They usually say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I dare any of you to look at Phantomgate and remain indifferent to its visual flair, its artistic merits. Graphics aren’t everything, but this is a detail that often makes the difference between picking up a game or not.
That being said, there has to be more to a game has looks, and Phantomgate has that covered as well. This is a clever mobile game that features all the tried-and-tested core mechanics that we have seen in other games but lends it a priceless layer of polish and attention to detail. It’s this care that makes Phantomgate a game worth playing, even to those who are tired of monster collecting games.
At its core, Phantomgate threads familiar ground and this can be both good and bad. Most players will be able to learn its basics in a matter of minutes, but the downside is that there isn’t a groundbreaking feature when you get to the enhancing, leveling and evolving areas – you will probably get this strong feeling of déjà-vu, and comparisons will be inevitable to games such as Phantom Chaser.
But I must hand it to Netmarble, they poured their hearts into this game and it clearly shows. There is this inevitable Child of Light vibe to Phantomgate, both in the platform sections and the turn-based combat, so if you are a fan of Ubisoft’s magical tale, you will certainly enjoy your time in Phantomgate.
Realm of the Mad Odin
While Phantomgate offers plenty of distractions, the story mode will be your focus for most of the time. The story tells us about the Mad God Odin and his battle against Renata the Valkyrie, mother of Astrid, the main character in this game. You can only bring Renata back if you collect all her memory fragments, but to do so you need to face and purify dozens of erroneous phantoms, ultimately using them to battle by your side.
While Astrid will be your starting character, during the journey you get to meet and recruit four additional heroes: Tia, Bjorn, Ragna, and Olivia. You can only have one of these heroes as the team leader, each one providing a different kind of boost to the team – Bjorn, for example, increases all allies’ defense rating. The remaining three spots will be filled by the phantoms that you collect and summon.
The proper adventure begins when you choose one of the six chapters and the available stage from the world map. Each stage is broken into two or more sections and you can return to your headquarters in Phantomhein after each section or exit during the platforming parts. This is something that you will be doing often, as every little combat power boost, no matter how insignificant it may seem at first, will eventually mean all the difference when facing stronger opponents, and more specifically the region boss. Fenrir, the huge wolf boss of the second chapter, gave me quite a hard time until I was finally able to defeat him.
Before you get into the actual fighting, Phantomgate tasks you with some simple but charming platformer action. Running around, jumping and sometimes flying with the Valkyrie wings power-up, you have to accept quests from friends, defeat the monsters that get in the way and collect a mandatory number of Phantom Souls – these purple shards help you level up your phantoms, but they will never be able to reach a level above the team leader (Astrid at first, but later on I decided to stick with Tia).
Fulfilling these conditions is the only way that you can fully complete the zones, even though you are free to exit them without doing so, to return at a later time. There are a few puzzles along the way as well, some of them involving guiding sunlight with the help of mirrors or using levers to open passages.
These areas are relatively small and never outstayed their welcome. You can complete most of them in a breeze, and even if you need a break or get stuck in some puzzle, you can always exit and venture into other distractions, including PvP or evolving your phantoms.
A Deeply Rewarding Combat System
Phantomgate’s combat system was a pleasant surprise. As you surely know by now, there are hundreds of games that barely give you any control whatsoever over your characters, with everything automated except for the occasional skill activation. Obviously, these are games where every player is channeled to the cash shop, as there is very little in the way of skill and a lot in what pay-to-win barriers are concerned.
But with Phantomgate, there is actual skill involved in these battles. As your team faces the enemy, several systems come into play and work in tandem to create a rewarding, clever battle system. One of the most common is the Elemental Affinities system, with the interaction between Earth, Wind, Fire and Water elements affecting the amount of damage that you deal – a yellow arrow will tell you which characters are affected by your element.
The mobility meter plays a vital role in battle. Not only it shows the attack order of every fighter, it can also be affected by bonuses that alter the current order. For example, a character hit with mobility increase or reduction will see his attack turn change, effectively altering the entire battle plan in the blink of an eye.
These bonuses come floating from above in blue or red bubbles; the former are buffs to use with your team members, while the latter are debuffs to hit your enemies with. You can get attack, mana, and mobility increase, the extremely useful immunity, stun (loses one turn) and confusion (unable to pick a target). There are a few more to choose from and using these with perfect timing is of utmost importance – for example, using mobility decrease right when that powerful enemy is about to get his turn is a highly recommended move.
Obviously, you must pick your skills correctly to win the battles. Phantoms have three skills each, while the party leader can have four skills to choose from. Some will focus a single attack on one enemy, others will provide defensive boosts, distribute the attack rating through all the enemies, or reduce mana cost for all allies. It is highly recommended that you micro-manage most battles, unless you are confident that the auto-combat system will be able to manage things (you can speed it up as well), something that is suited for grinding Essence to enhance your phantoms.
‘Gacha’ Catch’Em All
A large part of Phantomgate is devoted to summoning Phantoms and evolving them. For this, you need to find their Essence through the regular means – fighting – or use gold to summon Phantom Essence and items. This is the ‘Gacha’ part of the game and you probably know already how random it all can be, so be prepared for a lot of ‘aw, I didn’t get what I wanted!’
However, don’t fret; you can also earn the necessary Essence through grinding. Going back to previous stages will reward you with the items that you need, and you can use those auto-clear tickets if you can’t be bothered to enter the battle.
Of course, if you want to get those powerful characters in a hurry, you need to go for Premium Summon, which uses gems instead of gold. These gems aren’t so easy to get by – you can get them by completing achievements, for example – so it’s okay if you feel tempted to buy some from the in-game store.
There is so much to do in Phantomgate that you won’t ever feel like you’re stuck in a dead-end. Daily missions will provide you with additional rewards, the Corridor of Memories will test your might through five rounds of battling, and the Arena is where PvP happens. There is actual player-versus-player going on, not that usual asynchronous farce that many mobile games try to pass as multiplayer. There is a timer for each turn, so if one player fails to act before it ends, the match progresses as the turn moves to the next character in the line. Matchmaking can be a bit fickle – a few times my ranking was slightly above my rival, while in other matches I was clearly the weakest link and no tactical genius would ever win that battle. But it paired me perfectly most of the time and I was always having fun, which is what mattered to me in the end.
Phantomgate doesn’t hold back when it comes to keeping you entertained. You have the relaxing, interesting platforming sections that alternate with the frantic tactical battles. Each one of these pieces have its own virtues, never outstaying its welcome and offering enough depth to keep players engaged while having fun. I was never frustrated or disoriented with any puzzle, although it could use a little more variety to spice things up.
PvP will eventually turn out to be the big draw for players in the long run, but even this mode deserved a lot of attention from the developers. It will take a long time – or money – to get the most powerful creatures, so it’s a good thing that the gameplay is engaging. The story is simple yet charming, providing the necessary context for the fun gameplay, with a few cutscenes detailing the most significant events.
There isn’t anything remotely new or original in Phantomgate. The platform puzzle elements and the battle system have been seen before and are far from revolutionary – it’s impossible not to compare this game to Ubisoft’s Child of Light. Despite the similarities, this is the good kind of inspiration and Phantomgate succeeds in being its own game, managing to escape any further criticism on this aspect.
Learning Curve: 7/10
There is a lot to see and do in Phantomgate, but the first hour should teach you the basics, in case you aren’t familiar with monster collecting games. You may feel a bit lost at first if this is your first attempt at a game in this genre, with all the summoning, leveling, enhancing and evolving possibly feeling overwhelming. An ingenious tutorial and invaluable tips will make sure that you’re up to speed in no time.
Graphics / Sound: 9/10
Phantomgate truly shines in this department. This is a stunning game with an accomplished art style, silky smooth character animation, and gorgeous backdrops. There is this angular-but-not-quite flamboyance to the whole thing that gives it a charming and unique identity. The creature design ranges from average to fantastic, and even the smaller, earlier creatures can be as cute as a button (I’m talking about you, Mini-Ming).
Music is quite good, overall, starting with the almost ethereal sounds from the title track. When in battle, the rhythm becomes heavier, faster, but always with top-notch quality. Voice acting is beyond any reproach, with voices that seem to have been handpicked for each character.
Value for Money: 8/10
As a free-to-play game, this will depend on your long-term goals for Phantomgate. I had a blast playing it for hours without the need to spend any cash to have fun. But if you are the competitive type and want to stick with this game for several months, you’ll probably want to invest some cash in Premium Summons or browse the several packages that the store has on offer. This is the best way to stay relevant in PvP and, let’s be honest, Phantomgate deserves some of your hard-earned cash now and then.
In a day and age when you can’t get into an app store without getting bombarded with monster collecting games, Phantomgate turns out to be one of the best. Netmarble knew that they had to come up with something appealing, something catchy that would immediately stand out from the crowd. While the core mechanics may seem familiar, a lot of thought and attention clearly went into making sure that Phantomgate wasn’t just another empty shell of a game. There is an inherent grinding feel to the genre, but when it looks and sounds as good as this one, it is so much easier to bear.
Oh, that just reminded me that I need to evolve my Beta Warbear as soon as possible! I just love this fella and his rocking Earth Tremble attack.
• Your eyes and ears will thank you for playing this
• Real-time PvP will suck the hours away
• Tons of content and modes
• The unavoidable grind
• Gacha system can be frustrating