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Impressions: Phantom Brave, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

I've achieved pretty much nothing in terms of NWN2 development, as it seems I've really no interest in playing that game right now. For that matter, a first taste of Phantom Brave and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker has revealed that I'm in no mood to play simple anime-themed strategy games either.

Dealing from the bottom of the deck

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is clearly an attempt to mold Pokemon in a different direction. Pokemon was always a good time waster, but never a terribly deep game, thanks to a 4-move limit per Pokemon and a 1 on 1 or 2 on 2 match options only. Dragon Quest Monsters: Jokers takes this already simple formula, raises the match to 3 on 3, then botches things up and makes things even more braindead. This is primarily the fault of forcing the player to slowly level their monsters up to four moves, and largely doing away with the strategy involved in matching "types" of monsters to do battle (at least immediately from the start).

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker gameplay. If you haven't tired of 1980s-style JRPG combat, they've got you covered well here.

On the upshot, at least Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is presented better than your average Pokemon game. After all, it's developed by Square-Enix, more specifically some of the same talent behind the Dragon Quest series lately. I enjoyed both the familiar sounds from Dragon Quest: Rocket Slime and the Akira Toriyama artistic style. It was really encouraging to start a new game to find my glowering young protagonist rotting in his father's jail - the game has character, of that there is no doubt.

I just wish the gameplay itself matched the quality of the presentation. If I was feeling more patient, maybe I could stick with Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker long enough for my monsters to evolve some abilities that require some actual foresight to use. However, when combat plays out this slowly and leaves me largely uninvolved, what we have here is a bona-fide grind. Grinds are unforgivable for any gamer who has burned out on them before - this game needs a fast forward button.

Ghostly emanations of pedophilia.

Phantom Brave was made by the same company that made the kitschy yet surprisingly deep Disgaea series. I'm not going to bother describing Disgaea in detail because "kitschy yet surprisingly deep strategy game" is probably all that really needs to be said about it. It was a game that both did not take strategy gaming seriously (for example you could have your members pick eachother up and fling eachother around to save movement points) while simultaneously providing a highly sophisticated platform in which to evolve your custom characters into some kind of several-times reincarnated god. The part where you actually go into an item and fight it as a chain of randomly generated dungeons to advance its levels was genius.

Phantom Brave is more than just made by the same company that made Disgaea, it basically is 90% Disgaea. We replace the cast and story entirely, of course - now you're a half-dead ghost guarding a 13-year old spirit medium named Marona. Honestly, between Marona, Flonne, and Etna, I get a definite pedophiliac vibe from this company's games, but I'm willing to overlook that for decent gameplay. Much like Disgaea, Phantom Brave delivers.

Stacking to victory. Phantom Brave's less-than-serious exterior is bolstered by a surprisingly in-depth RPG interior.

The actual gameplay in Phantom Brave is the largely the same except for a few significant differences. Instead of demons, we have phantoms who largely evolve in much the same way. Characters don't come in via a portal, but rather are bound to terrain or objects by the medium character. Picking up and throwing people and things is still in, but the role is a bit different because of the way equipped items are handled. The quasi-3d map now rotates smoothly, but there's no tile chains to detonate for bonuses. There's still an item dungeon of sorts. Overall, lots of minor differences that result in a different game, but it feels like a refined variant of Disgaea for anyone who has played both games.

So, that's pretty much what I've been up to today. Maybe I'll get into these games further, but at this point I'm considering sending one or both back. DQM:J is a much more overt offender in terms of being a less-than-satisfying game, but Phantom Brave has a number of gameplay glitches (well documented at the end of the GameSpot review) that equally impact its enjoyment capacity.


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