Review: Phantom Breaker – Omnia

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It’s rare to come across a 2D fighter that doesn’t require a deep-dive into its mechanics via a training mode to get to grips with it, but 2D fighter Phantom Breaker: Omnia is out to question whether that’s really necessary, as it pairs exciting gameplay with highly approachable mechanics.

Originally released in 2011 as Phantom Breaker, and receiving an update in 2013 as Phantom Breaker: Extra, the 2D fighter has now seen further updates in Omnia. Using Extra as its base, additions include two new characters and new story as well as a remixed soundtrack, a new fighting style and balance adjustments. 

Discarding complicated combo inputs, Omnia sets the game up perfectly for a novice to the genre and allows you to fight however you please. If you like to button-mash – square, triangle and circle each have 3-4 combos you can tap and string together. If you like to hit-and-run or spam energy attacks from afar, that’s also possible with strong and special moves that at the very most require three buttons to be pressed in unison. 

This may not sound particularly impressive, but this is just one aspect to the fighting system and there are plenty of tension-building gameplay mechanics that can turn the tables in a fight at any given moment. I’d go as far to say as I had some of the most exciting battles that I’ve had in a 2D fighter in a long time due to tight battles and great match-ups between different types of characters (short range/ long-range etc).

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The story won’t be winning any awards, but it suits the purposes of the game.

That was until I realized that the game has an auto blocking system. Funnily enough, I was hours in before I even noticed it as I’m so used to blocking with the opposite directional button (and was doing it manually). Sadly, like a permanent cheat code that you can’t turn off, it unbalances the battle system and at worst makes all other strategies and mechanics pointless.

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By itself, the auto block is not too bad, but when combined with a dodge (which is done by heading towards the enemy exactly as they attack), it’s like a dagger to any tension the game could create. In theory, this double-pronged inclusion makes sense, as timing a split-second dodge is difficult when holding down block to then dodge (i.e. flicking the directional button left to right or visa versa), but it in actuality having the auto block not only makes dodging very easy, it also allows you to sit on your hands while you wait for the enemy to finish their attack and it removes you from the intensity of the action when you are backed into a corner. 

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Clashing boosts your gauges and while not particularly photogenic in a screenshot, looks great in real-time.

You could argue that you don’t need to use it, but ignoring it when you know the option is there is like walking to the shops when you have the option to teleport there instead – no one in their right mind takes the harder option. As such, I really think it should have been a setting you could turn it off, rather than enforced accessibility. 

Other than that, everything else works like a charm with the mayhem starting as soon as the ball drops. 

But it isn’t just quick gameplay that aids the experience. The in-battle animation, for example, is aided by added visual effects to moves and characters during battles which make the action seem even faster. When characters attack at the same time (which is called ‘clashing’) the camera zooms in and shakes and attacks are often blurred and accentuated with colorful highlights. This, added to a blood-pumping soundtrack, never fails in its attempt to stir up the player and whip up a frenzied battle.  

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Despite the game’s accessibility being great in most areas, it ironically is lacking any helpful interactive options in the training mode, leaving you with pages of text to decipher instead.

After clashing multiple times a tension gauge activates and for a short period of time boosts the effectiveness of your attacks while giving you a full energy bar (called a ‘burst gauge). If used strategically you can fill your burst gauge to 200% and unleash your super move to do some serious damage. The burst gauge can also be used for an overdrive (which speeds up your character while slowing the enemy) and an emergency shield.

All these powerful attacking options means that the battles are often high-speed affairs that – in addition to the varying effective distance of each character’s attacks – really makes each fight feel different, assuming of course that you aren’t just relying on the auto blocking and dodging system. There are also 3 fighting styles for each character (focused on speed, power or a mix of both) for those that want an even more specific experience, although I mostly chose the speedier option to add to the insanity on the screen.  

Replay value is offered in spades with the 2 story modes (from Onmia itself and Extra) with voiced visual novel sections and a fantasy anime story for 15 characters, while there are 22 characters that are available for the arcade, endless battle, time attack and score attack modes.  

No doubt to the chagrin of many though, the online multiplayer mode lacks rollback netcode, leaving your experience to the mercy of your opponent’s internet speed and, unfortunately, due to a lack of available players at the time of writing I was unable to fully test how robust the current online code is. 

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One of the most approachable and enjoyable 2D fighters I’ve ever played, Phantom Breaker: Omnia has the potential to be great, but nullifies the effectiveness of its battle mechanics by trying to be too accessible, which ultimately restricts the best action to the multiplayer modes.