Saturday, 27 March 2010

Phantasy Star Zero (DS) Review

I have always been a massive fan of the Phantasy Star series and I even managed to Stomach Phantasy Star Online Episode 3 which was a weird card battling video game. With that said I tried Phantasy Star Universe's add-on last year and in my opinion it was one of the worst follow up's to a much beloved online RPG that I have ever seen. It was way to grindy and everything about the game just felt uninspired I also did not like the poor item crafting system either. I was not the only one who disliked PSU as it seems that Sega have gone back to what made the Phantasy Star Online games so great, so much so in fact that Phantasy Star Zero is effectively being dubbed as the true squeal to Sega's awesome Dreamcast online RPG.

Multiplayer RPG's and portable consoles are big business in Japan these days. In fact unless it's on a portable generally Japan does not care any more.Games like Monster Hunter and Dragon Quest 9 insure that the multiplayer ad-hoc is not going anywhere any time soon. Phantasy Star Zero at first glance seems like a cheap cash in for the DS market to try and get some of that mad Monster Hunter yens. But if you look a little deeper you will find all the good stuff that you know and love from the original Phantasy Star Online series from way back on the Dreamcast but with some minor tweaks and a couple of imrpovements that makes Phantasy Star Zero worth your time and attention.

OK so this game seems to be a reboot of the series, hence the name. Zero meaning in video gaming terms in Japan that it's prequel to the first video game in the series which is filling in story elements that we just came up with several years later.What is a little puzzling is that Sega or games that Sega just happen to be publishing seem to be obsessed with Wild Arms because the main story non player characters looks exactly like the main characters from Wild Arms which is odd because that game was never really a big hit anywhere, not to my knowledge anyway.

Sometimes you are treated to nice animie style cut-scenes like this one here but normally you are just treated to being roasted alive by a giant enemy dragon who will terrorise you for a lot of the early part of the game.

So yeah this game takes place after one of the main Phantasy Star games (don't wish to mention which one due to spoilers) and things have seemed to have gone a little tits up in the Galaxy. Depending on what race you select will depend on what story you will get. But it's actually not a bad story for a game that's based around bashing monsters to take their gear to sell to the nearest merchant. The main hook of the story is to uncover what really happened to the world to cause a disaster called "The Great Blank" which has erased call the Casts (the robot race) memories, exiled a previously native race called Newmans from the planet. The there is the humans, forced to live in fear of monster attacked in a barren world with very little resources. The story can get a little cheesy at points but it's compelling enough to keep you playing till you beat the final boss.

ow is a good time to talk about the gameplay. The game pretty much plays like any old action RPG. You only have access to six abilities at a time (this also includes your standard attacks etc.) which may seem odd to people who are used to playing games like World of Warcraft or Aion but there is a strategic element to it. You have to prepare for battle, if you know your enemy is weak to ice then perhaps you might want to swap out that fire spell for something a little colder. You can always bring up an item menu but dipping in to the menu's will not pause the game so make sure your safe from harm before doing it. It's possible to lock on to enemies and roll out of the way of projectiles too then there is your MAG and it's "MAG Blast" which makes a triumphant return from PSO which trust me is much better than it's counterpart from PSU.

But bluntly MAG's are sidekicks. You feed them with items and spare equipment and in return depending on what you have fed them they grant you bonuses to your stats. After awhile it will change form and gain new food preferences but it will also become stronger and learn a "MAG Blast" which it can only perform after the player gets in to a lot of trouble and fills up a bar by getting hit a lot by attacks. These special attacks can either cause a lot of damage or do other things like heal everyone in the party or cast a spell on the team to increase their defensive or offensive capabilities. Leveling up your MAG and using it's special attack wisely is the key to victory speciality in the later boss battles which can shorten a battle considerably is repeated MAG attacks are pulled off successfully. You can also do team MAG attacks which do a lot more damage, I'll talk more about the multiplayer later.

WARNING!: Giant bad ass robot approaching! Luckily he is on your side!

Missions are always the same pretty much. Go in to an area that's crawling with monsters and kill them all for money and equipment. Then go up to the boss monster and kill him or her too. It's a simple layout but it works. Some might be a little annoyed with the lack of mission verity but there are plenty of zones to keep the player busy. And besides the escort missions in the Phantasy Star Online games alway sucked, I remember that mission where you had to escort this one guy
THOUGH THE SECOND LEVEL BOSS! It was one of the most frustrating missions in any game ever and even Sega knew it because in later instalments they fixed the mission where the guy would "play dead" leaving you to take care of the monster yourself without having to risk getting the guy your are protecting. There are bits of storyline within each mission that break up the action, nothing to intrusive but it's OK.

The equipment in this game is also pretty bad ass as there is plenty of it to obtain ranging from rifles, to bazookas to wands and great double handed swords. You are going to have to get good equipment to beat the harder monsters and the harder difficulties which you can play once you have finished the game one time. The monsters are mostly very creative and are very well designed and are also well animated. The levels look really nice for a DS game but don't have much in the way of detail within them. Most of the time each room is a big box or a collection of smaller boxes with create, traps and monsters in them. I guess this is to keep things as simple as possible for the DS's limited CPU but the game does not suffer for it in my opinion, just don't expect grand sweeping landscapes like in Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion or anything OK?

The online multiplayer actually works on this game which is a shocker. It's easy enough to get with friends assuming you have their friends code and hooking up with randoms is not a problem either and every game I have been in to date has been pretty much lag free and I have not be disconnected randomly either which is sweat because that was a big problem in the old Phantasy Star Online games as well as all the hacking that is. So yeah you can do a whole bunch of stuff in this game but all that most people wan to do is go for boss runs as that earns the best equipment hence the reason why I said mission verity was not that big of a deal earlier, keep things simple that's what I always say when it comes to dealing with the general public.

Overall the presentation on this game is sweat. the music and sound is great and the anime inspired cut-scenes are fantastic. The game is very colourful, you guys have probably have noticed how much I value colour in my video games so I won't crow about it. I do also like the art style it just seems, well er... nice I guess. This leaves me wondering what this game would of been like on a more powerful system like the PSP, Wii or Xbox 360 or even PS3? let's face it the modern generations of mainstream consoles need a decent RPG, it's a shame they are landing on the portables thanks to Japans obsession with Monster Hunter heh.

Overall Phantasy Star Zero is probably one of the best Online RPG's I have played in some time it's especially good that it's on the DS which means I get to play it while I commute two hours every day. What the game lacks in raw visuals (although the game's visuals are still good but it's because it's on a DS they lack the punch of the previous Phantasy Star Portable title) and mission verity it does make up for with how fun the combat is and it's great multiplayer, not to mention all that lovely loot that's there to be picked up by the player and oh yeah, the story is not bad either. [8/10]

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