It goes without saying that I’m a proponent of mobile gaming. Yes, a lot of games are no more than temporary diversions, sometimes deleted from my iPhone or iPad in less time than it took to download them. Some, on the other hand, stick around. I have a couple games that have been installed since the day Apple opened the App Store.
What’s rare is when a game is so engrossing that it replaces whatever I’ve got going on with the Wii U or 3DS at that time, but that’s exactly what has happened with Phantom of the Kill. Fire Emblem Fates and Bravely Second can wait, for now.
I’m not saying Phantom of the Kill is better. It’s newer, which helps, but it has a couple other things going for it, too. First, I can play it in short bursts. The turn-based battles can often be finished within five minutes, although some can take up to four times that long. And because the game is generous with the AP required to play a level (when you’re out of AP, you either have to wait until it automatically replenishes or buy more), it’s possible to play for an hour or more without having to sacrifice your precious lazuli, which I’ll cover in a bit.
Second, there’s just so much to do, with all of it being relevant to the task at hand. This is different from Fire Emblem Fates, which wastes a lot of its (and therefore your) time with visits to hot springs, outfitting costume accessories and (shudder) petting and blowing on faces. Phantom of the Kill—along with the main story—gives you copious bonus levels and special events for leveling up your characters and weapons, achieving bonus materials, acquiring rare characters and items, and more. Yet somehow none it becomes overwhelming or superfluous. Every time you log in, there’ll be something worthwhile to do, it’ll just depend upon your current goal.
The main action, of course, comes via Story Quest. The game takes place in Neo Tokyo in the year 2200, when it appears calling something New Tokyo is as clever as humanity can get. As you’d expect from a JRPG, there’s an apocalyptic battle involving gods and demons, with humans doing the dirty work. The story is delivered through static dialogue sequences and the occasional anime-style cut scene, all of which center around a bunch of very young, cool looking warriors yelling at each other about how to best save humanity. We’ll see if the story gets more interesting once as I get into the deeper chapters.
Battles take place on Fire Emblem style grids, albeit much smaller to facilitate the quick play gamers expect from mobile devices.
Weapon use will be familiar, too: swords are good against axes, axes are good against lances, and lances are good against swords. There are also guns, arrows and magic for ranged attacks, and making sure your properly equipped for the enemies ahead can be important if you’re not over-leveled (although it’s hard to not be over-leveled in story quest). The terrain can provide some bonuses and penalties, and attack elements come into play as well (fire, wind, water, etc.). You won’t know what enemies you’ll face until you go into battle, so being properly equipped may involve a second play-through. Even if you do win, a second play-through may be required to achieve all three level bonuses.
These bonuses keep things interesting by forcing you to use different characters. Your best party, for example, may have a mounted unit while the level requests that you win without any mounted units. Or with gun users only. Or with no healers or an average of level 10 or lower characters. Thankfully, acquiring and leveling up characters is very easy. Getting the rare, powerful units is difficult and can cost actual money, but setting up a diverse army is easy and free. And if you get new units you know you’ll never use, you can sell them or fuse them to power up the characters you do want.
You can do the same with weapons, but it’s a bit more annoying because you get so many that you’ll be constantly bumping up against your max arsenal. To clear it out, you either need to fuse them or sell them, and you’ll be doing this a lot. You can also spend lazuli to increase the number of weapons you can keep on hand, but this seems like a waste when you’re already not using most of the weapons you do have.
One other interesting thing about weapons is that you can lose them if you die on the battlefield. There is no Fire Emblem style permadeath for characters, but there’s a high chance an incapacitated character’s weapon will be damaged. The more you pay to repair it, the better chance the repair will work, but it never rises above 80%. The only way to guarantee you don’t lose the weapon is to offer up lazuli, and you won’t want to do that; there are just too many better ways to spend it.
The graphics in Phantom of the Kill are top notch, with subtle animations on the colorful battle depictions. The battle grids themselves are somewhat basic, and the characters depicted here lean to the cute side. Their illustrations, on the other hand, are very much about fan service.
Between their appearance and their effectiveness on the battlefield, you’ll quickly put together your go-to party. Just remember to not ignore everyone else, because there’ll be numerous times in the Story and Event Quests when you’ll be forced to rely on other units. I came across one event that wanted me to use only gunners, and none of my gunners were high enough in level or ranking to take on that battle.
Sadly, Phantom of the Kill is not a perfect gaming experience. Selecting characters on the battlefield without having them run all over the place is oddly difficult, the hit and critical chances seem way off at times, and you can’t seem to clear out gifts you’ll never use…I have way more keys than options to use them. The UI is sometimes messy, too, regarding what it shows you and what it doesn’t. One bonus event told me I could only use armored units, and finding took longer than it should have.
There are plenty more elements—good and troublesome—that could be discussed in this Phantom of the Kill review (I didn’t even get to coliseum battles, the shops and friends), but I’ll hold on to them for a tips guide I’ll be posting soon. Until then, understand that this is a fantastic strategy game that allows you to enjoy it in short and prolonged gaming sessions, to level up in fun and diverse ways, and to collect and assemble a wide array of warriors. The need to constantly rethink your strategies and assemble new teams keeps you engaged, and the developers are providing myriad (so far) reasons to do so via special events and incentives. And although you won’t need to spend money to progress in the game, Phantom of the Kill will make you want to, and that’s perhaps the highest praise I can offer a mobile game.
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Seller: Fuji&gumi Games
Requirements: iOS 7.0 or later
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
Price: Free (with in-app purchases)
Availability: Now at the iTunes App Store