There’s a particular type of fighting game that fans of the genre tend to refer to as “anime.” It’s an informal term and different people use it to mean different things, like most fighting-game community slang, but an anime fighter tends to be fast-paced and flashy, with character designs that could be or actually are ripped out of the pages of the latest issue of Shonen Jump.
The highest-profile example thereof is the Guilty Gear series, but you can also point to Melty Blood, Under Night In-Birth, BlazBlue, or more obscure fighters like Chaos Code. If it’s got weird characters, systems layered on top of systems, and so much happening at once in any given round that a casual observer has no idea what the hell they’re looking at, then it might very well be an anime fighter. Ask your local doctor if anime is right for you.
I’m breaking this all down because Phantom Breaker: Omnia is about as anime as it is possible to get, both in form and purpose. It’s a fighting game with simple controls and complicated systems, featuring an all-star cast of voice actors, a full roster of murder schoolgirls, and some truly baffling creative and mechanical decisions.
It’s not bad, but it’s deeply weird, and not in the ways that you might expect from a game in this sub-genre. I’m not sure how much I can recommend it.
A Wish Is a Dream Your Fists Make
Omnia is a new version of the 2013 PS3/360 fighting game Phantom Breaker: Extra, with two new characters (Artifactor and Maestra), a remixed soundtrack, the original delay-based netcode (unfortunately), and a fresh pass on its character balance. Extra itself was an enhanced edition of the original 2011 Breaker for XBLA, so Omnia is a remake of a remake.
The storyline, to my surprise, is relatively straightforward: in modern-day Tokyo, a man named Phantom offers a deal to several people throughout the city, most of whom are teenage girls for, uh, reasons. They’re to go out and fight one another, and whoever wins the most matches will be granted a wish. It’s basically an anime fighter adaptation of Stephen King’s Needful Things, which is not a sentence I ever thought I’d get to write.
The people who take him up on the deal become known as Duelists, and seek one another out for fights. Some want an ailment cured, or to restore their loved ones to life; one or two are simply in it for the violence; and a couple are specifically going after Phantom himself.
I do have to give Omnia credit for that much. You could write a graduate thesis on the storyline for, say, BlazBlue and you’d never get close to understanding it. Omnia keeps it lean and relatively simple. It’s high school drama plus sword murder; the end.
With One Hand on My FAQ
The biggest problem Omnia has is that it doesn’t quite play like any other fighting game out there. If you’re a newcomer, it’s got a lot to wrap your head around; if you’re a fan of the genre, there’s a lot about Omnia that’s actively counterintuitive.
For one thing, Phantom Breaker in general was running with a simplified control scheme years ago, before games like Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite and Fantasy Strike started trying to make it happen. In some ways, it’s ahead of the overall curve, where it’s abandoned the old arcade “secret move” dynamic in favor of something much easier to remember.
Omnia, like its previous two versions, is a four-button fighter with light, medium, and heavy attacks, plus a special move keyed to one button that changes based on directional inputs.
If you hit the Special Attack button by itself, you launch a “Counter Burst” that can stop or even reflect an opponent’s incoming hit. But if you hit SA in conjunction with a directional input, you throw out one of your character’s special moves instead, such as a fireball or uppercut.
If that was all there was to it, that’d be fine. It’s got an interesting sort of looseness to it as well, where you can improvise a lot of big combos on the fly, and where anything that looks like it’d work probably does. That would make (and to some small extent, does make) Omnia a usefully casual fighter, since it has a low execution requirement.
That isn’t the game we’ve got, though. Phantom Breaker: Omnia proceeds to throw in multiple additional systems on top of all that, such as three different Modes chosen at character selection; an Emergency Mode that lets characters break away from combos; guard cancels; a special Overdrive mode that gives you various bonuses; a parry; a “clash” system; and a “slipshift” dodge.
The upside here is that you’ve got a ton of offensive and defensive options at any given time, and they’re all baked into every character. The downside is that there are arguably too many of them at once. When you’re learning how to play Omnia, you can routinely expect to see a lot of things happen that you cannot predict and won’t understand, and the game itself is remarkably little help.
You Gonna Learn Today
This was more or less the status quo back in 2013, where a lot of anime fighters seemed to revel in their relative inaccessibility. The assumption seemed to be that if you were playing an anime fighter in the first place, you were hardcore enough that you already had the Mizuumi wiki bookmarked and possibly memorized.
Omnia effectively shifts all of its execution requirements to its universal systems. Instead of trying to figure out how to land a decent combo or reliably get an anti-air to come out, you’re trying to figure out why your character started flashing, a timer kicked in, and then something exploded.
This is, to be fair, a common feature in many modern fighting games, especially in Omnia‘s sub-genre, but in the last 9 years, most of those games have at least implemented a tutorial mode to walk you through its systems.
Omnia, by comparison, doesn’t so much as let you pause in mid-match to check your command list. It’s got a reasonably robust training mode, but it’s not an easy game to wrap your head around.
There’s also something to be said for Omnia‘s particular rhythm. There’s something really off about how damage is taken and inflicted in this game; sometimes characters can shrug off multiple hits, and sometimes they’ll just get casually deleted.
Part of this seems to be from how you can partially regenerate lost life via inflicting or avoiding damage, or activating Overdrive. It encourages both players to go on all-out, reckless offense, because “turtling up” to play defensively is just as helpful to your opponent as it is to you. Until you figure that out, Omnia ends up feeling really slow.
Again, though, that doesn’t make Omnia a bad game. It’s just strange. Its rhythm is nothing like any other fighting game I’ve ever played, to the point where my experience with other titles was actively detrimental, but its layered systems for offense and defense are complicated enough that the newbies I played it with didn’t know what the hell was going on. As a result, I don’t hate Phantom Breaker: Omnia, but I don’t really understand it either.
If you’re the sort of fighting-game fan who got really excited about the new Melty Blood last year, then you ought to be buying Phantom Breakers day one, because it was made for you by your people. However, it’s too weird an experience by half for me to give it an unqualified recommendation.