In the beginning, gods and demons created the world,
and all life was born from the great tree Yggdrasil.
Neo Tokyo, the year 2200–
The great tree Yggdrasil rises through the scarlet clouds that engulf the land.
In a world controlled by demons, mankind continues to fight back with the aid of the Ancient Arms, legendary weapons bestowed upon them by the gods.
A world where all species fight against each other, the only “law” is for the fittest to survive, and mankind is on the verge of extinction.
A few weeks ago, I reported on Phantom of the Kill‘s crossover event with the globally popular anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Being a fan of strategy games, anime (including Madoka), and Knightess-type characters like Tyr-chan (more on that in a moment), I decided to download the game and give it a go. Fans of Fire Emblem-style gameplay will be pleased, but those with shorter attention spans are advised to look elsewhere for their gaming fix.
Strategy meets Drama
The player acts through the Ragnarok Institute, the creators of the Killer Princes and Killer Princesses. The good scientists at the Institute decided blasphemy trumped extinction, and experimented with various heinous methods to create weapons able to fight back against the demons. The result? Men infused with beast blood and the essences of legendary weapons became Killer Princes, unstable weapons of mass destruction. Their female counterparts, however, only needed the legendary weapon essence to become Killer Princesses.
The story campaign is fairly long, clocking in at over 120 missions at this point, but I have not yet finished it myself. The chief representatives of the Ragnarok Institute are Valyn, the chocolate-addicted scientist behind the Killer Princes, Zero, the first success of the project, and Tyrfing, a charming Knightess who also appears in the logo. Given the post-apocalyptic state of the world, not only are demons on the loose, but Killer Princes have gone rogue, doing as they will. It distinctly samples the Shin Megami Tensei mix of urban fantasy and science fiction, with humanity at war with demons and itself.
The Madoka crossover event that got my attention also deserves mention. The scenario crafted makes perfect sense within the context of the rules of Madoka’s universe, and involves a witch powerful enough to destroy both worlds, and the efforts by both magical girls and Killer Princesses to prevent the bad ending. It’s well done, with care for everyone to be in character, including Sayaka gifting Tyrfing with the nickname of Tyr-chan, much to the pink-haired Knightess’ consternation. It was also where I discovered an unexpected twist: Killer Princesses are not exactly unique, as they are pitted against their Imitation. In between saving two worlds, the event asks a pointed question: Are you still you if your Imitation assumes all your memories?
Fire Emblem Neo Tokyo
The gameplay is familiar to anyone who has played a tactical RPG, particularly one from the Fire Emblem series. A grid is overlaid on a battlefield, with different terrain providing bonuses or penalties as appropriate for the unit type. The player moves his limited force across the field to engage the enemy, who often outguns the half-dozen or so warriors at the player’s command. There is a rock-paper-scissor element in regards to weapon strengths and weaknesses, with additional complications from element and unit type requiring the player to consider tactics carefully. The game is not above spawning enemy reinforcements to ruin a strategy, so the player is advised to battle carefully.
Speaking of unit types, the game has infantry, cavalry, aerial units who ride dragons phoenixes, armored units, gunners, archers, and mages. Units grow via experience gained in battle, and many of them can be evolved into stronger versions of themselves. Weapons also gain experience, as do the units who wield them, so a Level E swordsman can eventually grind enough to be a Level A swordsman able to wield maximum level gear. Similar to the reclass system in Fire Emblem, the same character can have different incarnations, but none of the units is able to change between classes. Units can be fused with other units for stat and skill boosts, and units of the same kind can be fused to raise the original’s level limit.
In addition to the standard gameplay, Phantom of the Kill includes a mechanic where units that fight alongside each other grow in friendship. As their bond grows, the units gain bonuses when they fight together that make their partnership more dangerous to the enemy. The Madoka event introduced Partner Skills, where two characters with maxed friendship have a special attack.
It is also possible to borrow someone else’s leader character and use them on the field. This has often proven to save my arse, as the enemies are viciously tough and require a great deal of raw power to put down. A substantial amount of my progress has been derived thanks to another player’s power, specifically Selena, who wins the AFKer Award For Social Gaming Salvation.
Nitpick: movement is controlled with touch. Touch can also alter the camera depth and position. It is not unusual for my movement to change the camera angle. Otherwise, units more or less go where I want them.
Critical Attack: Technical Details
Phantom of the Kill is a beautiful glutton, but a glutton nonetheless. Once fully installed, it comes in at a whopping 1.20 GB. My Galaxy S4 may as well wheeze as I play, as the game demands quite a lot of processing power, to the point where I need to pop off the case to give my phone a chance to cool off a little. It also greedily consumes battery, as one mission can knock out 10-15% of your charge! There are plenty of loading screens as well, which isn’t surprising given how big it is and how much action it packs in.
Admittedly, there’s quite a lot for that 1.20 GB on your 16GB phone. The battle graphics are similar to those in Fire Emblem: Awakening, a semi-super deformed style that looks quite good. Voice (in Japanese) is everywhere: your leading character will greet you when you arrive at the main menu screen, with their responses fitting their personalities and changing with the time of day. Your characters will speak to you when you examine them in the unit submenu. They will boast after defeating an enemy, call out the name of a special act, and declare a determination to kill when they hit with a critical.
There are character quests for 5-star units, which allow players to learn more about their personalities and gain special abilities for an added edge in combat. There are vast compendiums in the game archive, allowing players to rewatch cinematic moments, analyze their collection of units and gear, challenge other player teams to the Colosseum, and even adjust their title for other players to see.
However, the gacha system is anything but complimentary. Lazuli, the in-game unit pulling currency, is in fiendishly low supply, so even the “gimme” new player campaign is difficult to benefit from, as to get the most of it, players need a total of 90 lazuli, at a time when getting 40 is an accomplishment. Lazuli-acquired units range from 3 to 5 stars, but there is no “guaranteed 5 star” mechanic. To elaborate, there is something called a five-step recruiter, which guarantees a 4 star unit or better on the fourth and fifth pull, which rounds out to over $70 for not even top units. In addition, only characters of the same unit receive limit breaks, so players are encouraged to gamble for the chance to get more units to strengthen their existing ones. It is ruthlessly designed to part whales from their money.
The production values for Phantom of the Kill are fantastic, far above any comparable mobile RPGs I have seen, including its newest competitor, Fire Emblem Heroes. This lends the characters a certain charm and helps you to become attached to them. The combat is familiar to any tactical RPG veteran, and the friendship mechanic can certainly save you from defeat. The gacha mechanic is ruthlessly predatory and will demand that casual players be careful with their resources in order to succeed. It’s absolutely fun and the grinding is not too difficult, as the game is generous with stamina. It’s certainly enjoyable and I have become enough of a fan of the game to play it daily, but it would have been better served if it had been developed as a 3DS title.