I have always been fascinated by tactical RPGs. Growing up as a kid of the 90s, I spent many hours on games like Shining Force, Vandal Hearts, and Final Fantasy Tactics. To my knowledge, Phantom Tactics is the only playable tactical RPG for the OHRRPGCE. Over the years I remember seeing a couple of tech demos for other OHR Tactical RPGs, but I can’t recall if any of them ever actually developed into anything. Regardless, the now two year old demo of Phantom Tactics does a lot of things right.
Although the demo is a bit short (about an hour worth of play time), it is sweet and boasts a high amount of polish. Chapter One sets up the story around the main character and prince of Naberia, Janus. He has been away from his kingdom for three years due to a terrible incident at sea that led him astray. Janus finally makes it back to Naberia and eventually discovers events that have taken place since his departure.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that he’s not accepted back home with open arms. To be honest, Phantom Tactics is definitely more combat-driven and worries less about the actual story. However, the content that is there is believable and intriguing. Kudos to the authors for that as I’m sure pulling off such an effect given the length and type of the game was probably a challenge.
In the beginning, some people may think that Phantom Tactics’ combat is a little shallow; compared to popular commercial tactical games at least. I think what they have accomplished here is both fantastic and unique. You don’t have an impressive spread of action commands at your disposal like you would in games like Final Fantasy Tactics. Instead, you simply move a friendly unit next to an enemy unit to initiate a battle. If you put ally units adjacent to other ally units, they help attack and defend the opposing units. In addition, each unit has a special ability that can either help the individual unit or further help a group of units. In a nutshell, I feel like Phantom Tactics cuts the fat that sometimes drags out the combat in other Tactical RPGs. In return, it brings you fast-paced, strategic encounters.
Your objective isn’t always to just defeat all the enemies on the map. In some areas, you will need to protect certain units. Other maps will actually have you retreating to a specific point on the map while defending yourself along the way. In addition, enemy units can have some pretty unique abilities (the skeleton reanimation on death comes to mind) which makes for a refreshing experience on every new board.
While I haven’t been a huge fan of Twinhamster’s technique for hero sprites in the past, I think that his style is a perfect fit here. Both the hero and enemy sprites are colorful and animated well. On the other hand, I feel like a lesser amount of detail was used in creating the maptiles (and to a lesser extent, the map design itself). The first few maps especially stick out in my mind as looking similar and bland. Some additional props would go a long way into making the maps come alive.
Despite a couple of very minor imperfections, I feel like Phantom Tactics is a true OHRRPGCE gem. I’m really ashamed that I did not give it a shot before now. I’m not sure whether the authors have any plans to continue updates for the game, but I really hope that they do. Phantom Tactics is a great game overall and could be considered fun even to those who aren’t big on strategy games. The fact that it is simple enough for anyone to pick up and play yet enough strategy there to satisfy tactical veterans is enough to make any gamer happy.