Review – Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds

Wait…wasn’t this game cancelled for Xbox?
No, no, no…wrong game, kinda.  That unfortunate anime-styled fighting game never made it to the US, but this is the spin-off, Phantom Breaker:Battle Grounds for the Xbox 360 Arcade!
This game is an anime-styled beat’em up game that features a somewhat retro feel in terms of graphics.  Of the several beat’em ups available on the Xbox Arcade, Phantom Breaker:BG could best be compared to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  What makes this game so different from the Scott Pilgrim game and others in the beat ‘em up genre is the unique and well-developed mechanics.  While most games of the genre have featured a free roam in the sense of moving up, down, left, and right, this game utilizes a “lane” system.  The lane system limits your character to only moving forwards and backwards, but they can now jump back and forth between two lanes, which make up the front and background in stages.  While this system may seem very limited and gimmicky as it seems your character has to jump into the background of the stage frequently, it is actually a very important feature that helps the game become more stream-lined.  While having your character freely roam on the stage was nice, it did slow down movement quite a bit.  With the lane system, you maintain fast-paced action and can focus more on combos, which are a part of another cool feature that I will get to next.
The combos are pretty basic at first, but can easily be modified through the character’s skill tree and the stat distribution.  Unlike several beat’em ups from the past, you have two choices to where you allocate the points you receive from leveling-up a character.  By placing into the character’s stats, you can boost their raw damage, defense, or speed.  The second option is to place your points into the skill tree, which unlocks new attack skills, specials, combos, and counters.  With these two systems of character improvement, you can freely customize your character to match your play-style.  I personally liked to unlock faster combos first, and then move onto specials.  My good friend Will, on the other hand, went for maxing out raw power and did some major damage to the enemies.  If you add in points for something you didn’t like or found to be less beneficial, you have the option of resetting your point allocations.  This means that if you want to change up your play style, you can easily do so by resetting the points.  The point reset feature is definitely an improvement compared to the systems featured in other games, as most have point allocations as permanent and can’t be undone once decide upon.
When you have combos, you also need some blocking or countering mechanisms.  This game is also unique in this regards as it offers many options to do either one when attacked by your many foes.  With several ways to block and counter, it feels like you’re playing more than a simple beat’em up.  It’s almost like some of the fighting game version’s mechanics were leaked into this game.  Although you probably won’t need to rely much on defensive play for the AIs in story mode, it would probably be helpful to fully utilize the system in your versus or online gameplay.
This game offers many modes such as story, arcade, versus, and online.  The story mode features eight stages and a few cutscenes with nice chibi art, although most of that comes at the end of the game.  The first stage, Stage 0, gives you a chance to play one of the four main with maxed stats and skills.  This will give you a nice feel of how the character is and will make you feel badass for a while.  Unfortunately, Stage 1 is where you get stripped of all powers and work your way from level 1.  Don’t worry, as this game isn’t too grindy and you’ll be surprised by how fast you level up as you get through the story.  In story mode, you’ll be focusing on rescuing a girl, named Nagi, by fighting through mobs of gangsters, aliens, and monsters (quite the odd bunch of foes in my opinion).  You’ll also have some challenging boss fights throughout the story, but you can always fight the bosses with several friends in the Co-op mode, which is essentially story mode without all the dialogue.  Arcade mode is exactly what you would expect, as it tosses you right into the game to try to get the highest scores and times.  Battlground mode is the name for this game’s versus mode, where you are pitted against your friends and get to show off your amazing skills.
Another subject which I should briefly talk about is the character roster.  You start off with the main cast of four characters, a group of anime girls with cool powers.  The four are the only playable characters in story mode and are very unique in terms of their styles and abilities.  My favorite is Mikoto, as she is a jack-of-all-trade character with great balance.  Along with our four main heroines, there are quite a few more characters that can be unlocked by clearing the story mode on different difficulties.  Every difficulty offers two new characters, except for normal, which throws in the characters you would have gotten from easy mode for a total of four new characters.  All of the unlockable characters are also fairly different from the original four in play-style, so you can also try them out to find the best character for you. By the way, the character cast is mainly females, except for one guy, but I won’t spoil anything else in that regards.
Also, there is one more character in which many anime fans should be familiar with, Kurisu!  Our awesome character from Steins;Gate is a part of the games first DLC, which also boosts the level cap from 50 to 99.  Kurisu, like the other characters, is unique is terms of gameplay.  Her combos are good, but her ranged specials are more notable and allow for great support in co-op.

Final Thoughts:
Although I didn’t go into too much detail with the game’s mechanics, you’ll be able to experience them first hand through the game or by reading the tutorial.  The lane system is a unique feature that complements the game’s fast-paced and pseudo-fighting game style.  Although hopping into the background may be gimmicky and an inconvenience at times, it makes up by allowing you to really pile in those combos quickly.  The character customization is well-developed and gives you the chance to mold your character in a way fitting to your play style.  Whether you like raw power or attractive special attacks, you can choose modify your character to your liking.  If you want to change your character’s stats or skills, you can do so by resetting your points and placing them elsewhere with no penalties.  The other features of the game, such as the roster of unique characters and the defensive mechanics, make this game appear to be more like a fighting game.
In classic beat’em ups, you normally focus on just beating the hell out of mobs of enemies, but this game is different.  Not only can you pick a character based on aesthetics, but also on their unique gaming-style.  Compared to the two other Xbox arcade beat’em ups in which I played, Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim, this game feels much more polished and advanced.  Sure the other games feature some fun gimmicks and elements, but this game is more complex in terms of mechanics and gameplay.  The fighting game aspects give Phantom Breaker: BG a fresh and enjoyable experience.  This game is around ten bucks online, with the Kurisu DLC pack being an addition five bucks.  For a new and fun beat’em up, this price is acceptable in my opinion.  If you want to get a taste of the game first, you should definitely give the demo a shot before making any decisions.  I personally enjoyed this game quite a bit and only had issues with the limited story mode, as the eight stages are short in comparison to the expanded maps of Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim.  Despite this, I enjoyed trying out the many characters and customizing their abilities.  Co-op was also very fun to play with my friends and encouraged us to figure out different ways of taking on some of the tough bosses.  Well, I’d recommend this game to most of my friends and hope that you give it a shot!

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