Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Phantasy Star 0 (DS) Review

There's something about dungeon-crawlers that just get my heart a-blazing. Is it the looting? Is it the needless grinding? Perhaps it's the big, bad boss at the end of each dungeon? Who can say? But enough questions-- let's take a look at the latest action-RPG from SEGA, Phantasy Star 0.

Final Phantasy

Long ago, a little known RPG series by SEGA known as Phantasy Star used to be all about turn-based RPG action. You wouldn't notice this now as the new themed Phantasy Star Online games are all about online and real-time hacking, slashing, and looting. Hey, I'm not complaining! It started with Phantasy Star Episodes I-III, continued into current-gen with Phantasy Star Universe, and now rolls on with Phantasy Star 0 for the Nintendo DS. Does this star shine bright for the series?

Phantasy Star 0 occurs in an alternate universe on Earth where it's been 200 years since the Great Blank. This war nearly turned the planet into an inhospitable wasteland. Now the survivors are slowly but surely rebuilding their towns, cities, and civilizations. You play as a new Hunter, a group of mercenary who ventures outside said cities to tackle challenges and take down monster forces threatening the survivors' civilizations. There's more to the Great Blank than the history books let know, and after a mysterious girl crashes into the planet, the fate of the Earth and its moon will never ever be the same.

You start the game by setting up your avatar. This is the character that you'll be controlling throughout your experience with Phantasy Star 0. Unlike some games, one avatar is used in both the story and online modes of the game. Customization options aren't a terribly strong suit for Phantasy Star 0. There's but a few color choices between each of the fourteen character types. Some are proficient melee attackers while others excel at magic. There's a class and character type for every kind of player.

Fans and veterans of the original Phantasy Star Online will feel right at home with Phantasy Star 0. The combat and gameplay is close to being essentially the same. You journey through dungeons, traveling from room to room, slaying all of the monsters in a given room in order to open the way to the next. Occasionally, you'll do things such as collect card keys to open barriers, but most of all you'll be killing monsters, or as the game calls them, hostiles. You'll be taking on monsters in groups, and they don't just sit around and let you damage them either. There's seven areas in the game each with two parts. The second part concludes with a battle against a giant boss or onslaught of foes.

Combat is performed with the face buttons. Your palette has a list of button commands available to you. There's three to choose from, and then three more button commands available by holding down the right shoulder button. Combos are the meat and potatoes of an attacker's offense. It's not a simple button-masher either. You have to time your button inputs in a certain rhythm which depends on the weapon equipped. You can attack up to three times in a combo with stronger attacks being more viable and with more accuracy placed near the end of a given combo. Combos can be chained together for maximum destructive power. Your character can also roll out of the way of attacks with a push of a button as well as cast magic and use items. Overall, combat feels smooth, but the camera can be a constant enemy in some firefights.

Whereas the main mode is all about following the story and growing stronger, the online mode, which can be played with up to three other friends via friend codes, is all about leveling up and finding rare item drops. There's no voice chat included in this package, but there is touch-screen based chat a la Pictochat to be used to draw pictures and write messages to players. Online is smooth with friends, but unfortunately I didn't get the chance to play online with a stranger. The online at this juncture is a desolate ghost town. Regardless, playing with a smart team feels excellent and extremely rewarding. Taking down a giant dragon with your friends is an awesome feeling.

Phantasy Star 0's story mode won't take players far too long to complete, perhaps around ten hours. Then there's the abundant number of optional quests including a one-hundred plus floor dungeon that takes a day or two to complete. By the end of the story mode, I was at level thirty with a maximum of level 100 to reach and new gear ready to obtain in the hard and super hard modes. These difficulty modes include stronger monsters that net more experience, meseta (the currency of Phantasy Star), and better item drops. All the while playing with friends will send you playing into the wee small hours of the night. There's a lot of content here to dive into much like there are stars in the night sky.

Phantasy Star 0 boasts impressive 3D visuals for the DS. Sure, there's plenty of jagged edges here and there to watch out for (those things can cut, y'know!), but overall everything looks great. The soundtrack isn't the series' best, but it's not horrible either. It's just not very memorable. The small amount of voice samples occur during the game's few animated cut-scenes. These are handled well, and it made me wish there were more sequences like this. If Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days can do it, why not Phantasy Star 0?

Overall, Phantasy Star 0 is an incredibly competent action-RPG with plenty of online and offline content to justify it's thirty-five dollar cost of entry. It may be too familiar to some veteran Phantasy Star fans, but there's enough here to feel fresh. The combat is smooth, the visuals are lovely, and the online is fantastic as well. For those tired of grinding on their Dreamcast or Xbox 360, Phantasy Star 0 is waiting here for you.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

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