This Week in Games
Phantom Season

by Heidi Kemps,

Hooray, it's the spooky season!

Yes, that wonderful time of year when overindulging on candy, cosplaying in public, and obsessing over supernatural phenomena are all 100% socially acceptable! Though, ah, this Halloween season is looking significantly less social with the spectre of COVID hovering about. At least we can still watch cheesy slasher flicks and play spooky videogames, right?

So, in the spirit of Halloween, let's start by talking about a long-believed-dead game that has been exhumed and reanimated against all odds!

WT ACTUAL F, PHANTOM BREAKER IS GETTING A REVIVAL?

Phantom Breaker: Omnia is releasing for the Xbox One, PS4, Switch, and Steam next year? WHAAA?

For the easily confused: this isn't about the Phantom Dust remake that's been in development hell forever, this is about Phantom Breaker. I wouldn't blame you for getting them mixed up: Phantom Dust was an obscure Xbox game and Phantom Breaker was an obscure Xbox 360 game, and I figured the odds of either of them ever seeing the light of day again were about equal.

So, what the heck was Phantom Breaker? See, back when Microsoft was actually making an honest effort to push the Xbox 360 to a hardcore Japanese audience – securing exclusives like Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, [email protected], and so on – one of their big games was Steins;Gate. Yes, Steins;Gate originally launched on the 360, believe it or not! And publisher 5pb. (now MAGES.) was keen to capitalize on its cult success by publishing Phantom Breaker, commissioning a bunch of staffers who worked on the Asuka 120% fighting games to make a fighting game with Steins;Gate's Kurisu as a guest character.

Phantom Breaker debuted in Japan on the Xbox 360 in 2011, where it did… okay, I guess? I mean, yeah, it was banking more on its guest star than anything else, since by that time the likes of Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs Capcom 3, King of Fighters XIII, and Blazblue were eating up most of the community mindshare. Also, it was an Xbox 360 game in Japan. It didn't really seem to get a whole lot of traction from that initial release, and it looked like the sort of thing that would languish in import obscurity.

Then somebody decided to localize it! That “somebody” was SouthPeak Games. Remember SouthPeak Games? I don't blame you if you don't, since their output was mostly early-aughts licensed and non-licensed shovelware with the occasional original title from a good developer who sadly got stuck with this dumpster fire of a publisher. Anyway, around 2011 SouthPeak formed a new division called 7Sixty whose focus was on digital distribution, with occasional boxed releases. Soon after, it was announced that 7Sixty would be the ones publishing Phantom Breaker in the west on the Xbox 360.

Review copies got sent out to several outlets in early 2012, and 7Sixty held previews and tournaments at a few events to promote the game, even going as far as to make some custom joysticks to give out as prizes. But what most people didn't know was that SouthPeak was in serious financial trouble, with 7Sixty being a last-ditch effort to bring in some additional cash flow. Basically: Phantom Breaker wasn't licensed because it looked like a good, interesting fighting game, it was licensed because it was cheap, available, and fighting games were blowing up again, which could bring in some much-needed cash.

Unfortunately for everyone waiting for Phantom Breaker, SouthPeak's money problems got the better of them, and after missing numerous release dates in 2012, the game went into a state of perma-delay until the company finally went defunct in 2013. There's an article on Gaming Hell that goes into detail about the problems and many, many delays that faced Phantom Breaker's English release before its death, which I highly recommend checking out.

(In an odd twist, however, the Phantom Breaker spinoff beat-em-up game, Phantom Breaker Battle Gronds, got an international release from MAGES. themselves across numerous platforms. All I can tell you about that game is that I reviewed it for the Official Xbox Magazine and I do not remember a damn thing about it other than the pixel art being cute and the game getting very tedious towards the end. I also recall people buying the Asian PS Vita boxed version of the game getting very upset to discover that those boxes contained a download code instead of an actual cart.

With all that history in mind, seeing Phantom Breaker re-emerge last week as Phantom Breaker: Omnia was certainly a shock. Publisher Rocket Panda Games has even brought a complete English dub cast on board. That's pretty impressive!

Though, if I'm being perfectly honest, I really have to wonder why. Phantom Breaker was never a huge hit – it didn't even have much of a cult following among the crowds that enjoy more obscure fighters. The reviews in Western media were pretty harsh, too. Maybe the folks at Rocket Panda see something in this game that others don't, but besides its weird notoriety among nerds like me and Kurisu's appearance, I'm not sure if it really has much appeal.

Oh well. It'll still be fun to see how this long-delayed chapter in the Phantom Breaker saga ends. And speaking of long delays…

DIGIMON SURVIVE IS… SURVIVING, BUT NOT REALLY THRIVING YET

Digimon Survive triggers a personal Mandela Effect for me: every time I see news about the game, my first reaction is “wait, I thought that released already!” But it hasn't. In fact, Digimon Survive has been delayed several times. And it just got delayed again!

The development cycle of “Survival RPG” Digimon Survive has been… troubled, to say the least. After being announced in 2018 for a 2019 release date, news and information about the game began to slow down. After a delay to 2020 was announced, things seemed to be going better… for a while. And then news about the game slowed down again. This is probably why I was thinking it released – I just assumed the lack of anything being said about it indicated that it had hit stores already. (I was likely also confusing it with Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth, which got a Switch re-release last year.)

Anyhow, as you can see from the statement above, the COVID-related challenges of 2020 have not been kind to a game that's already been suffering from numerous delays. Some folks have speculated that the development has shifted to a completely different engine, which would explain the big delays, though I haven't seen anything confirming that. Whatever the problems are, I hope this game emerges from development hell soon, both for the sake of the folks working on it and for the Digimon fan faithful who have been waiting for years for something to follow up on Cyber Sleuth.

FIGHTING GAME NEWSBRIEF: YUEL LOVE IT!

Who predicted that the bushy-tailed catgirl with two swords joining Granblue Fantasy Versus after Cagliostro? Seems like a no-brainer in retrospect. Anyway, new trailer!

While we're talking about things related to Cygames, apparently pinball-RPG-action-hybrid mobile game World Flipper is getting a global release! I've been playing the Japanese version for a while (though fairly casually) and really enjoying it, especially the multiplayer feature. Hopefully the English version finds an audience – I'll definitely be playing when it hits.

…Oh yeah, rollback netcode is coming to Guilty Gear XX Accent Core +R on Steam, too. If it turns out you don't like Guilty Gear Strive, well, at least that'll be there for you!

Well! Not too much news this week, but I least I had an excuse to talk about the bizarre saga of Phantom Breaker. Are you all planning on playing any spooky games over the next week-and-a-half? If so, what titles are you planning on booting up? Pop on down to our forums to discuss all of this week's happenings alongside your Halloween gaming plans. Come back next week for more gaming news… if you dare! MUWAHAHAHAHA


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