The PSP role-playing game Heroes Phantasia takes nine popular fantasy and sci-fi anime — Blood+, Read or Die, My-HiME, s-CRY-d, Darker Than Black, Slayers Revolution, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, Rune Soldier Louie and Sgt Frog — and mixes them into one giant cross-over adventure. And while fans of these shows will no doubt be excited to play as their favourite characters, the question remains: is there a good game buried beneath the fan-service or is it all flash and no substance?
Good — The Characters You Love Are Back
This is far from the first time that Bandai Namco has created a massive anime crossover. The Super Robot Wars series alone is comprised of no less than 33 titles that have incorporated nearly every giant robot anime ever made at some point or another. So it's safe to say that it is no stranger to the art of cross-over.
In Heroes Phantasia, every character has his or her own comments to make on the situations in the story as it progresses — to the point where five-minute talking scenes are not uncommon. They also make cross-series friendships which often alter how any given anime sub-plot wraps up. It is a fun twist for any who know and love the parent series.
Bad — Overall Story
Unfortunately, the over-arching plot of the game seems little more than an afterthought. The barriers between the two worlds, one magical and one technological, are weakening. On one side is a princess of good who is gathering the anime heroes and on the other, an evil pair of men are helping out the villains. This plot is little more than a tool to justify all the characters meeting. To that purpose it succeeds, but it does almost nothing else.
Mixed — A Great Battle System Squandered
The battle system is clever, complex, and has a lot going for it as we've mentioned on Kotaku before. It not only allows a total of 16 characters in battle at once but also makes each of your four squads useful in battle. Few characters are simply standing around. On the back end, you are able to redistribute each character's experience points at any time — letting you adjust them to whichever role you need them in. As a battle system, it's quite well designed.
However, the problem comes in regard to balance. Enemies do large amounts of damage so it's important to make sure only the most durable characters take the enemies' hits. However, when it comes time to heal these wounds, the healers are unable to keep up — they just can't heal enough. And because healing uses the same action points that attacking does, the strategy for every battle becomes the same: attack as big as you can, as often as you can — and whatever you do, don't waste your time healing. Needless to say, this makes battles become boring rather quick.
Mixed — Looks Good, Sounds Bad
Heroes Phantasia really does a great job mixing the various anime's styles into the same visual presentation. The choice to stick with 2D sprites instead of 3D polygons was a great choice as well. But the best looking parts of the game are the special attacks. Whether it's Lina's chanting of the "Dragon Slave" or Saya letting blood flow down her sword, these cut scenes recreate their respective anime perfectly and make it feel as though you're about to do something devastating to your enemy.
The sound, however, doesn't live up to the same standards. This is mainly because even though there's loads of talking, almost none of it is voiced. While understandable — A-grade voice actors aren't cheap, you know — it is still a disappointment. Vocal clips are reused from the various anime whenever possible, but it nonetheless leaves you with a feeling of what could have been.
Bad — Westward, No!
Bandai Namco holds the rights to many of these anime through its subsidiary anime studio, Sunrise. It also has a good relationship with other anime studios in Japan which is what makes a game like this possible in the first place. Outside of Japan, however, it's a mess. The rights to these series are owned by countless different distributors that vary country by country across the world. While it's possible all these issues could be worked out, it is far beyond unlikely at this point.
Heroes Phantasia lives or dies based on how much you like the anime contained within. The meta-plot is generic at best and the gameplay, while complex and interesting at first glance, is plagued by balance issues. But if you're just dying to see how all these different characters react to each other, the game does do an adequate job.
For those who both love these anime and can read Japanese, this game may indeed prove worth your while. But for everyone else, it's best to pass on it for now and dream of a magical world where it will be released outside of Japan.