After nearly a year of waiting the next game in the Phantasy Star series, Phantasy Star Portable, is released in the states. Does it live up or is this game merely a bust?
In Phantasy Star Portable(PSP) start out the story making your own character. You can choose from the four races which include Beast, CAST, Human, and Newman. The character creation is fairly detailed and the feature of being able to play the first few missions in the demo and transfer your data to the full retail version is a nice touch. It’s also worth to note that there is a New Game mode once you beat the game. PSP is first and foremost a dungeon-crawler in which you travel from area to area collecting ‘keys’ to unlock the door to the next area. You start out with 3 classes: Hunter(melee), Ranger(range), and Force(magic). Each of these can be leveled up to 10 and when you get to certain levels with each class you’ll unlock the stronger version. The more powerful classes have requirements that require you to grind up each of the classes. It’s all your choice with how you want to play the game and can be enjoyed by playing with just one class or switching it up every once in a while.
Grinding fanatics will get a blast out of this game since grinding isn’t necessary to get you through some the story, but for those that want to go the extra mile will be rewarded with some rare loot. Although I’m usually not a big fan of grinding, I found myself going back to play the S ranked missions to smash enemies and boxes for the fabled S rank equipment. Getting a new weapon always feels satisfactory and never makes me feel like I wasted my time which is how it should be. The sheer amount of weapons in this game is astounding. No matter whichever class you start out with you’ll have a vast amount of weapons to choose from ranging from knuckles, spears, daggers, grenade launchers, bowguns, dual pistols, wands, whips, etc. The lower ranked weapons are usually just the same except for a different color, but the rarer ones are some of the coolest and most interesting weapons I’ve seen in a game. The prospect of getting a better weapon or some new clothes to trick out your character can get you surprisingly addicted to it.
The game plays in real-time with the square button for your primary attack, triangle for secondary attacks or a special ability, L is to center the camera or strafe, R square/triangle will give you 2 more attacks if you use TECHNICS or just lock-on if you hold R with a different weapon. The arrows move the camera, the analog nub moves your character, and the circle button opens the action palette which I’ll talk about in a second. The action palette is probably one of my favorite additions to the game. Here you can assign a handful of weapons and items to slots. When you press & hold the circle button to open the pop-up style menu and with the R button you can scroll through your weapons and L to scroll the items which makes switching weapons or using an item streamlined, quick, and easy to use. One thing I would love to have in this game would be a dodge mechanic. It’s odd that the developers never included this since they could have mapped it to the X button since that one does nothing in the actual game except activate locks. It extremely frustrating when you’re in the middle of a combo, defeat an enemy, and as they go to explode you get hit in the blast since your run is too slow to escape the blast radius.
I can’t even begin to describe how awful the AI in this game is. I’ve seen some bad AI but PSP just takes the trophy. Your allies will stand around, take hits, and not even bother to attack the enemy. I’ve lost count how many times they’ve died when they were perfectly able to heal themselves. Usually they won’t even heal you unless other party members (including themselves) are below 50% health so be sure to bring a good amount of health items to each mission. This is especially annoying if you play as a ranger or force class since staying as far from your enemy will be your intention, your allies will decide to stay and walk around you will you try to hit the enemy. They could literally be just a few feet from each other and as long as you are not right up in the enemy’s face fighting your allies won’t bother to go fight. There are also lots of times when your ally will get stuck in a wall and you’ll have to go back to fetch them. I must also mention that if you have 4 allies with you the game will experience some major slowdowns when they’re all doing special attacks and there are a lot of enemies onscreen.
There’s not much you can say about this story except that it’s your standard RPG story (with horrible dialog included free of charge). You begin as a newly appointed guardian and you are given your first partner Vivienne who plays a key role in the story. You soon learn about the SEED and a mysterious terrorist who might be behind the SEED’s return. It then goes into predictable and generic plot territory with each new chapter starting out like you need to go investigate this then meeting up with a new partner and doing the mission which ends with you finding the terrorist who runs off and leaves a nice boss for you to fight.
I can’t really say much about the graphics for this game. The textures are all repeated throughout each block for every mission and you won’t see anything impressive. The enemy models are all recycled from each level with a minor color change or a modified look if you play an S rank mission. The bosses look impressive as they tower over your character and unleash waves of pain upon you and your allies. The character models themselves aren’t that impressive but they do a great job of portraying the futuristic setting. Each weapon has a special ability that can be leveled up to 30 and the higher the level is the more spectacular the effect looks. For example with the knuckles you start out with a quick 3-hit boxing type punch, then at lvl10 after hitting the special attack button right after the first combo is over your character will do one more punch then a powerful kick that blasts all enemies in your path away, and at lvl.20 you’ll do a few flips towards your enemy ending in one final dive that does massive damage. Grinding your abilities to get them to lvl30 is satisfying as your eyes are greeted to a wondrous display of effects.
Included in the game is Ad-hoc only co-op which is a shame, but hopefully in the future when we get Ad-hoc party this game is able to be used in it. Playing with up to 3 friends would be a blast were it not for all the slowdowns we got. The more effects that were happening on-screen the slower it got which killed the fun instantly. However playing with 1 friend was a better experience with little to no slowdowns and it made not having to deal with the story-mode’s AI so much better.
Overall: Phantasy Star Portable is an enjoyable experience that all PSP owners should try. The story mode itself should run you no more than 12 hours, but if you decide to play the side-quests and grind a little you’ll find yourself hitting over 20 hours. Despite the problems I listed the game can become quite addictive and has a nice little achievement system that gives rewards to players for doing specific tasks that can make even the casual player sit down to try to grind themselves up just to get that last sword they need for their collection.
Final Rating- Average