Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a spin-off game from the Phantom Breaker series, which is mostly made up of 1v1 Street Fighter like brawlers. The franchise is supposedly popular over in its native Japan, but has sadly not made its way over here to the west. Battle Grounds changes the franchise’s winning formula by having the Phantom Breaker cast participate in a side scrolling beat-em-up. At first glance it reminds me of the obscure NES game Mighty Final Fight. Like the aforementioned Capcom release, Battle Grounds uses eight-bit pixel art to transform its fighters into adorable chibi characters. It’s amazing how artistic design can drastically alter the tone of a game. Pummelling women in the face would normally be abhorrent, but it doesn’t seem so bad when the punishment is being inflicted on a cute diminutive cartoon.
The game sees the player dimension hopping through alternate versions of Japan, as they race against time to rescue a lass named Nagi from the clutches of the wicked Phantom. The roster of playable characters mostly comprises of weapon wielding high school girls who like to charge into combat dressed as maids and shrine maidens. Their choice of attire is somewhat questionable, but I suppose they could do a lot worse. The garments in question are more protective than the bikini mail donned by other video game gals and should boost sales by attracting anyone with a fetish for female servants.
Gameplay wise, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds plays a lot like Double Dragon and the excellent Scott Pilgrim video game. Pressing x allows your character to block whilst the remaining face buttons unleash weak, medium and strong attacks. Unlike other 2D brawlers movement is limited to walking forwards and backwards, although it is also possible to skip between background and foreground paths by tapping on the left shoulder trigger. Reading up on the game’s advanced controls will teach you how to execute flashy special moves, but if that sounds too complicated don’t worry because button bashing is sufficient to carry you through the game’s campaign. Yeah, when it comes to beat-em-ups I’m a scrub who forgoes the finesse of combos in favour of spamming Blanka’s one button electric attack.
After clearing Phantom Breaker’s opening stage your character is stripped off her powers and turned into a level one weakling. In order to regain your might you’ll have to earn experience points by collecting the gems dropped by vanquished enemies. Once sufficient experience has been accrued your character levels up, conferring them with skill points that can be exchanged for new abilities or spent to beef up their physical attributes. Defeated enemies also drop coinage, which is used to determine your high score. Sadly the currency you accumulate cannot be used to buy new weapons or more appropriate clothing for the feisty ladies.
If you grew up loving games like Streets of Rage I can highly recommend Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds. It’s a solid brawler blessed with charming pixel graphics and catchy chip tune music that fans of retro gaming soundtracks should enjoy. The game is only eight levels long, with each stage taking around ten minutes to complete, making it a little on the short side (just like its characters.) There is however some replay value as unlocking all the secret fighters requires completing the game on both normal and hard difficulty. Anyone born with the RPG gene, which compels them to level up characters, should get plenty of mileage out of their purchase as they can revisit the story mode multiple times with each of the playable fighters.
Those seeking multiplayer fun will be pleased to learn that Phantom Breaker allows buddies to play through the main campaign cooperatively, in addition to offering a battleground arena where human players can spar against each other. Sadly I have been unable to experience either mode, as none of my friends own the title. Logging onto PSN didn’t help either as I soon discovered that the game’s online lobbies are perpetually vacant. What’s especially infuriating is that two of the game’s trophies are only obtainable by playing multiplayer (bah, why must developers punish hermits with co-op virtual accolades.) Visual novel readers may also be interested to learn that Stein;Gate’s Kurisu can be purchased as a DLC character. She’s rather pricey to buy, but unlike the other characters she at least has the smarts to dress sensibly.
FINAL RATING: THREE AND A HALF STARS