PSP

 The Phantasy Star series has had some troublesome times. After a stellar run on the Dreamcast, Gamecube, and even Xbox, Sega released the not so stellar Phantasy Star Universe. The game was hyped to a startling degree, touting a full fledged single player with an epic story, and the online mulitplayer that we all loved in PSO. But when the game finally came out, it fell flat on it’s face. The single player was nothing special, mimicking the single player of PSO except with a story, and the multiplayer took all that worked with PSO and threw it out the window, trying to offer something more MMO-like, instead of the loot grab gameplay of PSO, which was perfect for consoles.


Now, Sega has returned with Phantasy Star Portable, no doubt trying to replicate the success that Capcom’s Monster Hunter series has had on the PSP. While PS:P is a good start towards this goal, it still has a few more wrinkles to iron out.

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Let’s get the 800-pound gorilla out of the way first. PS:P has no online play. Instead, it has ad-hoc four player play instead. While there are ways to play online with other players, through tunnelingand Sony programs, online isn’t the focus of this game. What PS:P does, is distill the gameplay of PSO into a pure portable experience.

PS:P is a combination of PSU and PSO. It takes the environments, universe, and characters of PSU, and combines it with all the good decisions of PSO. There are no longer any item synthesis or player shops. This means the loot that is dropped is actually loot, not pointless parts and ingredients so you can hope to make something after that dungeon run you’re doing with your buddies. The loot dropped is also relative to your class type as well. So if you’re a Ranger or Fighter, you will actually have items and weapons drop that are related to you. No more worrying about only getting swords or claws when you desperately need a new gun. The only time this is a drawback is when you play in Multi Play, as the drop charts are altered to the party leaders class.

The ‘My Room’ feature from PSU is present, although altered to a streamlined menu. You can store items with your Partner Machine, view story events, the bestiary or character stats and achievements. Yes, the game has achievements such as achieving a certain level, or passing a new chapter.

The game has also been completely rebalanced for portable gaming. Missions are shorter and your character and Photon Arts level up much faster than PSO and PSU. Enemy monsters give less experience and drops less money, but shops sell items for much lower prices. This all combines to create a faster and more casual game, perfect for portable play. What isn’t perfect for portable gaming though, is the inability to pause the game. Pushing start brings up the system menu and your inventory, and it’s inconvenient when you’re in the middle of a monster rush and your real life comes calling. You can suspend the PSP, but it just seems easier to allow pausing when in Single Player.

Now after all these gameplay changes, what about the content? Well PS:P offers two modes; Single Play and Multi Play. You can use the same character in both modes, and any experience or items earned transfer back and forth between modes. You also have four character slots to use so if your siblings want to play, you won’t have to worry about losing your progress.

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In Single Play, you play through a 20+ hour single player quest that takes place after PSU, but before the first expansion pack, Ambition of the Illuminus. In it you are teamed up with new CAST Hunter Vivienne, and are sent out to investigate an outbreak of monsters who may have been released by an ancient evil. The story is you’re typical JRPG fodder, with very bad voice acting in the cutscenes and dialogue that goes on paragraphs too long. It’s littered with annoying characters, badly written dialogue, and a totally uninteresting plot. Towards the end of Chapter 2, I started just skipping all cutscenes because I couldn’t take it anymore, wanting to just get back to the hack and slash gameplay and grab more loot. The Story could have benefited from co-op play with friends, as the A.I. partners are dumb as rocks. They basically mimic your actions, which doesn’t go well when you’re a Ranger and stay back blasting enemies. If the other members of your party are melee characters, they will stay back not attacking until you get close to the enemies.

If you want to play with friends, you have to enter Multi Play, which allows you and three friends go through the game’s numerous Free Missions, which are basically the same as in PSO. Each mission type will have multiple ranks to go through depending on your parties level, determining things such as enemy strength and rarity of weapons and items dropped. The fact that you can’t play this online with others is a drawback, but the game was built for single player, as those missions outnumber the Free Missions.

I may have made this game sound like a total letdown, with the boring story and no online play, but PS:P is a very fun game. It’s your portable fix for that PSO urge you would have when away from your Dreamcast for too long and is still a fun loot grab type game. It feels as if PSO was made for a portable platform, and Sega is finally capitalizing on this, while fixing the mistakes they made with PSU. If you were disappointed by PSU, and miss the days of PSO, this game is for you.

Score: B-