Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive

Year: 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 12/1/19
Rating: ***

Mikoto, Waka, Itsuki and Yuzuha from "Phantom Breaker" must rescue their friend Nagi, who has been kidnapped by Phantom. The fight takes them through Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and Shinjuku, before being transported to the Demonsphere. It's a 2D side-scrolling brawler that features large numbers of enemies onscreen simultaneously, which leads to some very frantic gameplay. Early enemies are comical and consist of Yakuza thugs, heavily tanned kogals, and salarymen armed with golf clubs. Later enemies include robots, demons, and grotesque beasts. The art style is very cute and the characters are all rendered in a chibi manga style. The character animation is adorable and silky smooth, and the 3D rendered backgrounds help differentiate the pixelized characters from the environment.

The gameplay is hectic and fast-paced, and mostly boils down to button mashing. Each character has weak, medium, strong, and special attacks, along with throws, guards, guard breaks, counterbalances, slip shifts, overdrives, reflections, EX attacks, phantom breaks. guard cancels, counter bursts, and critical bursts. There's even a skill tree for levelling up characters. The fighting mechanics are overly complicated and a bit overwhelming, but the basic attacks and combos are all you need. Complexity is there if you want it, and like any good fighting game, it's easy to play and difficult to master. A unique aspect of the game is that the player can switch between the foreground and background planes, which adds some extra complexity. The game offers limitless continues and encourages replays by unlocking new features and higher difficulty levels, allowing your characters to continue levelling up. Kurisu Makise from "Steins; Gate" and Frau Koujiro from "Robotics; Notes" are playable guest characters, which provides even more variety.

It's a fun game that's designed to be picked up and played in short bursts. It was obviously made with portable game systems in mind, and the resolution is pretty low. The text is large and blocky for readability, although it's really ugly and text often breaks in the middle of words. However, that's a localization issue rather than a game flaw. The music is simplistic and has a retro-synth vibe to it, which matches the 2D pixel style and anime sensibilities nicely. The story is simple and straight forward, but fleshes out the characters just enough to make them interesting. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and the visceral thrill of seeing my cute character rip through a swarm of bad guys never wore off.