Phantom of the Kill Review

Not quite as Fire Emblem as we'd hoped

phantom of the kill

Fans of tactical RPGs have plenty of options on the App Store, but few have been quite as closely watched by fantasy strategists as Phantom of the Kill. Originally released in 2014 in Japan, the game has seen its fair share of acclaim, with many suggesting an experience on par with Fire Emblem would be in store for iPhone players when it arrived on Western shores.

Now that it's here, English-speaking gamers can get their first taste of gumi's character-collecting, turn-based strategy experience.

But while it's interesting in its own right, and offers a massive number of teammates to unlock, players expecting a premium experience in a free-to-play package will be sorely disappointed.

Here's what's wrong

For all of its potential, Phantom of the Kill doesn't walk the fine line between full-fledged tactical RPG and free-to-play RPG well. There are little design choices and hiccups that aggravate throughout. Even installing it is a pain, with a 10-minute download that kicks off the moment you open the app and can't be closed (unless you want the download to pause). Phantom of the Kill cleverly provides an idle clicker mini-game to help you pass the time, but expecting anybody to wait 10 minutes to start play on a mobile device is straight up outlandish.

Once you get into the experience, every moment presents a mixed bag. Earned awards aren't added to your inventory; you'll have to navigate menus every time to receive them from your inbox.

The narrative components are absolutely stunning, with early cut scenes created by legendary anime creator Mamoru Oshii (of Ghost in the Shell fame). But the story itself is hard to follow, easily forgettable, and merely helps establish the setting and theme. When compared to other mobile games with anime-inspired storytelling - Heavenstrike Rivals, in particular, comes to mind - Phantom of the Kill falls considerably short despite the impressive visuals.

In terms of gameplay, Phantom of the Kill is clearly trying to be a free-to-play mobile alternative to Nintendo's Fire Emblem series - but the way the free-to-play is implemented removes a lot of what makes a premium title like Fire Emblem so appealing. While a visit to the latest Fire Emblem will remind you of how finely detailed and massive each stage is, with its challenge pacing wonderfully with the character options you've unlocked thus far, Phantom of the Kill's stages are smaller and easily unbalanced in favor of the player early on. Within a few character unlocks you can end up with some five-star characters, making the early part of the game feel a little like bringing a howitzer to a knife fight. In some instances, I wasn't even afforded enough turns to move to the treasure chest ​in a stage before I was attacked and pulled off a defense-driven win.

Still though, it's worth a look

Despite all of the little frustrations and quirks, there's enough under the surface to keep Phantom of the Kill interesting for fans of the genre. Different character and equipment combinations offer plenty of room for experimentation, and the story -- though downright incomprehensible in some places -- offers a sort of weird appeal that will keep you curious to see what anime strangeness is coming next.

iPhone gamers hoping for their own Fire Emblem will be a little let down with Phantom of the Kill. There are better options, like Partia and Partia 2, available as paid downloads, and Nintendo has committed to releasing an official free-to-play Fire Emblem on mobile soon. But does that mean Phantom of the Kill should be missed? If you're lukewarm on the genre, probably. But if you're a hardcore tactical RPG enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to sit through the 10-minute install to see if Phantom of the Kill is right for you.

Phantom of the Kill is available as a free download from the App Store.

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