Phantasy Star Zero
Sega’s guilty Action RPG timesink makes killing thousands of monsters enjoyable on the DS.
Nintendo DS – Action RPG
Release Date: November 11, 2009
Players: 1-4 (up-to 4 Online)
Rating: Everyone (10+)
Sega’s Phantasy Star series has had many forms. It’s been an old-school turn-based RPG, a brief comic series, and even a card battle game, but it’s garnered the most acclaim as an action RPG. For almost a decade now, gamers have played the life out of 2000’s Phantasy Star Online, and some have have moved up to it’s 2006 sequel, Phantasy Star Universe. Phantasy Star Zero, the series’ most recent rendition, will immediately grab your attention, especially if Universe’s changes left a bad taste in your mouth. Zero is Sega’s attempt to return Phantasy Star to it’s roots, taking inspiration from PSO, and bringing it to the DS.
For the unfamiliar, PSZ is an action RPG just like it’s predecessors. Combat is in real time, and up to three actions can be mapped to three buttons with three more on an alternate palette. In traditional Phantasy Star fashion, you’ll be fighting hordes of monsters in search of newer, better equipment, and level ups. However, unlike the others in the series, the leveling grind is a lot leaner, and it doesn’t take forever to get strong enough to survive in the newest area. You can create a character that can either be a Human, Newman and Cast. Humans are balanced, making them great for beginners. Newmans excel at magic, making them ideal for advanced players, while Intermediate players would enjoy Casts, which are physically superior androids, at the cost of being terrible at magic. Character creation is somewhat limited though, in that there are few hair and outfit options , but almost everything can be changed, (even your name) at the character select screen.
This is easily the best looking DS game to date. Character and monster models are very detailed and don’t lose their splendor after looking at them for extended playing sessions. The varying environments in the game’s 8 levels are very high quality. With stages including barren canyons, dreary marshland to futuristic lunar stations, each area is complements the top screen very well. Very short, animated cutscenes are scattered throughout the story mode, and break away from the dialogue tied in-between fighting.
Of the many achievements Zero makes, it feels as if it’s fallen short in the sound department, specifically the BGM. The Mayor’s building, a hub where players will spend a lot of their time in organizing missions, trading with other players and speaking to NPC’s, sounds like enhanced, old Gameboy music. On the other hand, like PSO, field music transitions into a battle-oriented theme when hostiles are present, a nice touch that adds to the dynamic combat. Over time the music will grow on you and become more tolerable, if it ever was a problem at all, or will continue being a pinch to the ear.
Longevity in a Phantasy Star game really depends on how much the player wants to explore, and Zero is no different. A casual gamer can blow through the main story in about 20 hours, but the fun doesn’t stop there. The story mode has subtle differences depending on your characters race, so for completionists, a minimum of three playthroughs are necessary to see and hear everything. For veterans of the series, the real game may not even start until they’ve finished the story mode in the first place! With over 350 weapons to collect, 3 difficulties, and 14 classes due to different racial and gender combinations, things won’t get stale for a while.
Online play is presented in a competent form too. Friends can get together and play in person, connect to Nintendo’s WFC and truly play online with strangers farther away. PSZ lacks a lobby system for players to get together and form their own parties, forcing the game to herd players into parties automatically. Unfortunately, this process translates to waiting around while the game does the matchmaking, a process that easily takes 5 minutes or longer to form a party. On the other hand, players can alternately connect with buddies by connecting with their Friend Codes. Nintendo’s Friend Code system is a blessing and a curse, leaning more on frustration for players who may not have a set of teammates to get together with. For those without friends in close proximity, they must resort to Free Play mode. Communication on Free Play (matchmaking with random players) is very limited. You’ll have a number of short phrases to say, like “Hello”, “Heal me!” and “Good Work!” to name a few, but among these useful phrases, why is “Goodbye” missing? Once connected, Free Play only allows a group to run through one level, without the opportunity to do another with the same party. Despite it’s shortcomings, the most important factor is that your overall connection is very smooth. In my experience, I’ve never been disconnected, and I only suffered a little lag when too much was going on screen, which rarely happens. Unlike Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Echoes of Time, The online component is actually playable, and this will likely soften the blow of not being able to say farewell after a mission.
For many faithful PSO players, Phantasy Star Zero is just what the doctor ordered. Sega has successfully taken good concepts from their past entries in the series and compressed them into a handheld system. Phantasy Star Zero is an essential addition to any RPG fan’s DS collection.