I wanted to love Phantom Rift [$0.99]. I wanted to give it my unabashed affection. I am quite fond of the Mega Man Battle Network series because of, well, everything about it. Certainly, paying homage to Mega Man is something Phantom Rift isn't doing, but the series itself is paying homage to boasted a unique combat system that took the best aspects of card games and mixed it with fast-paced real-time combat. But where Phantom Rift falls apart is not respecting that speed. Not so much in the combat, but in the overworld that governs getting from fight to fight, and managing the character and deck: it's just too slow to get anywhere in this game, both figuratively and literally.

The combat takes place on a 6-by-3 grid, with you controlling your custom character on the left side, and the enemies on the right side. You have a pool of mana that recharges over time, and every so often, you draw from 5 spells, coming from a deck of 30 spells. These spells cost mana to equip, and are single-use abilities, that can attack enemies, heal, put up plants that can protect you and hit enemies, and more.

Phantom Rift 3

In battle, you move from square to square, dodging attacks, and trying to time the right moment to use those spells to do the most damage. There's nothing more satisfying than using a spell to pull an enemy within range of your long sword spell to take them out right as the battle starts – and winning quickly nets you more spirit orbs, which can be used in the overworld to heal, reveal a level map, or to buy new items. Doing all this against bosses? Even better.

Spells are earned by defeating enemies, collecting them in chests, or buying packs – either in-game or through IAP. The game can definitely be played without additional purchases beyond the $2.99 price, but the IAP packs just make it possible to get more powerful spells early on. And hey, having an awesome deck that fits your fighting style is quite pleasing. Building a deck of spells to unleash with proper timing in combat feels so much better than building a deck of cards, I say.

Phantom Rift 1

Everything that relates to combat in Phantom Rift is a joy to play. The combat is always so dynamic, based on the decks and the enemies that pop up. This is how randomness should be used in a game – it winds up being a test of the player's skill to adapt to the luck of the draw at any given time, and to form strategies, one spell draw at a time.

The controls use swipes to move around, taps to fire the basic weapon, which doesn't do much damage, mostly just to chip away at enemies when there's no spells to use, and then tapping on the spell icons to use them. iPad players might want to go into the options and move the spells to the left or right side, they work a lot better for quick activation in combat. If you have an MFi controller, Phantom Rift supports it and feels like the best way to play this game, though touch controls are absolutely fine.

But oh how the non-battle portions of Phantom Rift annoy me. The problem is that they're all so slow. The game takes place in different elemental overworlds with individual multi-level worlds to go into, that are randomly generated each time. Essentially, you don't know what to exepct when walking through a world, though the overworlds are fixed.

Phantom Rift 4

The problem starts with walk speeds. The protagonist moves at a crawl through the world. As such, the random encounters wind up feeling like they happen more often than they should, making fun battles feel more like a hindrance than the entertainment that they should be. The worlds generally feel like they're a few levels too long, and it's annoying to get to the end of a world, find out that you're just too weak to succeed without blowing through all your orbs to revive (and not being able to revive right at the boss at the end of a world is unacceptable), and have to go back and grind to get more and better spells, or find better items, or buy better items, or whatever needs to be done.

I feel like this game is permanently going at half the speed it needs to go at. I have no real qualms with the combat speed as is, but if it were faster I wouldn't complain either. Certainly, there's a lot of game to play here, but part of that is because it takes so long to do anything! Even just being able to run around in the levels would help a lot! All this slowness also makes character progression and deck building feel so tedious that any change is incremental at best.

Phantom Rift 2

Also, the whole aesthetic of the game feels less less stylistically ethereal, and more bland and soulless. The worlds feel way too empty and repetitive. The darkness of the overworld just makes it hard to see rather than providing any feel of forboding. The Bastion [$4.99] style of having blocks pop in feels more like an excuse for poor draw distances than a cool stylistic effect. Also, having blocks that touch diagonally not be able to be traveled across? Just annoying, and I don't know why they exist because they just make walking anywhere a lot harder.

It's just sad, really. I love Phantom Rift sometimes. I love it when I unleash back-to-back spells that wipe out my enemies. I love it when I'm customizing my deck.I love it when I feel like I'm actually getting somewhere in the game. The problem is that those moments of love are so fleeting because getting from battle to battle is so tedious, and it weakens the fun parts of fighting and deck building. Perhaps those with a lot of patience will absolutely love Phantom Rift, and maybe I'm just more impatient than the teenager I was when I fell in love with this style of play in the MMBN games. But Phantom Rift could just be so, so, much better, even if what it does well it does really, really well.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarNone
  • Nekku

    I partially agree with the low walking speed but
    a) FM addressed this issue and now it is faster after the last update (okay I know updates dont count for reviews)
    b) there are several pieces of equipment which adding movement speed (I had +37% at max)
    c) there is a relic which adds 50% movement speed while using it

    I also don't know why it's unacceptable if you can't revive right before a boss? That's how it was when I've started playing games in general.
    Died - back to the start of the level or even worse - Game Over.
    Too much casuals around these days. 😛

    • BrothaMann

      Unfortunately, toucharcade will not go back and update a review after a company addresses issues like the ones raised in this review. Another example.. Foursaken's Block Fortress War. The majority of issues raised by the reviewer were addressed by the bros in a patch. Did they update the review with the Impact the changes made? No.

      If the game changes, the review should change and reflect that.. Especially with app gaming. I come to TA for all my iOS game reviews and news. If I find a game I'm interested in, I search that games name and review... If that review does not reflect updates that expand and fix a game, then I'm not getting an accurate review.

      Real bummer.

      • bilboad

        I agree that reviews would be more useful in the long run if they were kept up to date with games. However I don't think it would be practically possible for TA to keep all the hundreds (probably thousands by now) of reviews on the site up to date with game updates. At best maybe they could update reviews with major changes to a game which come out very shortly after a review was written.

        What seems more practical to me when there is an easily fixable flaw which mars an otherwise good game, is for the reviewer to put a little effort into considering how the game would be if that flaw were fixed, and mention that in their review. I've read several reviews by Shaun Musgrave where he's done that, basically said something to effect of "this flaw really mars the experience, but if it were fixed I'd add another star to the score because otherwise the game is really fun." Also if it's simple flaw he won't spend half the review talking about it. That makes the review more useful to me, because then he doesn't even need to update the review if the developer fixes the flaw, since he already described what he would have said if the flaw wasn't there.

      • BrothaMann

        I agree with that approach... If someone is wavering in a week or two on this game, they read this review and will be like, well crap, sounds like it's really slow.... After the patch that is submitted gets added, it will not reflect the current game.

        I don't know best option... After the update, the speed will be fixed... Then, is it a 4? A 4.5? Then the text would be off..,

      • bilboad

        My personal way of solving the problem is, if I read a review of a game and it sounds like I'd like it except for some flaw the reviewer mentioned, then I'll check the update change notes for the app, or the app forums, to see if the problem has been fixed.

      • Chao Liang

        I believe that TouchArcade should just review the general release.

        I mean, when a game comes out, it should already be extensively tested for quality, bugs, etc. If something is easily patch-able post-release, why wasn't this addressed before the game's wide release?

        Sure, TA can hold off on reviews for 2 weeks. However, that would mean that it'd hard for TA to remain relevant in this day where instant reactions are demanded by the gaming public.

        So if a game developer want to get great reviews, perhaps test their product extensively and address any issues before release.

      • Zaraf

        The way to remedy this could be to put the responsibility on the developers of the apps to request an amendment to the reviews for their games if they manage to fix a major complaint. In this way, the reviewers don't need to update anything unless requested by a dev for his/her app.

      • Goggles789

        I don't think any gaming site updates game reviews when patches are released. Never seen it, in my experience.

  • dr. radicals

    This is the most spot on TA review I've read. I absolutely despise the speed out of combat. The game feels half complete. The combat is soooooo fun though.

  • ScotDamn

    There is equipment that enables much faster movement.

  • http://www.foursakenmedia.com/ Foursaken Media

    Fair enough review, thanks Carter.

    As some mentioned the move speed is getting a good buff in next update (among a bunch of other things like achievements, new special equipment, game stats, and more) - I think a lot of issues actually trickle down from that. The world for ex has a TON of secrets and places to explore, which should become more interesting and desirable to seek out with a faster move speed.

    At any rate, thanks for those who have played so far: we definitely are listening, and we'll continue to tweak the game until its as good as we can make it!

    • Apricosomoso

      Hear hear! Update the review! Do it exclusivly for foursaken! We know you love them, so give them this!

    • Domisan

      nice! and i also hope that they will update the review!

      i really think phantom rift deserves it with some improvements beeing made.

      the game is wonderful!

  • Ben Seeberger

    A few nit-picks -
    1. They could do so much more with the battles if only you healed to full after each one and did away with needing to waste your orbs on healing out of battle.
    2. Make the "phantom zones" an bit more alive by actually having buildings built out of existing assets (for example, the blocks and columns could easily be used in that way) with towns and characters that are more interesting than just balls of light.
    3. Only showing the spells you have access to, for ease of introducing you to mechanics.
    There are a bunch of little things that I think would go a long way in improving the experience.

  • Morgan Leecy

    Got to agree, wish I had waited for the review, and not gone off 'game of the week' and previews. This game has already been and gone from my ipad as it did nothing for me at all

  • worldcitizen1919

    I agree that a real killer in the game is having to go all the way back to the start if you run out of orbs but that's only until you build up enough orbs and your character then that doesn't happen anymore. I don't mind the speed walking around but it could be faster. But its that kind of game you do have to invest a lot of time into to get anywhere and that's not really good because not everyone has the time. Walking could be faster and after losing a boss fight you should respawn again at the same place without having to have mana or orbs. Going all the way back is a real turn off. But its a great game.

  • worldcitizen1919

    Very glad to see TA are being very impartial here although beforehand they said they love Foursaken games. It means we can rely on TA to call a spade a spade regardless of their personal likes. To be commended.

    • caaalrb

      TA is pretty off the cuff in general, it's such a well run gaming blog compared to 90% of what's out there.

  • PinoyTeens.Net

    For me, one of the less amazing FM games. Also the first that I despise buying without waiting for a review first. I thought this would be cool, given it ended up as game of the week. Zzzz.

  • Hypocrypha

    It looks so pretty in the video but tedious, in game play, so I didn't buy. What gets my "goat" it the unmitigated audacity people wanting a TA review re-written after updates. Insane.

    • BrothaMann

      Nope. It is sane.

      If an update fundamentally changes the issues a reviewer had of a 1.0 release, it is not fair to leave that same review for 2.0. Maybe it fixes a major flaw, or doubles the content of the game... The original review is invalid. It is not the same game anymore.

      When, for this reviewer, the game speed is too slow and Foursaken fixes that... That point, which is where the majority of negativity is pointed, is now moot. If the company fixed other issues.

      I think a running addendum on games worthy of review is not a poor idea.. A 100 word write up saying hey, this update fixes what I just noted in the review or... Hey, this update actually makes the monsters smell worse... Etc.

      • Anthony

        If it's not the same game anymore then the developer messed up and released an unfinished product. That's not really fair to the reviewers. "the game speed was too slow" yeah, that was the product at the time. You as a consumer can make your own choices. For example, even if a game gets 1 out of 5 stars you can still like and enjoy playing it.

      • Goggles789

        Actually, now that I think about it, TA does update things as certain games are patched. They did a quick write up for Wayward Soul when it's last update came out. So, there you go.

  • armilla

    Agreed with the general sentiment here.

    A while back, perhaps when Monster Adventures came out, Eli mentioned the level of "jank" that seems present in Foursaken Media games. That still hasn't changed, as this game to me was entirely bland despite a promising combat system. I don't like the marketing strategy emphasizing the games they've drawn inspiration from — in this case, Battle Network is much more vibrant and and better as a whole. I believe comparisons were made to Bastion (please correct me if I'm wrong), which is utterly ridiculous. Yes, the world builds as you traverse it. That was a fresh embellishment in a phenomenal game, not a feature to check off of a list to sell people on. I think the comparisons in their upcoming game to Spelunky will be especially problematic; it won't be anywhere near as good!

    I am impressed that Foursaken can pump out games as often as they do, but after this burn I'm not giving them free passes anymore. Frankly, the only title I've loved of theirs is Heroes & Castles. I WANT TO ROOT FOR THEM. I also want an actually amazing title that raises their personal bar by a long shot, that synthesizes their disparate influences well (as they are keen on doing) and improve on those ideas. And if that means maybe 1-2 titles a year to let them cook a while longer (instead of 3-4+), than I would much prefer that.

    • http://www.foursakenmedia.com/ Foursaken Media

      I just want to point out the only time we said anything about Bastion is in an off the cuff tweet when we were still early in development (as a VERY general comparison visually, with the blocks). Someone else made the forum thread using that, and everyone then kept comparing PR to Bastion. We never used a comparison to Bastion in any official marketing capacity (or any other time other than that one tweet) - not in announcement emails or anything else of the sort. As far as MMBN goes, the comparison is pretty accurate, imo - all we're doing there is giving credit where due.

      Anyway, the issues with Phantom Rift have nothing to do with dev time. Actually, the ironic part is we probably should've taken the easy road out, halved the dev time and just made it more of a "click next point on map for the next fight, upgrade in between battles, progress to end point", instead of trying to fill that in with an overworld, secrets, exploration, etc. The game was always meant to be primarily about battling, with the overworld as just a way to get you to the next battle, the next boss, and ultimately the final boss.

  • Benjamin Rodriguez

    On point review and I agree to basically everything.

    Now Battle Network, a long forgotten game, is significantly more entertaining than this game. They should really make an IOS port/a completely new game.

    • jesse_dylan

      It's on Virtual Console. iOS version would be neat!

  • jesse_dylan

    Why did this get game of the week then?0_o

    • Goggles789

      That does seem counter-productive, doesn't it?

  • sunwukung

    It's quite frustrating to pony up for a game on the strength of a "game of the week" recommendation, to come back the week after and find said game given a lacklustre review. It's not much cash to be fair, and I like to support the devs, but it undermines the credibility of the site for me.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      This is why we have the intro paragraph for every Game of the Week article. Something being Game of the Week doesn't mean "Definitively the best game released this week." It's just a game we thought was neat and worth highlighting.

      • sunwukung

        I get that, and I've seen you raise this point before, but the review and GotW article seem quite strongly at odds in this instance. It might help if you publish the review first?

      • http://www.foursakenmedia.com/ Foursaken Media

        From what I gathered they pretty much agree. Both praised the battle system and deck building aspects, which imo is ~75% of the game (that was the design intent, at least).

        The strongest criticism in the review (while definitely valid) will be much improved in the next update.

  • Benjamin Rodriguez

    A side comment: f they made walking faster, I think it'd be a double edge sword. You'd realize how small the world is. I think the world is pretty small and very one demensional. It's only purpose is a visual component that gives the illusion of traversing. Sure secret paths/treasures add something, but Battle Network has some platforming and puzzle elements which is why I think it succeeded better. You don't get drawn in by the characters/Battle Network sucks you into the world.

    The Dark Souls/Bastion/Battle Network remix just doesn't do any of the three justice.

  • rob fenton

    Well... Like heroes and castles 1+2 phantom rift has been one of my favourite games. The graphics are stylized, ethereal and beautiful. Never played Megaman but having checked it out on YouTube I can immediately see the similarity. The combat on phantom rift is unusual and extremely satisfying with 300 spells including fireballs, electric bolts and storms, summoning dragons, defeated bosses and other beings, healing rain... The list is endless and you have to put the hours in to get the better spells. Tons of loot, magical weapons and armour-all worn by the avatar... I can't believe this game is so underrated.

  • rob fenton

    Brilliant 3d roguelike, deep strategy, stunning visuals, tons of spells, loot, wearable equipment... Can't understand why this game isnt more popular.

Phantom Rift Reviewed by Carter Dotson on . Rating: 3.5