“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.” – Chinese proverb
“ni” – Chinese pronoun
Phantom Fighter is, without question, one of the most unique NES games I’ve ever had, and I’ve had it for a long time. Oh, it really opens up a door back to the summers of the early 90s. To see the box art, you might mistake the game for a CHINA WARRIOR, or one of those generic side-scrolling kung-fu games that appear all the time on shows like Drake and Josh, where the late-20s writers apparently grew up behind the Iron Curtain and have never played a videogame and, therefore, would not understand why it’s ridiculous for a 15-year-old boy to be playing CHINA WARRIOR on a PlayStation 2 with bleeps and fucking bloops COMING OUT OF THE SURROUND STEREO.
Wow, I wonder if I could win an award for that run-on.
Back to whatever point I was failing to make. Phantom Fighter is definitely not what you might expect it to be. This game is less about action and more about the challenge, if that makes any sense. Your action comes from dueling one-on-one with the Kyonshis that have taken over the continent. You walk into a house, with the same energy bar as your opponent, and you tactize your kung-fu so you can wipe out your opponent(s).
The basic goal of the game is to gain three orbs from three certain spots in each town; doing so opens up the boss house. Once you beat the boss house, you go on to the next town. To improve your kung-fu, you battle at other houses to gain items and scrolls to take to the training house and buy new punches and kicks.
I can complement this game for going slightly above the standards of NESdom (retrospectantly shallow programming, lame translations, short game time and low replay value in the modern world) for a number of reasons:
1. This game is remarkably ambient for an NES title. The graphics of all the temples and houses and graveyards you go into really sell the Chinese aspect of the game. The music is really crisp and catchy, too. Easily my favorite part of the game.
2. There’s eight towns to complete. A couple are shorter than others, especially the last one, but each takes at least an hour to beat. They all follow a specific build, but not a specific order. Each town is more challenging than the last and crests to the final challenging town nicely.
3. It has a few unexpected surprises, like the dialogue (especially in the training house) and the ability to make the game even harder with a baby Kyonshi fighter of your own.
However, like a 400-year-old sifu with a cane of iron, I will admonish this game with a lashing for poor kung-fu performance. Actually playing through this game is like training with a three-sectional staff, and
when the hell are you ever going to use a three-sectional staff?
The main problem dragging this game down is that there’s too much of a bad thing: the constant repetition of a fighting system that needs to be fixed. You get a wide variety of Kyonshis to fight, but 95% of them have the same basic attack—they just hop at you. And what makes it worse is that they usually do a better job fighting than you do. The hit detection is off balance in their favor. Their claws always seem to get you, and as you get through the game, they get a lot stronger than you do.
And all those moves you get? Only a couple are actually useful. You only get one useful punch and one useful kick, and the kick is the only one that safely connects. The items you get to use aren’t much use, either. And by the time you have to fight FOUR Kyonshis in a house to get one-fifth of the number of scrolls you need to learn a useless tactic, the essence of fun is all over. All that’s left is a lot of frustration and really pretty 8-bit pictures of China—and guess what! That’s the formula for community sterility.
So, yeah, memories aren’t always what you think they are. I’ll always have fond memories of this game, and then I’ll always wonder where the hell I got them from. Seriously, I want to create a hack of this game so I can fix the hit detection and make it much more bearable. Any takers?