Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is spin-off title that features beat-‘em-up styled combat with chibi versions of the Phantom Breaker cast of characters. Developed by Division2, Battle Grounds is a relatively fun action game that adds more in depth combat when compared to other beat-‘em-up titles.
The original Phantom Breaker was a fast-paced 2D fighting game, and Battle Grounds reflects on the roots of the series very well. Rather than being a button masher the combat is actually pretty in depth, and features a combo system, guarding and countering, and different styles of attack for the numerous enemies in the game. While Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds shakes up the combat for the beat-‘em-up genre, repetitive enemies, a lack of a cohesive story, and glitches throughout the experience keep the title from being great. The game is priced pretty well on the PlayStation Network however, so taking the plunge won’t really set you back all that much.
When I first booted up Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds, I was a little hesitant when I witnessed the graphical art style of the title. These days so many companies, particularly Independent studios, are over utilizing the retro art style within their games. When it first began happening I was pretty accepting of the throwback approach that smaller studios were taking, but these days it feels too forced with most titles. Battle Grounds does indeed use this retro art style, but it also uses the chibi style for the Phantom Breaker characters. For those not familiar with that style, it basically shrinks the characters down giving them a small body, but the characters end up having a larger head by comparison. It has a sort of “cute” approach to the characters. The sprites were pretty pixelated especially when the game would zoom in on the characters. Once I saw the flow of the combat in action however, I began to like the way the game presented itself. The title runs very smoothly on the Vita which helps with the gameplay considering there can be a ton of enemies on screen at any given time, and combos can end up with hundreds of hits.
One of the major reasons Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is so fun to play and such a pleasure to look it in motion is the usage of the foreground and background when fighting. Pressing the L buttons allows for your character to jump between the two planes and dodge the enemies residing in them. This heats up the combat because some enemies are absolutely ruthless with their attacks. Just about any ranged enemy doesn’t play around in the game, and if there are multiple copies of that enemy on screen, you must carefully navigate the planes while timing your dodges to close the distance. Pressing the R button enables a special ability to be used which fires energy balls and lightning at enemies. There is a bar that fills up with energy during the fights and maxing it out allows for a powerful attack that hits almost every enemy on screen. This ability is crucial when there are tons of tough enemies on screen at the same time. The energy released from the attack acts as an interrupt to enemy attacks so the player will have time to close the gap and finish the enemies off.
Considering that Phantom Breaker was originally a 2D fighting title, you can really feel how that style of gameplay has translated into the beat-‘em-up spin-off title. Older games in the genre like the Ninja Turtles series or Streets of Rage were pretty simple when it came to combat. There was a throw, some attacks, a jump button, and a power ability. Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds feels like a fighting game at times, but instead of focusing on a single enemy the screen is filled with combatants. There is also a leveling and point system in Battle Grounds which can be really addicting. Defeating enemies drops coins and jewels upon their deaths, and collecting them was immediately satisfying. At the end of every stage your score is calculated and the character can level up allowing for some light role-playing elements. Attack, defense, and speed can all be upgraded as the character levels up, and you can also upgrade and unlock combos and abilities. It’s not enough to classify it as a role-playing game, but it does enough to keep players coming back for more.
I was slightly disappointed when I experienced a couple of game breaking glitches in Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds. Both times the glitch occurred I had to close out of the application entirely, losing the progress of the stage I was playing. During a boss fight I had somehow gotten stuck between two other characters and the animation for landing was no longer registering. My character floated there while the music continued, but I couldn’t control any aspect of my character or the game itself. It was a shame for this to happen, but the way the save system is structured helped prevent anything major that would have ruined my experience with the title.
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a reasonably priced title that is good for pick up and play sessions. The combat system is combo heavy and the leveling and scoring systems are pretty addicting. Outside of those aspects of the title though glitches and an entirely forgettable story drop Battle Grounds into the middle of a really crowded pack of available alternatives.