Before I start this review let me diminish the fanboys hopes of me slating this game by saying that I never played any Phantasy Star game before Universe, never played the Universe expansion, and I never played Universe online anyway so I get to judge the game rather neutrally.
On the other side of this coin, I did enjoy Phantasy Star Universe’s single player just didn’t feel it was good enough to pay even more for an online license, so with all that lot out the way lets get to the meat and bones of the review.
Phantasy Star Portable is a single player expansion on the Phantasy Star Universe (PSU) story, however unlike its predecessor it’s not online. This may seem odd to many as PSU was a Mumorpuger but people forget that unlike its PC only brothers it did have an offline, non-extra-payment single player mode (which most people put down to more of an introduction to the multiplayer). This doesn’t mean it losses all of its multiplayer ability, with the PSP’s wireless Lan ability it is possible to play with up to 3 other people as long as they also have PSPs and a copy of Phantasy Star Portable (PSP… wait… bugger, try and stay with me on this one).
But since I don’t live near anyone who owns the game or a PSP, the multiplayer review will have to wait till Vger and me meet up (maybe with AAUK as well).
When you start a new game you get to create a custom character and create a save for the character. This is kind of important as this character is interchangeable in both the story mode and multiplayer mode, a great step up from PSU, as it means everything you do in Story mode isn’t pointless in the grand scale. The character creator is deep enough to give you enough depth to create a custom character, with the 4 races of PSU’s Universe. Each race has their advantages, with CAST (robots) being able to use huge mega cannons from space, beasts being able to change into… well beasts but bigger, and the other two races simply specialising in different areas. Largely this is kind of irrelevant and more aesthetic. I made a female human and male CAST, in the end sticking with the lass cause she seemed to have a better time getting rare items.
With the downgrade to a slightly less powerful console come the obvious cuts here and there, the hub areas are now just static images with menus. This creates less pointless running from A to B which is great, but also cuts the interaction and immersion a bit.
This means story mode is also told through static images and text (with voice acting). The story involves you (whoever you decide to be) helping a new model CAST called Vivienne as she starts her work as a Guardian as a new set of SEED infections start (yes again). Story is pretty bland with the other characters from the previous games adding some nostalgia and a little more life into the story (mind you I had no idea who Laia was and she’s the first character you encounter). This is really hurt by the fact your character is a completely silent protagonist (despite having to give them a voice to make fighting grunts), meaning all your dialog involves “…” and “??!!”.
However if you play the game for the story itself… we have to wonder.
Gameplay is largely unchanged and fits fairly well onto the PSP. A ‘3D’ dungeon crawler (you can’t jump or anything so you are pretty much restricted to a top down 2D map still) where you repeat the tried and tested formula; enter room, kill enemies, destroy boxes and door opens or receive key to open door. The games does it well by varying how you get the keys, making some fights optional, and varying enemies, however for those not dedicated it is repetitive, and will quickly grow boring. For those who however delve deeper they’ll find various strategies, survival challenges, how the formula is still simple but done well. One of the main things that will keep you going is the variety of weapons and magic to dispose of them. Regardless of what type of fighter you select to be, you’ll be changing what weapons you use fairly often and experience their variety using the same action pallet system found in PSU which works well at letting you have a large arsenal without navigating any complex menus (well in the midst of battle anyway), and as you level you’ll also be upgrading weapons as well. What makes this task easier is the rate of rare item drops has increased greatly from PSU. In the time it’s taken me to complete most of the game including most of the side missions available before the endgame, I never bought a single piece of equipment (so I was also fairly rich). While this seems like a flaw it feels much more like a reward for those who put the time and effort in.
Nothing has really been removed from PSU’s core gameplay (except some odd SEED purification method stuff which shall not be missed) however one addition which I can only call a blessing is the ability to fire particular weapons in First Person mode. No longer will flying enemies simply be able to kill you while flying so high you can just watch. It only works on ranged weapons (bar the shotgun and machine gun which is fair enough) and aids greatly in accuracy for those who choose to specialise in guns.
The variety of weapons gives every player something they can focus their particular style of combat on. Damage soaking thickies can either specialise in either hard hitting weapons like the axe or huge a*** sword categories, or on the other side focus on going all in with double versions of single handed weapons like claws, sabres or the like to deal loads of focused damage. Backline firers can move around with handguns, bows, shotguns or the likes to support the back line while magic users can go for the elemental style or being a goody healer, which everyone kinda needs at some point. Thankfully there are usually ways of balancing your style, fighters can use the support machines to gain access to weaker healing spells, while magic users can use the offensive support machines. The large array of weapons will keep people trying to find better versions of their favourites and with the new menu in your room which records all the weapons you collect as well as how many you need to get a complete collection for each type, die hard collectors will have their work cut out. Along with the big boy weapons includes the odd joke or weapons from other games such as Samba’s Maraca guns or the huge slabs of meat weapons.
Another addition which adds favourable to the system is the Titles system. Achieving certain in game feats will earn you new titles which give you rewards, including exclusive weapons and items. Again this is a nice system to add to add more gameplay to the system but give players a goal they want to achieve. Some of these titles are shown so you can aim for them, while others are a little more secret but a nice surprise when you get them.
The story only consists of 7 missions, a little short; however this extends with the other free missions available (of which you need to do at least one between each story mission anyway). Unlike PSU where all free missions were slightly nerfed story missions split up a bit, and while there are still some of them, there a much more free missions which are unique to themselves. Some of these are repeats of other missions from the previous two games but they make a nice change rather than just repeating the same mission to level up. Another great addition is that all missions come in 4 difficulties (C, B, A & S) the more difficult having more, bigger and higher level enemies, making returning to levels not only a challenge, but with the better dropped equipment from enemies and more money, much more rewarding as well as making levelling a lot quicker and offering a constant challenge. Some free missions are however multiplayer only.
Overall PSP on PSP is a step up in terms of single player content from the previous incarnation, which considering it’s on smaller system is a great feat. However with the lack of online it almost shoots itself in the foot by removing on of its larger audience. Despite that it’s a game you still might want to pick up if you do feel that prolonged periods away from the game cause jitters, but on top of this the game is a great way for anyone who was dubious about getting PSU first time. If you’ve never played PSU online or want to get into the series, get this (and if you are thinking about going online I’d say wait for the next major instalment), if you are addicted to the online aspect however be slightly wary.
Score is pending due to Multiplayer aspects not being tested:
Graphics-> 67 (not that impressive for PSP, and a downgrade from previous)
Lifespan -> 95
Overall – > 83
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