Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds – PlayStation Vita review

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds was released on August 12, 2014 for the PlayStation Vita. The game is published by 5pb and a review code was provided for review purposes.

The Phantom Breaker franchise is quite popular in Japan but has made little inroads here in the West. 5pb has previously released Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds on Xbox Live and this past August they released a handheld version on the PlayStation Vita. Without knowing much about the franchise, the idea of playing of a retro-esque side scrolling beat’em up on a handheld like the Vita was an intriguing proposition.

The retro feel of Phantom Breaker hits you as soon as you launch the title. From the chip-tune music to the retro graphics, you’re immediately awash in nostalgia. The game can be played in single player, which features a story mode and an arcade mode. There is also an online component where players can play the story in co-op mode or engage in a Battle mode; where players battle it out against each other. After you have decided which mode to play, then it is time for you to select a character to enter battle with. There are nine characters to select from and each can be adorned in many different colors. At the selection screen, it does not highlight the difference between the characters other than their name and visual representation. One could assume that characters with swords might fight differently than someone with an axe or hammer. Characters will level up with ease as you progress through the game. In the three hours it took us to complete the story on normal, our character ended up reaching level 36. For those who want to replay the story on a more difficult level, you can bring your leveled up character back into the action. There is also a skill set option which allows players to either spend skill points on new moves or buff their attack, defense, and speed skills.

Gameplay wise Phantom Breaker is a straight up button masher much like Streets of Rage or a more modern title like Castle Crashers. Yes, your face buttons each do different attacks and they can be used in combination but in all honesty, in normal mode, you can spam the buttons whichever way you want and you should have zero issues getting through the story. When your special ability bar is full, select the right bumper for a special move, which comes in handy when many enemies are attacking at once. For the most part the game is a side-scrolling adventure but you can move from the front to back and vice versa by using the left bumper. Enemies drop an exorbitant amount of loot, which keeps your character’s health in-check and keeps special powers energized. Like the sound of breaking bricks in Lego, the sound of collecting all the loot is strangely addictive. Seeing all the coins, gems, and other various items drop and then being able to pick them all up was certainly a highlight of the title.

Their is a story here and the game is narrated in Japanese with English subtitles. Regardless of which character you select, your goal is to save Mikoto’s sister and the world for that matter against an ominous character named the Phantom. There is plenty of dialogue before and after levels, which you can sit through and digest or you can button mash your through this content as well. The story certainly doesn’t hinder the game in any way but doesn’t necessarily enhance the experience either. It’s job is to get you from point A to point B and it certainly achieves that goal.

Besides the over-the-top loot drops, the highlight of the experience is the variety of enemies you’ll encounter and the different locations. Each stage will present its own challenges depending on the abundance of enemies. Like most games we play today, the difficulty ramps up over time. Early stages will have hordes of enemies but they’ll be less of a threat compared to those you encounter in later stages. Enemies will differ in size and how they attack. Some will will be straight up brawlers while others will throw projectiles or strike you down with laser beams. Then there are straight up large brutes who will try to ground and pound you into submission. If you continue to mash buttons, sprinkle in special moves, and keep moving front to back, you’ll get through the toughest of scenarios with ease. Another impressive aspect of this title are the different levels you’re taken to throughout the course of the game. Certainly, the Demonsphere stage presented the most challenge as you had to strategically plan which portal to go through to eventually reach the boss.

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Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a worthy hand-held title for those who want to escape from reality for a bit and bash away till their heart is content. The title does not break any new ground and certainly won’t make Westerners feel as though they’ve been missing out on this franchise. However for fans of Japanese Anime coupled with brawling action, this title is worthy enough to have in your collection. And for those that are addicted to loot collecting, this title will scratch that itch and then some. Seriously, this game is a loot fest.