The game opens up with some barely legal girls fighting one another over another barely legal girl being kidnapped by a shadowy man with glowing eyes. Trying to free her only results in being ambushed by cyborg, kitty men, G-Man with a laser golf club and giant men in football jackets; the punchline here is Japan.
Phantom Breaker is an ongoing series that has seen many multi-platform releases worldwide. Battle Grounds comes from Masatoshi Imaizumi and Masaki Ukyo, whose work features Full Metal Force, Panzer Bandit and Mad Stalker, amongst other titles.
Keeping in mind the impressive build-up for the Phantom Breaker series, how exactly does the PC release fare?
The art has been done by Hiro Suzuhira, an artist noted for other projects like Yosuga no Sora, Ritual, Shuffle! And Marriage Royale. Her style lends a very classic and familiar anime feel to the overall atmosphere of the game and it is very pleasant to look at. The overall graphic appeal to the game has translated quite nicely and it does look and feel like an arcade game brought to Steam. It reminded me especially of the Melty Blood series, but with a much friendlier, cartoonish style and much crisper colors. Not bad at all when dealing with the crazed pacing and setting of Japan.
Arcade adaptions have a deciding factor when it comes to translations or remakes, which is, quite literally, how they handle. Fighting games demand tight, responsive controls, and Phantom Breaker only has one issue with this. Unfortunately, it really falls to some unusual key bindings, considering none of the instructions correlate to the actual button for the command. Giving it some leeway, through trial and error, I managed to figure out the commands and head into the story mode to take it for a test drive. Once I had the locations pinned down, the controls proved to respond on the turn of a dime. Oddly enough, it felt similar to Double Dragon, even if it was one temple priestess with a massive claymore.
Combat is really fun in Battle Grounds. The pacing and enemy variations as the story progresses keep up the challenge and introduce numerous things for the player to keep an eye on and the occasional super mode for the leading character. In a few rounds, I found myself reasonably challenged on normal mode. The more difficult settings were not as kind, however. Players had best hope their fingers have no joints if they want to bang keys fast enough to fight through the hordes of strange enemies.
The boss fights are nothing to laugh at, either. They follow the same rhythm of increasing difficulty and some of the designs are just spot on. Compared to the cutesy feel of everything else, they come across as especially gritty and even threatening. Not an easy task for a game that forces you to fight dancing kitty men with robot ears, mind.
The only real downside to the title is that the gameplay can start to become a little stale and repetitive. This won’t be a problem for fans of arcade or fighting games in general, but for newcomers to either the series or the genres in question, it might take a bit of getting used to – especially when your hands begin to beg for a quick, honorable death. While that is pretty much forgivable, the dialogue is absolutely painful at times. The characters succumb to the traditional anime trope of long-winded, overly dramatic exchanges that not only go on forever but are not always properly translated well. While it’s not Zero Wing bad, it can be a bit cringeworthy while you’re forced to sit through Anime Dialogue Cliché 101, see “You’d best not underestimate me” and unnecessarily cut-off sentences.
For fans of anime, Japanese gaming or the series as a whole, this probably will be another brush-off. Personally, however, I was tapping keys as fast as I could to get back to the fighting. Acquired taste, perhaps, but most of us left our tolerance back in the Dragon Ball Z days before GT could break us forever.
Overall, Battle Grounds is what a good arcade-style fighting game should be: quick, fun, responsive and awesome to look at. It’s a great edition to the Phantom Breaker series and something I plan to return to when my hands disobey me and must be punished. In a nutshell: solid, bizarre fun; from Japan, with love.