Phantom Brave: The Lost Hero is a charming return to Ivoire

By far one of the most surprising announcements of last month's Nintendo Direct, it was even more surprising when we realized that Phantom Brave: The Lost Hero was playable - in English - during this year's Anime Expo. Needless to say, we took the chance to take a look at the upcoming Tactical RPG; the first real follow-up to the PlayStation 2 classic since its release in 2004. 

At first glance, The Lost Hero is much the same. Players summon their units by "Confining" them to an object, which emparts buffs depending on the item in which they inhabit. Players can pick up and throw these items, and since any item that's within range of Marona can have a unit summoned into, there's a layer of strategy revolving around how to summon your units beyond just which you'll want to summon, and when. Marona can act independently of her units, though compared to the Phantoms that she can summon she's rather weak, and requires special attention.

New to The Lost Hero are the Confriend and Confire systems. "Confriend" is an ability unique to Marona, where she can combine with one of her Phantoms that she has a strong enough bond with, allowing her to use some of their abilities as her own - complete with enhanced stats. If you can defeat an enemy with an attack during Confriend, Marona's stats will be buffed even further and she'll have another chance to act - with her buffs improving with each action. Play your cards right, and Marona herself might be able to sweep the map with the proper preparation.

Confiring is a bit different, and it revolves around Apricot. She can summon machines, and some maps will come with gadgets already on the field - with players able to make use of them to buff their own abilities or extend their movement options for whichever unit opts to use them. It's hard to say exactly how transformative the feature will be when all is said and done, but it seems like a neat enough wrinkle from the start.

We played the demo on PlayStation 5, though the same demo was also playable on Switch. At least as of right now, the performance on the Switch version seems pretty bad; whether that will be patched up by launch remains to be seen, but the PlayStation 5 version certainly appeared to be running at 4K, and targeting 60 FPS. We had a crash with our first run through the demo - amusingly, when we were casting a fire spell - but much like with the Switch performance, it's still a very early build. With he game releasing next year I wouldn't worry about the game's stability until we get a chance to play a later build of the game.

All that being said, Phantom Brave: The Lost Hero is off to a very promising start. I'm certainly excited to get my hands-on with the full game when it launches on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch next year - PC will launch later the same year. I'm feeling hopeful about it!