Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1: Phantom Brave / Soul Nomad
NIS Games From The 00s Return On The Switch
Nippon Ichi Software, known among its fans as NIS, is a long-time studio known for developing and publishing RPG classics for over twenty years. This is celebrated with the NIS Classics Volume 1 collection on the Switch. While its first title released in the US was 1998’s Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, the NIS as its Western audience would know it as wouldn’t kick off until 2003’s Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. It was due to the unexpected popularity of Disgaea with the Western market that NIS decided to port some of their other titles to English, including 2002’s La Pucelle Tactics which was released a year later in the US in 2004.
While many sequels and ports of Disgaea followed suit, NIS released many similar RPGs throughout the rest of the 2000s and into the 2010s, a majority of which remained in the PS2 era. The NIS Classics compilation seeks to remedy that issue by porting several of NIS’s iconic games to the Switch, opening up many doors for interested fans who wish to take a trip down memory lane.
The first game Phantom Brave is one of the more notable titles from the NIS catalog, released on both the PS2, PSP, and is quite a common game to find. The second, Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, was only released on the PS2. What’s worse is that it was released very late into the PS2’s lifespan in 2007, long after the PS3’s launch.
With players having the chance to experience two solid RPG titles, “Volume 1” indicates that more compilations are on the horizon, which features both Japan-exclusive games and PS2 exclusive titles. While earlier mentioned games such as La Pucelle and Rhapsody are up for discussion, there are other games including those exclusive to the PSP that can make their appearance.
NIS Classics Volume 1: Phantom Brave
Everything that I’ve said in the introduction was before I’ve inserted the game in the cartridge, much less opened the deluxe edition set, for I was actually excited to see what Phantom Brave would look like on the Switch. Unfortunately, it’s very “hit and miss” and the 17-year-old game shows its age in the worst way at times.
After an awkward blank screen loading sequence in which I thought the Switch froze on me, the player gets treated to a menu with several modes including the Wii and PSP exclusive “Another Marona” bonus chapter. The Hermuda Triangle caption of Phantom Brave indicates that this is based on the complete edition that the PSP version featured, leaving players with a wealth of content. Upon starting up the game, the player is immediately introduced to a jarring dissonance between its 3D backgrounds and 2D sprites.
You, The Protagonist, Is Dead (And That’s Okay)
Now, this game was released in 2004 and was ported to several consoles, with the game receiving an “HD Remaster” on PC a few years ago. Since its original release in 2004, 17 years is a long time for NIS to at least enhance the sprites so it wouldn’t clash with the upscaled environments. Unfortunately, very little work was done within the span of time to ensure this wasn’t the case.
In the opening cutscene alone, enlarged sprites zoomed in to the point of pixels are shown which immediately contrasts the upscaled resolution of a dark forest. The background, including the pavement in which the sprites walk upon, are all 3D and for the most part, they look amazing. This is evident when the player accesses Marona’s house for the first time, as the colorful sandy beaches appear well on the Switch console. Zoomed out, the sprites aren’t as clashing with the environment, mainly because the sprites are scaled to a reasonable size. Unfortunately, up close in cutscenes it becomes an elephant in the room.
Your Little Sister Is The Actual Protagonist In Phantom Brave
The gameplay is equal parts confusing yet satisfying once the player gets the hang of combat as it is vastly different from Disgaea or other tactical RPGs for that matter. The player controls Marona directly in combat as the only unit available in each fight. To have more units fight alongside Marona, the player will need to use her “Confine” ability, which takes items on the map and “confines” phantoms to an item, manifesting them. Depending on the type of item, a phantom will summon with altered stats meaning a rock will give an increase in attack and defense in lieu of speed for example.
The kicker is that a phantom can only be confined for a limited amount of turns, which varies for each phantom. When their time is up, they cannot be summoned again for the rest of the fight, placing each battle on a soft time limit until Marona is forced to fight on her own. She begins the game relatively defenseless, but equip a weapon on her and after some levels, she can fend for herself. Having active phantoms can turn a dire situation into a manageable one.
Bind Your Most Hated Enemies To A Tree And Whack ‘Em!
The added strategy on managing your allied units on top of your enemies serves as a divide between players who are used to Disgaea’s advantageous strategies and those who are looking for a challenge. Phantom Brave is not an easy game to get into as failure to follow these mechanics will make even early fights difficult, if not interesting. The camera and sense of targeting is also finicky as there was a humorous moment where I thought I was attacking the enemy only to attack, and knock out, my ally instead.
Overall the first few fights are enough to understand how Phantom Brave works and similar elements to Disgaea including map progression and defeating enemies to turn into allies take its place here. Ignoring the graphics, the gameplay is quite fun when your units attacks actually do something to the opponent. While this game isn’t my cup of tea as far as first impressions, it has its fanbase that has stuck with the game despite its difficult origins. Any game where you can utilize a tree and whack an opponent with the said tree is at least worth a try in my eyes.
NIS Classics Volume 1: Soul Nomad & the World Eaters
Of the two, Soul Nomad is the recent and most obscure title, only released on the PS2 late during its lifespan in 2007. Since its original release, aside from a Japan-only PSN release, Soul Nomad & the World Eaters finally gets a release on the Switch and PC, both as part of the NIS Classics Volume 1 compilation and a standalone title in regards to the latter. The game has elements of Disgaea more than Phantom Brave does, specifically in terms of its story and setting.
The protagonist, Revya, is tasked with retrieving an Onyx Sword that is revealed to house the spirit of an evil overlord named Gig. The power of the overlord trapped in the sword must be utilized in order to save the world from fearful deities known as the World Eaters. Unfortunately, Gig is as egotistical as he is pissed off at the fact that he’s been regulated to a mere sword and taunts the player, stating that he can control their body and grant them powers beyond their dreams if they wish.
Soul Nomad Offers Two Campaigns (The Second An Obvious Hidden One)
In my first take, I defaulted to not allowing the obvious-evil-deceiving-overlord-trapped-in-a-sword to take over my body as I’ve watched enough anime and played enough JRPGs to know that this is a bad idea. What I did not know is that this very decision splits the game into two stories. If the player allows Gig to take over their body, then the game shifts to the protagonist becoming the villain, unable to control the influence within them and forced to fight against their former allies.
The graphics have the same issues as Phantom Brave did, but the lack of a 16:9 mode meant that this game felt more like a direct port of the PS2 version rather than the remastered treatment that the former received. While it’s a nice gesture that players are able to play a game that has been dormant for over fourteen years, it still shows laziness that the sprites are this hideous. The main menu screen alone made me think that I was playing a Game Boy Advance title and that’s how jagged the sprites were at first glance.
Soul Nomad Is Far Easier To Grasp Than Phantom Brave
The gameplay has the player control units of four, with the leader representing the unit moving around the map. As the unit engages in combat with other units, they will attack accordingly, while the opposing force will launch a counterattack. The whole “give-and-go” between the attacking units, with the screen cut-outs and all, gave me an Advanced Wars feel to it which is unique to NIS titles. Usually, the player would control each unit individually but here it’s one unit representing an entire party.
Compared to Phantom Brave, the mechanics are very easy to get into and strategy involves placing units and having the right ones for the job. The party I used revolved around a healer who manned the rear, with a mage in the middle, and my melee attackers in the front. This ensured that the fragile healer would be protected by the frontlines as they topped my party off with full health. The replacement of mana with stamina also ensures that I never had to worry if I would have enough to heal by the end of a skirmish, even though this meant the same for my opponent.
You Can Doom The World For A Drop Of Power
Due to the nature of the game, with Revya fighting for control over Gig, who wants no part of negotiations, an early bad ending is possible should the player allow Gig to help them eliminate a World Eater. In an unwinnable fight, Gig proposes that he can save Revya from death though they would have to pay the ultimate price in doing so, which would be their body. Should the player accept, which is indicated by a “skull and crossbones” that states this will lead to a “Bad End,” Gig does make true to his word. He allows Revya to destroy the World Eater, but in exchange he completely takes over, decimating the world in the process.
In an hour, I “completed” the game as NIS titles consider “bad ends” as a “game completion.” I couldn’t be any happier that I was able to receive an ending live for a video recording.
NIS Classics Volume 1: Conclusion
The overarching problems between the two ports and what prevents this collection from being a “must buy” are the dated graphics, with little in the way of enhancing them, and the absurdly long loading screens between the titles. Fortunately, as what seems to be the case with NIS games, graphics don’t make the games but rather the gameplay and its characters. This is what I can say for both Phantom Brave and Soul Nomad as well as the original Disgaea.
I’ve sunk hundreds of hours on the DS version of the latter, which is often considered the “inferior” port, based on graphics and quality, yet the gameplay was fun for me. For others who like to see large numbers appear on the screen at once, these two titles bundled in one package will be more than enough to sate the hunger of the Tactical RPG fan. That is if one can overlook the glaring flaws the compilation has.
Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1: Phantom Brave / Soul Nomad is now available on the Nintendo Switch.