- Developer: Nippon Ichi Software (NIS)
- Publisher: NIS America
- Release Date: 03/09/2021
- Price: £35.99 / $59.99
- Review code provided by NIS America
Introducing: Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1 Review
Not a week goes by, it feels, where a studio doesn’t trawl through it’s back catalogue. That inevitable scramble to find another title to throw at gamers in a desperate attempt to cash in. In many cases these are nothing more than a cash grab. Preying on the nostalgia of fans who probably already own the title and maybe bringing a friend along for the ride. But for some, it is a genuine attempt to breathe new life into a collection that either had a huge following, or deserved one.
When you combine this with the switch’s popularity as a port-able device then you can see why many studios see this as a no-brainer. With titles such as the Disney Classics bringing now 3 titles to the stage(Jungle Book will be paid DLC for those who already own it). There is clearly a market for nostalgia and it isn’t going away any time soon.
With this in mind, NIS America bring us “Prinny Presents.” A collection of games from the NIS back catalogue bundled into collections for fans. A great idea along similar lines to Disney’s classics, pick up one you know and maybe a new title, or relive two classics. This collection looks at two tactical RPGs, Phantom Brave and Soul Nomad.
Get to it Dood!
OK, so against my usual conviction of playing the game on the left hand first. I decided to do what I usually reserve for Pokemon games and play the “other” title first. Soul Nomad & The World Eaters was originally a PS2 title that has since been ported to the PSN. Unlike Phantom Brave, this title hasn’t had the privilege of a remaster treatment but with enough twists on the familiar formula, is it enough to warrant a more classic approach?
Our game opens up with a prologue. Over just short of 100 years the continent of Prodesto, aside from sounding like a pharmaceutical, had built, held, and lost a fragile peace. This was in no small part to the heroism of Lord Median and, after his death, the eventual rise of his daughter to the throne. 50 years of peace was abruptly brought to an end though with the arrival of Gig and the “World Eaters.”
800 years later and in the ruins of the word left behind our hero has come of age! Whilst undergoing their initiation ceremony, our hero is offered a black sword. Ominous in it’s appearance, the sword starts to throw insults and attitude that would make a punk rocker blush. Turns out Gig was sealed into the sword and wants to enact his revenge! In return, he will make you the most powerful being in existence. Worlds will tremble at your feet as you conquer Prodesto and then…. have your body devoured by darkness… What d’ya say?
Wielder of the Onyx Blade!
The game is almost divided into two parts. A Fire Emblem-esque battle system and a deep story where the player balances the need to defeat an opponent with the drive to keep Gig from taking over. Unless of course playing the evil story line is your jam in which case wield that onyx blade with all the force of a demon posessed. Which is funny because… well that’s what you’ve become!
The choice aspects don’t end there, though. From selecting your units, planning out your strategy for battle, and even interacting with NPCs and merchants. There is an element of choice that, at its time, was quite unique. The only time I’ve ever stolen from a store before this was in Link’s Awakening and I think we all know how that ends! As you traverse the world, those you choose to recruit form your armed units as you prepare to take on the World Eaters.
Combat itself is fairly self explanatory to anyone who’s ever played a more modern Fire Emblem game, although here is where the game sets it stall out as different from others by NIS. The balance of risk is more of a prominent threat when you are going to take damage from each encounter and is what helps the game still feel fun and relevant even 3 generations after its release.
It’s not the only bad ending
The biggest drawback to Soul Nomad is that it is showing its age. Whilst many will be happy with the PS2 art style and familiar sprite work of an NIS / Disgaea title, I wasn’t. The aspect ratio hasn’t been altered at all, making everything look incredibly blurred on larger screens. This is such an incredible shame as the animations and sprite work is clearly something that was worked on when it was first released. You just spend so much time thinking “what if?” and it takes you out of the experience at times.
I did however, enjoy the story and gameplay elements. Whilst I didn’t have time to explore alternate endings (I am far too stubborn and stuck to what I felt was “chaotic good.”), there is plenty of content here for the tactical JRPG fan if you consider the various endings and unlockable story elements. Experimenting with units and their combined abilities was also an interesting addition to the game.
The game as a whole controlled well, which feels a bit of a given in a tactics based game. There aren’t really any huge demands on the player for fast or precise controls. In fact, the desire is for the player to take their time and choose their moves carefully. Whilst the game itself played relatively well on the switch hardware. I encountered the game freezing a number of times when I chose the option to switch between titles, causing me to have to close the title and restart it every time. Not a great feature when you consider that very little has been done to the core game.
OK, Moving on
OK, so after resetting my Switch and making a rather strong coffee. Its time to look at the next title. Phantom Brave did at least have the benefit of a remaster before it came to Switch, but before we get too excited at that remake branding lets look again. This is a port of the remake released for the Nintendo Wii / PSP / PC back in 2009.
The plot of Phantom Brave is a little less dark that of Soul Nomads. You encounter a young girl called Marona who, following in her dead parent’s footsteps has become a kind of mercenary called a “Chroma”, but Marona isn’t your ordinary teenager with a tragic backstory who fights the evils of Goth… I mean the “land” of Ivoire. Marona is accompanied by your co-star, Ash, a phantom who has been brought back by Marona’s parent’s to act as her guardian angel.
Eventually, the evil that caused Marona’s parent’s death begins to show signs of revival. As our intrepid pair travel the world to meet their client’s needs they are building the experience, skills and equipment to make them a worthy opponent for the game’s antagonist, a being named Sulphur.
Don’t you mean Sulfur?
The gameplay is more similar to NIS’s usual titles and there are a lot of comparisons to be made to the Disgaea series here. The main focus is again, combat. This time there is no familiar grid based system similar to Fire Emblem, but movement is placed in a more “fluid” path based approach. Players take turns to plan out their moves this time also, which reduces the risk / reward balance a little as not every combat will have a counter attack.
Units are time limited to a degree. Marona can summon phantoms to objects on the battlefield. These will also have stats altered based on the objects the phantom is bound to. Phantoms don’t hang around forever, though, and once summoned, can’t be brought back that fight. There’s a lot less choosing how to fight and a lot more thinking what to fight with.
The combat itself took a lot of getting used to. This is certainly no user-friendly experience and felt at times a bit gimmicky and experimental. I also wasn’t much of a fan on the confine ability of Marona, which felt like a more complicated version of Atlus’ Persona / Demon mechanics. Add to this a hard-core learning curve involved and the outdated level of grinding and this is certainly a game for seasoned RPG fans.
So what about that remaster?
The remastered version looks a little better than Soul Nomad, that is fair to say. The background arts in cutscenes are great, but the sprites used in those cut scenes look like they are just stretched out from the in game assets. It’s disappointing when you see so much beautiful art being used to portray characters that I just wondered why so little was done to these titles. It’s a recurring theme.
There is some additional content from the original PS2 release, but nothing has been added since the Wii/PSP/PC release so if you’ve ever owned this title, you’re not getting anything you haven’t seen before.
The issue seen in Soul Nomad doesn’t seem to happen in Phantom Brave, though selecting switch game literally does that, no returning to the “main menu” but then as there isn’t anything IN the main menu, this isn’t much of an issue.
So.. final thoughts?
The games themselves have certainly got aspects that make them desirable to play. While I was working through them I could clearly see the redeeming qualities that made both titles prime candidates to port to the Switch. Soul Nomad has the added caveat of being a rare and difficult to pick up title, something that porting a game is a great solution for. When you also consider that both have interesting and captivating stories that make you want to grind, some may consider grinding a worthy pastime.
I also picked up on what are creative takes on what are now more established mechanics. I wondered if this was how it felt when the right control stick was first used in FPS titles. Mechanics being trialed early on in their history are obviously less user friendly than modern counterparts.
The biggest issue with both of these games is the sheer lack of any real modernisation or quality of life improvements. The games together run at almost the same price as a number of high profile more modern titles. Had the game had some work done to increase art assets or provide added value, I’d possibly have defended this more. Whilst I realise there are two games and one is much rarer. Helping players to have access to a title that they may be priced out of. I can’t help but feel this is a cash grab when compared to similar retro port offerings.
- Both games have captivating stories
- Great look at the evolution of more modern strategy RPGs
- Great opportunity to play a hard to obtain title
- Both games feel dated and would have benefited from QoL improvements
- Steep learning curve for unfamiliar game mechanics
- Hardcore difficulty necessitates grinding, which isn’t for everyone