"As it stands, Phantomgate provides a stellar aesthetic, bite-sized gameplay, and a tone steeped in the mythos of the Norse."
If we're to look at the current landscape of pop culture, Norse mythology has permeated the very essence of some of the world's landmark properties and franchises. Look at God of War or the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Thor, Loki, Odin, Freya and others are now recognizable names in the collective imagination around the globe. Publisher Netmarble's latest title, Phantomgate, is a mobile RPG steeped in Norse mythology. I was given the chance to try a single stage and see a walkthrough of the various features found within.
Phantomgate tells the story of a young woman named Astrid, the half-human daughter of a Valkyrie, as she seeks to avenge the death of her mother, as well as contending with the machinations of Odin and Thor, puzzles, and nasty beasties that await players in this mobile experience. As it stands, I only got the chance to see one cutscene, showcasing Odin fighting Astrid's mother in furious battle. It seemed serviceable and akin to other mobile games that populate the market, with the narrative serving as a reason to act, not as a specific focus.
The aesthetic is its strongest asset, and I was impressed by the stylistic choices that Netmarble is definitely making. Phantomgate sets itself apart with a cel-shaded look that doesn't seek to strive for a photorealistic design in both characters and environments and is better for it. Each character model, while low polygon in detail, is high resolution. This creates aesthetic variants, such as a rune-covered bear that looks akin to Dwarven architecture: utilitarian, edged and jagged, and it works for the style that Phantomgate is trying to attain.
In terms of the environmental aesthetic, the level shown comprised of two distinct cavern sections with jagged rocks and sections of floating rubble peppering the environment, set in a mellow hue of blue. A couple of non-player characters graced my twenty minutes of playtime, and though I was unable to interact with them, they sported interesting designs, such as a rabbit dressed as a mining prospector (replete with a tiny pickaxe).
The menu design and overarching HUD between missions also synergizes with this aesthetic, like most mobile titles. I found myself appreciating the artistic interpretations depicting elements of Norse mythology, such as a hewn stone plinth detailing Yggdrasil, the World Tree, that functions as a roadmap showing the chapters of the game nestled between the golden boughs and roots of a beautifully drawn tree when clicked.
The gameplay of Phantomgate is a combination of light platforming and turn-based battling with Astrid and a party of three others, known as Phantoms, that serve as the collectible element of the mobile experience. As I wended my way through the cavern, the touch controls were perfect in tuning; with the help of a context sensitive prompt, I was able to complete a couple of simple puzzles, such as finding a lever and fixing it to create a way through...and jumping across a few devious platforms. Traversal between environments seems to be half of the gameplay loop on offer here, with combat taking the forefront.
Combat is an intrinsic part of Phantomgate's systems, with Astrid and the aforementioned Phantoms exchanging blows with enemies in turn-based battling. Similar to Child of Light and Grandia in battle, players can see a turn-order that denotes which enemies go when, giving the opportunity for counter-attacks, defense, and strategy making on the fly. When selecting Astrid or an enemy, players can use skills that, akin to most RPGs, deal specific damage in various types, whether in an area of effect, massive damage to a singular target or a host of other moves promised but not on display. Something interesting that was pointed out to me throughout the experience was the idea of resource management and the accrual of buffs that players can get, shown visually by glowing bubbles that players (myself) are hinted to keep a keen eye on to change the flow of battle.
Phantoms provide the collectible experience, common for many mobile games, and can be collected by players by completing quests, after getting a requisite number of items to summon them. They come in all shapes and sizes with over 100+ expected at the game at launch. The balance of premium monetization and free incentive seemed balanced, from what I saw. Players are given the ability to collect currency throughout the stages and through various incentives, such as an achievement system and filling out an incomplete bestiary to unlock more of the premium currency. This may change at launch, but from what I saw, it wasn't an egregious imbalance of power in favor of premium currency.
As it stands, Phantomgate provides a stellar aesthetic, bite-sized gameplay, and a tone steeped in the mythos of the Norse. I came away feeling fairly positive about the experience, and it'll be interesting to see how the full experience plays when it releases later this year.