Phantasy Star 0 Review for Nintendo DS

Phantasy Star 0 Review for Nintendo DS

Phantasy Star Hero!

Though hampered by a few loud faults, Phantasy Star 0 is a rare gem for the DS and demands rental, if not outright purchase. The setup: You play as a bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic world where civilization was destroyed by a mysterious event called the Great Blank. The world is rife with toxic areas, so men and monsters compete for space in the habitable zones. There are quite a few character customization options, so expect to see the unexpected while playing online. You can play as a human, who can specialize in any class (close-range combat, long-range combat, and magic), or a robotic CAST, or a magically potent newman, which is a genetically-engineered transhuman being.

Phantasy Star Zero screenshot

And the setting may be post-apocalyptic, but since it’s Japanese, think Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind rather than Fallout.

I’ve never quite switched from disliking a story, to completely getting into it, as with Phantasy Star 0. You have to really, really enjoy the Japanese love for mundane banter between happy-go-lucky characters to get anything out of the story’s humble beginnings. Another thing that hamstrung my enjoyment of the story was the fact that my character, the character you create, the “main” character, rarely takes center stage. As is often the case with Japanese RPGs, if you are allowed to customize your character, then you can forget about them ever being the center of attention. It is no different for PSZ. Your character will sometimes be addressed, and allowed to choose from a few responses, but otherwise the supporting cast drives the story forward.

The story completely won me over. I won’t give anything away, but the situation becomes dire… even epic. Nothing is as it seems, each of the three races has its genuinely interesting history revealed, and the shadow of the Great Blank looms once again. Pretty amazing stuff for a DS title!

However, the story takes its time in warming up. Of the three races, the humans all seem to be goofballs, and the robotic CASTs aren’t as cold-blooded and calculating as one might expect, which leaves the burden of being interesting on the newmans. The newmans are like a sci-fi ideal of what humans might one day become: Hyper-intelligent, physically frail, psychically gifted, less wild and more civilized, and with a very slick fashion sense. Unfortunately, the newman who joins your crew happens to be an ugly duckling; rather than pal around with a futuristic commando, you get stuck with a preteen “magical girl” guided by her own innocent naiveté. Yes, I’m sorry, but it’s one more Japanese game with a “magical girl” in it. Fortunately, you at least get to see and interact with other (more hardcore) newman, including Captain Reve, a bloodthirsty commando trained to serve his people’s mysterious living deity, and Ana, a badass rebel dressed to kill and driven to challenge the status quo.

Phantasy Star Zero screenshot

Still, this is no online-only game with a story mode tacked on. Actually, you usually have to clear a stage in single-player before it becomes available in multiplayer! So I guess you could say that the story is both enjoyable… and MANDATORY.

Only the Japanese could make a post-apocalyptic world of ruin appear so brightly colored. I would rather see freaks in black leather with tribal body piercings and macabre tattoos bearing futuristic weapons in a bleak world of rust, discolored skies, lonely and forbidding ruins, with an overall grim outlook that comes across during tense conversations. Come on, Japanese game makers, what about gamers who are into both anime and heavy metal?! It doesn’t all have to have a candy coating, does it?

Still, some of the later stages are very, very visually striking. I found myself rotating the camera on more than one occasion to get a better look – an unexpected joy for the graphically simple DS. The character animations are also extraordinarily good, and not just for the DS. One of my characters, a female newman in a slinky neon outfit, had me continually mesmerized by her double-headed lightsaber moves. She was a damn sight more graceful than the “Star Wars Kid,” I’ll say that much.

Phantasy Star Zero screenshot

So the graphics get a big “hell yes,” and not because they’re as good as a high-end PS3 game, but because the developers were able to make a visually interesting space with the limited resources at hand. Many, many game developers could learn from this notion.

However, the ball is occasionally fumbled. Some of the early stages are a little bland. And among the character classes, I’m not sure why one of the human types looks like a young child wearing shorts…? When did that become cool? Don’t young children who wear goofy-looking shorts play games so that they can be someone else? Someone much cooler and badass-looking?

Oh, well. Only in Japan!

Because of the huge boss monsters, the amount of gear to be had, and the cooperative online play, I couldn’t help but think of PSZ as the snot-nosed little brother of the far more hardcore Monster Hunter franchise. But there are differences, not the least of which are the futuristic sci-fi settings and equipment, the forgiving learning curve, and the fact that PSZ’s online cooperative play actually works, and works well.

It’s easy to switch between the online and single-player campaign, with the same character and the same inventory, and I suggest you do so often. The structure of the story mode gives meaning to the experience, and the story does grow into something interesting, but it’s also fun to head into battle with more than just drone companions in order to accrue better gear and experience.

Phantasy Star Zero screenshot

There is a ton of gear to be found, and while your class may determine your general weapons set, you will still encounter a lot of different monsters with a lot of different traits and weaknesses – meaning that close-range hunters will sometimes find themselves using a twin-bladed Darth Maul-style lightsaber one moment, then a huge black blade with glowing purple currents in the next battle. Same with ranged fighters, who can access rifles, twin submachineguns, and so on.

But here’s the kicker: Expect to spend some time trying out different weapons in order to determine the kind of character you end up settling with. I started out as a ranged fighter and then mistakenly thought the game itself was boring. Thankfully, I made a close-range newman skilled with weapons and magic techniques, and my interest was finally piqued. I’ve seen people online using guns effectively, so I have to make the subjective conclusion that they just weren’t my style. Point being, in order to deal with any possible disappointment beforehand, you need to start the game with the understanding that the character you end up with might not be the same character you imagined yourself playing.

I wish the chat options were more robust than choosing from twenty-or-so options like, “Follow me!” and “Are you okay?” and “Ha ha ha!” The pictorial chat system doesn’t seem to work if you aren’t on someone’s friend list, but this is a small gripe. You’d be surprised at the conversations you can have even with only twenty utterly utilitarian phrases.

I believe the game advertises itself as having a sixty hour single-player campaign. This is not entirely accurate. There are three races to play as, and while each experiences the fifteen to twenty hour story from a slightly different angle, the key word here is “slight”. You’ll still be waging war through the same environments, though maybe in a different order. Anyone who has gone through one fifteen to twenty hour campaign need not go through it again with a new character, as there would be a constant, boring sense of déjà vu. There are plenty of online missions and non-story single-player missions to be enjoyed. Which is fine by me, as I’m of the opinion that games shouldn’t pad out their times anyway. A short adventure can be just as worthwhile as a long one, and sometimes even more so.

You wouldn’t pass up a good book just because it was less than seven hundred pages, would you?

Every superman has his weakness. With PSZ, it’s the sound. Most of the songs are unmemorable, and are too easily drowned out by the chaotic noise of battle and the Vegas slot machine racket that erupts when a treasure chest is opened. The game has a few decent tracks (the in-town music is pretty good!), but I wish that more consideration had been given to an otherwise incredibly memorable gaming experience.

Like a zen painting, SEGA has done much with little. In between frenzied battles, don’t forget to take a look around! 3.8 Control
Timing is everything when laying down your combos, so button-mashers need not apply. Mapping actions to any one of several buttons makes for a lot of customization. 2.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
I don’t need my cool town music to be interrupted by goofy, cliché “shopping” music every time I go into a shop, and I don’t need slot machine beeps every time I score a pile of gear. 4.5

Play Value
Easy online access, fulfilling single-player experience. Fun action with RPG elements makes the hunt for gear in an interesting world a real treat. If you own a DS and you care about quality entertainment, then you need this game.

4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • The newest game in the classic Phantasy Star franchise, Phantasy Star Zero expands on the online gameplay mechanics of Phantasy Star Online, and also features an offline story mode.
  • Action-based gameplay based on combos, magical techniques, and teamwork.
  • Great diversity of character classes and a huge amount of weapons, armor, and magical techniques to find.

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