Title: Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds
System(s): Vita (Also available on Xbox 360)
Release Date: August 12, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Mages (Division2)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone 10+” for Fantasy Violence and Suggestive Themes
If there’s one good thing about the Vita, it’s that it gives players a chance to be exposed to games that were overlooked on other platforms. Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is one such game. Originally released on the Xbox 360, this 2D beat’em up didn’t make a very big splash on the console. Especially since Xbox 360 owners aren’t exactly known for being Japanophiles. PlayStation owners are and with the Vita release, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds has a chance of finding a better audience that might appreciate its pick-up-and-go style.
There’s a Phantom, some kidnapping, and… you know what? Nevermind.
I find it difficult to talk about what Phantom Breaker is about, despite having beaten Itsuki, Kurisu, and Yuzuha’s storylines in the Story Mode. This is a side-scrolling, beat’em up where a group of heroines fight a legion of opponents, jumping between the foreground and background to get them all. The story doesn’t matter. If anything, it gets in the way. The dialogue is wooden, with a very basic, flavorless translation.
It feels like we’re supposed to care about Mikoto, Itsuki, Waka, and Yuzuha, and their fight against Phantom, a figure that gave them their powers, but wanted them to use the abilities for evil. Sadly, the fighting game is so obscure that there’s no way to connect with any of them. I suppose it’s just easiest to say Phantom is bad and has kidnapped Waka’s sister, and the girls go to save the day.
For that reason, I’d actually encourage players to go through the Arcade Mode to train and unlock characters, rather than the Story Mode, as it skips what amounts to pointless exposition and allows people to focus on what’s important – speeding through battles.
Basic, yet entertaining
The core Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds experience is very basic. Each character doesn’t have a huge array of attacks, general enemies are usually palette swap mooks, and only the boss fights offer any challenge. It’s very much a bite-size sort of game. Enjoy in small bursts, to keep it from getting repetitive, and essentially play the single player, offline modes to craft a character worthy of using in local or online multiplayer matches.
Because honestly, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds‘ customization options are rather robust. Players earn points from battling foes in the single player, offline modes, and these can be put towards improving character stats and granting them new skills or abilities. Though many enemies look and behave the same and there are only seven locations, knowing that enduring it improves that character better makes it worthwhile.
I just wish more people were actually playing Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds. There is a 2-4 player Co-op Mode, where people can face one of those seven levels together, as well as a surprisingly good Battle Grounds versus mode. The problem is, this game is so niche that I’ve only found one Battle Grounds match in the six days I’ve been playing it. That one match was quite fun and didn’t have any lag hampering the experience, but I haven’t been able to find another one since.
There’s also the issue of the $5.99 Kurisu Makise DLC. She’s the heroine of Steins;Gate, has her own storyline in Story Mode, and gets her own unique special attacks. However, she falls victim to the same issue as the other heroines. The game from which she hails is so obscure that I find it hard to recommend buying her. She is a fun character to use, but Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds offers so many playable characters that most will find it hard to justify paying $6, half the price of the full game, just to play as her. The fact that her DLC also raises the level cap of all characters to 99 is a nice boon, but I doubt most players will be serious enough about the game to get most characters past level 30.
The price is right.
It’s hard not to recommend Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds, considering its relatively low price of admission. The game is substantial for a timesink. It’s level sizes are perfectly suited for pick-up-and-play moments, though I wish more people were playing online for cooperative and competitive adventures. I do think the Steins;Gate‘s Kurisu is overpriced, but she’s an optional purchase and general players will be more than happy with Mikoto, Itsuki, Waka, Yuzuha, and the unlockable characters. Any Vita owner longing for a return to Streets of Rage and River City Ransom adventures should absolutely add Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds to their mental wishlist.