Sometimes a company just finds a series or formula that works for them. After throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall, eventually, something sticks, and the other games have a tendency to get forgotten about while the devs move on to focus on their new baby. That’s the case with NIS, who is most famous as a developer for creating the much-beloved Disgaea series of tactical RPGs. The games that aren’t Disgaea don’t get talked about too much, which probably explains why NIS decided to re-release a couple of them together in the Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1 collection. But are these games hidden gems or rightfully forgotten trash? There’s only one way to find out.
The games included in Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1 are Phantom Brave and Soul Nomad & The World Eaters. Both of these games are strategy RPGs, and Phantom Brave bears a lot of similarities when it comes to character design and visual design to the now-famous Disgaea series. Meanwhile, Soul Nomad has its own distinct style but bears a lot of similarities to Disgaea in terms of gameplay. Since both of these games came in the early days of Disdgaea’s rise to success, it almost feels like both of these titles were attempts to branch out the formula a little, and they both succeed in different ways.
Of the two, Soul Nomad feels the more simple when it comes to understanding gameplay. You have units made up of several characters that move around the battlefield and face off against the enemy units in little Advance Wars-type sequences. It’s your standard strategy RPG affair. Units have stats that improve over time, you move around a grid-based map, the terrain can give you bonuses or debuffs depending on your placement, etc. Getting the hang of the combat here feels pretty easy, and there’s a nice variety of different win conditions depending on the narrative of the battle.
With Phantom Brave, things are a bit more tricky to grasp, but not by all that much. You have two named characters, but everyone else is a phantom (there’s your title) that you have to summon. Each of these phantoms has its own special abilities and attacks which unlock and increase in power as they gain experience. Some of these abilities are utility, such as escaping from dungeons, while others are straight-up giant fireballs and the like. The weirdest part of the actual combat system is that it relies on you transforming and picking up objects as part of an everyday battle situation. <
For instance, when you first get into every single fight, the only character you have on the field is your rather physically weak main character. To survive and win in a battle, you have to use her to manifest your team of phantoms into nearby objects. Each object gives different bonuses and debuffs to each stat, and other objects and enemies can also apply special effects to these objects. You also have to be aware that when you summon a phantom, they’re only around for a certain number of turns before they disappear, so you need to make sure you don’t just summon everyone on turn one and then run out of juice before you complete the objective.
That’s what I meant what I said Phantom Brave was harder to understand from the outset when compared to Soul Nomad. Rather than just jumping into a battle and immediately knowing what’s going on, you have to pick up these new mechanics from numerous tutorial battles. It’s not super hard or anything in a technical sense, but there’s a lot to keep in mind, and this game is from an era before autosave was a thing, so if you’ve become complacent thanks to modern gaming, it’s pretty easy to lose hours of progress while figuring everything out.
On a story front, both games are on a bit more of an equal footing. Soul Nomad deals with the story of a world ravaged by giant monsters. Living in one of the few remaining villages left in the world, you and your friend are training to become guardians. One day, you’re given a dark sword and end up forced to share your body with Gig, a demonic entity that’s in control of the world eaters who’ve been destroying everything. With a demon living inside you who wants your body (hehe) you are forced to journey out into the world to take down the world eaters and save the world they’re presumably trying to eat.
For Phantom Brave, you control a young girl called Marona and her ghostly guardian Ash. After the loss of her parents, Marona must make a living by being a sort of mercenary for hire, but it’s not quite that simple. Because Marona has the ability to see and summon phantoms, she is shunned by the rest of society. Even as she works for the people tend to short-change her or treat her poorly. Despite this, Marona has grown up as a kind and compassionate person, leaving Ash to try and get her to stand up for herself as much as possible.
Both of the stories in Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1 offer a decent amount to keep the audience interested. In the case of Soul Nomad, it’s interesting because it’s made very clear early on that the world eaters are a big threat, and it’s also made clear that Gig could easily help you to destroy them. It’s intriguing to see exactly how your character is planning on making it out of the situation, and the game almost feels designed around the idea that you’re supposed to get bad endings every so often and start again, as your progress carries over in your next run.
Phantom Brave, meanwhile, feels much more like a story about characters, rather than an epic adventure. Technically the game opens in a flashback, explaining how Ash became a phantom as well as the story of Marona’s parents. After that point, you’re basically seeing a young orphan who mostly has to fend for herself being abused and despised by other people for incredibly stupid reasons. You really start to dislike the people you’re supposed to be helping when at every turn they treat Marona like a pariah and swindle her at every opportunity.
While the experience of these games is mostly positive, that’s not to say that they don’t come with some issues. Firstly, these both feel like pretty much straight ports, with very few improvements made. First up, no attempt has been made to re-translate things to make them clearer. For instance, in Phantom Brave, it asks you if you want to ‘skip demo’ and that sounds like you’re skipping a tutorial, but in fact, this is asking you if you want to skip a narrative-essential cutscene. Some of the humor and choices of language are also pretty dated. It might have been annoying to fans to try and ‘fix’ these moments, but that fact doesn’t make them any less painfully eye-roll-inducing.
There’s also of course the aforementioned lack of an auto-save or other quality of life improvements. It should be pointed out that none of these things make the games in Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1 any less fun to play. It’s just that this collection doesn’t really feel like the high-class and high-effort ports that we’ve seen of other classic games. The only other major issue is that, at least on Switch, the game does have a tendency to crash relatively frequently, compounding the lack of an auto-save feature.
Everything said and done, Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1 is exactly what it claims to be. A straight port of two really well-made games, that are somewhat the products of their time. It’s nice to get another chance at these games if you missed them the first time around, and while it would have been nice to see some extras thrown in here or there, it is at least a good thing that all the expanded content was included. If you’re into strategy RPGs, you’ll get a kick out of both of these games, and if you’re into anime the different(ish) art styles and character tropes will probably be pretty familiar to you.
TechRaptor covered Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 1 on Switch with a code provided by the publisher.
- Two Great Tactical RPGs in One Neat Package
- Both Games Have Interesting Stories and Characters
- A Decent Variety of Gameplay and Style Across Both Games
- Some Dialogue and Gameplay Elements are a Bit Outdated
- Occasionally Suffered a Crash