A fear with any numbered release is the possibility of it containing information that requires the previous releases. Sometimes it’s a conceptual sequel, like Disgaea, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest do, and other times they’re inner connected in different ways. Nippon Ichi Software certainly found some luck with Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, leading to La Pucelle: Tactics and ultimately their runaway hit, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. While all these series would eventually become connected in some way, many of them are stuck in the past, with the most notable being Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome where we learn about Overlord Zetta. Still, these characters keep returning without a great understanding of who they are or why anyone should care. This is unfortunate, which lead to Nippon Ichi Software making Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1: Phantom Brave / Soul Nomad. This, ideally series, focuses more on bringing these forgotten titles forward but are they really worth revisiting?
While most players associate Nippon Ichi Software with Disgaea and things of the like, Phantom Brave is an extremely impactful tactical RPG. It was one of their first games to feature a more serious plot that has a more serious tone. Even though it doesn’t reach the same narrative heights of, say, Labyrinth of Refrain, it’s a powerful story all the same.
Phantom Brave begins with a group of heroes in a dire situation. With monsters coming at them from every direction, death seems assured. The scene ends with one of the heroes calling on their power for help, followed coldly by a time skip where you meet Marona and her protector Ash.
While that scene depicts Ash and Marona’s parents final moments, ultimately setting up Ash as her guardian, it plays out in a unique way. Instead of having Marona crushed by both her loss and being alienated for her unique ability to see and interact with phantoms, she is an energetic girl defined by her compassion for others. Most of the weight actually falls on Ash, who fears her naïve attitude will bring heartache and his ongoing efforts to protect her from the hateful nature of people. Both characters grow and evolve, leading to a climatic showdown at the end.
As for Soul Nomad, it’s much closer to what you’d expect from Disgaea. This adventure opens with a retelling of the worlds history. Essentially, there was peace, someone challenged that with these unstoppable creatures known as World Eaters. Various people elect to ally with the unstoppable force for fear of being crushed by them in the future. However, said force is defeated and the aforementioned World Eaters go to sleep.
A couple centuries later, the player character is given a sword for completing their training that contains Gig, the unstoppable force from the past. He attempts to take over your body, though unresolved problems make his attempt unsuccessful. Instead, you form an alliance with the arrogant Master of Death, ultimately working together to bring an end to the World Eaters.
Unlike other adventures, there is an alternate path that allows Gig to go on a rampage. This one allows different characters, has a cameo by Laharl and other neat things to explore.
Since both games are tactical RPGs, they play in a similar way, though their execution is completely different. In Phantom Brave, players are allowed to move over a 3D grid and attack foes within range. It allows for a more personalized experience, even if it plays out the same general way. Soul Nomad uses the standard grid, though implements the briefly popular side-by-side animation some older games feature. This means you’ll see both parties, focus will shift to one side and then the other. It can make things interesting, though it doesn’t change much in terms of execution.
Despite both games having untold hours of fun, grinding and a great look at how Laharl, Asagi, Baal and other more mainstay characters were in the past, it’s important to know Soul Nomad is a straight port.
Unlike Phantom Brave, which has seen multiple releases, enhancements and rereleases over the years, Soul Nomad is extremely dated. It’s still in 4:3, meaning you will see black bars on the sides and it’s missing a lot of refinement. It feels like a massive step back if played after Phantom Brave, due to it featuring later improvements and can simply be rough. It’s absolutely worth giving a try, but it is something to strongly consider.
Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1: Phantom Brave / Soul Nomad Review Verdict
For the money, Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1: Phantom Brave / Soul Nomad is a great deal. Phantom Brave is one of their best tactical RPGs and Soul Nomad has enough to justify the experience. It’s a shame the latter is a port over a remake but the gameplay itself is still decent by today’s standards and including Phantom Brave makes it easier to overlook.
[Editor’s Note: Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1: Phantom Brave / Soul Nomad was reviewed on Nintendo Switch and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.]