlayStation 2 was home to many unforgettable RPGs and you can now enjoy 2 long-lost treasures thanks to Prinny's new collection.
Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle Remastered
Out of the 2 featured games, Phantom Brave is the more well-known one as it's been ported to other consoles since its initial release such as Wii and PC. I still own it on PSP and was quite happy when it was announced for Switch as it'll now get more attention which it deserves. Anyway, it stars a bubbly girl named Marona who was raised by a phantom after her parents perished in battle and she has the ability to combine souls with certain objects which is known as Confining and this plays a huge role in the battle system.
Specifically, battles play a lot like they do in the Disgaea games although you're not restrained via a grid. Instead, you can run anywhere within each character's movement circle. Battles begin with only Marona so it's a good idea to use Confine in order to gain a few allies. However, they can only remain in battle for a certain number of turns and you can only Confine each soul once. So, a large part of the strategy involves summoning the best allies in every given situation while conserving some for later use as Marona is fairly weak.
This battle system is fantastic, especially as you recruit more allies, purchase better weapons, and expand on your home base in order to unlock new party customization options. It's a formula that works beautifully for pick-up-and-play SRPG fun that you won't need to completely relearn every time you resume your adventure. This is yet another aspect that makes it feel a lot like Disgaea. Speaking of which, you can also throw combatants and objects just like in Disgaea and you can even knock enemies out of bounds.
Outside of combat, you'll watch plenty of voiced dialogue scenes that can be quite funny and there are a lot of delightful characters to meet along the way whether they're NPCs, enemies, or allies. As a bonus, you also get the additional campaign Another Marona which was introduced in the Wii version and it features its own story starring an alternative-reality version of Marona known as Carona.
Although Phantom Brave is an excellent and highly underrated SRPG, it does have one annoying issue that I wished they smoothed out in this Remastered version which is the fact that moving the cursor in battle doesn't always target what you want it to. For example, if you're pointing at something, you might actually be targeting something behind it, especially if it's on a higher ledge. So, you must constantly spin and zoom the camera around in order to ensure accuracy when it comes to targeting. Oh, and the character sprites are adorable and comically-animated which I love but they're still very blurry even though this is supposed to be a remastered game.
Soul Nomad & the World Eaters
Secondly and lastly, Soul Nomad & the World Eaters is a little-known SRPG that released back in 2007 and this marks the first time that it's available outside of the PS2 library. Right off the bat, let me just say that it's not as layered or as rewarding of a game as Phantom Brave is and it's not remastered either so its presentation is restricted to the original 4:3 aspect ratio. With all of that being said, it's still a good game and I'm very happy to finally be able to play it seeing as I overlooked it when it debuted back in the day.
Soul Nomad & the World Eaters has a grid-based battle system that takes place on 2D maps with each unit representing a small army. In this sense, it kind of feels like Advance Wars although characters attack specific enemies or groups of enemies here as opposed to the squad in general. Anyway, there are dozens of unit types so customizing your party can be an involving and satisfying endeavour. When you factor in squad merging and the fact that new units can be hired up to the same level as the main character, you're looking at an intuitive and streamlined approach to party management. Overall, there are many options; heck, you can even raid towns!
Now that I think about it, the open-ended approach to progressing through Soul Nomad & the World Eaters is its strongest feature even though it remains a rather basic SRPG at its core. The story throughout the campaign is quite barebones, too, as you play as a blank slate of a protagonist who receives a sword that's inhabited by a foul-mouthed evildoer known as Gig. From then on, it's your job to slay the previously dormant and recently revitalized World Eaters. Just like its gameplay, the story is open-ended and you can even take an evil route. Meanwhile, its sense of humour is edgy and I'm surprised that it hasn't been censored for modern sensitive audiences. Good.
Like with Phantom Brave, the sprites in Soul Nomad & the World Eaters are blurry but its graphics are even worse because the maps are generic and again, it didn't receive the lovely remaster treatment that Phantom Brave did. In the end, Soul Nomad will appeal to SRPG fans who prefer an open-ended approach to gameplay and story while those who enjoy more structure and lightheartedness will likely find Phantom Brave to be the superior of the 2 titles. Also, whereas Phantom Brave is easy to pick-up-and-play, continuing Soul Nomad & the World Eaters after a break likely won't be as enjoyable because in order to get the most out of it, you'll have to remember which direction you were steering your party and the narrative in general. In other words, it's an RPG that you won't want to put down.
NIS Classics Volume 1 is bursting with SRPG goodness from a few generations ago. Although these games look dated, they're both still great fun to play with their own unique approaches to gameplay, story, and humour. Thanks for bringing them back, Prinny!
- + Contains a couple of hearty SRPG adventures with unique mechanics
- + Great sense of humour throughout
- + Loads of colourful characters
- - Although solid and open-ended, Soul Nomad is rather basic at its core
- - Phantom Brave's cursor can be annoying
- - Sprites tend to be on the blurry side