“Return of the Phantom”, we’ve finally met and it’s been pretty real.
This game came out in a time often considered the genre’s heyday. It didn’t become one of the well known classics: when I found out about it wasn’t commercially available anymore. I’m not big on piracy and even though I’ve prospected a great number of bins in many a thrift store, the game was obscure enough never to cross my path.
With a title like this, maybe the game was destined to reemerge at some point. Fortunately, it did!
Is it a bona fide classic? An underappreciated champ of “The Golden Age”?
Well, I guess, maybe? Most of the games from the 90s were pretty weird, one way or another, including the ones we tend to put on a pedestal. This one is kind of particular, though. If you love adventure games and theatre, this might be the game for you.
Phantom does a couple of things right. It sets the scene. It pays great attention to detail. Melodramatic characters come into play. Theatrics ensue.
The main dude, Raoul Montand: yes, please. You can sort of choose your own style, dialogue options offer a small selection of responses. Overal, Raoul has the appearance of a 30s Clark Gable, but not as slick; he’s more of a straight talker. He will bring the drama when he has to, though - and it’s the best.
The other characters are mostly fine. I especially liked the stagemanager, he’s pretty well informed about the history of the Opera and delivers it with flair and a bit of a reactionary vibe. He has a couple of ideas about the communards. And every single person in and around the theatre. Talking to the dude is optional, I think, but please do.
Voice acting is pretty good, if somewhat inconsistent. The sound quality is somewhere between decent and tin can on a string.
The story offers a twist on “The Phantom of the Opera” - it’s a bit wilder than the game’s initial air would suggest. Things get pretty crazy.
Gameplay is standard. It has a multitude of verbs in the interface, something I genuinely love, though it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The puzzles are a bit lacking and the whole experience is not streamlined with the spirit of modern games. It also does that weird thing where it spikes in difficulty and gets really convoluted near te end. It’s.. manageable? You might want to rely on a hint or walkthrough, every now and then.
If all of this doesn’t inspire much confidence, consider the Phantom’s strong(est) suit: atmosphere. It’s in everything. You can explore the entire building, every side of the stage and beyond. Behind the curtains, out of sight to the public, the structure looks worn. You can see the mechanics, the lighting, the pulleys. Nearly everything has a description. I was there.
Then there’s a maze. I know people hate mazes, I do not, but this one is a piece of work. I think this is the only place where the difficulty setting matters and “Challenging” essentially just flips you off. Don’t do it, folks. Go for novice, use a walkthrough.
But do give “Return of the Phantom” a try. How many games can pull of a flaming bone organ AND deliver an Edgar Degas diss without batting an eye? I can think of only one!
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Time Played: 2-5 hours