Phantasy Star Portable PSP Review

Phantasy Star Portable is very much like a pocket-sized version of recent games in SEGA‘s RPG series; the only real major thing missing is the online mode. Sure, the game does have multiplayer of the offline variety, although each player needs a PSP and a copy of the game, which just isn’t very Convenient, SEGA.

With lack of online multiplayer aside, Phantasy Star Portable can be played in four players via ad-hoc, although, as I was unable to test this feature, the text of this review will be focused on the single player.

The story takes place after the events of 2006’s Phantasy Star Universe and its expansion pack, Ambition of the Illuminus. Familiar characters return, new ones come into the picture and the overall story is about that of a mad, woman terrorist. It’s a pretty decent story and new character Vivienne, being the CAST (the series’ fancy name for androids) with human tendencies that she is, is the highlight of many a conversation. The plot does include spoken dialogue but rather than fancy cut-scenes, still images of the characters are displayed.

The GUARDIAN character that you take control of is of your own creation and, being largely the silent type, any dialogue is also of your own selection. The character creation tool is decent enough, allowing you to choose from a number of races, deciding if they’ll have an Adam’s apple or a pair of breasts and then altering their appearance.

When the creation process is out of the way, Phantasy Star Portable is exactly as you’d expect a Phantasy Star game to be today: a dungeon crawler with the constant bludgeoning of monsters, the acquiring of new items and the addition of others to your current stock. I would be lying to say that no sacrifices have been made to make this portable version happen, although most of the important stuff have escaped the axe.

When you aren’t involved in a GUARDIAN mission, you’ll still be visiting towns and conversing with their people, although this feature has been considerably scaled back. Moving from one area to another (whether it’s a shop, a pub or a different planet) is menu based and speaking with the townsfolk is done through a very simple system, in which they’re merely small icons that are highlighted white when they have something new to say to you.

The bulk of your time will be spent in the dungeons though: exploring and hacking your way through enemies. There’s story missions which advance the plot and optional missions for that all-important level grinding, which you’ll really need to do if you realistically want to progress through the story. If you choose to play a game like this, you normally like seeing rising numbers anyway, and love levelling up even when it’s not absolutely necessary (that‘s not stereotyping, right?), so this shouldn‘t be a problem for you.

The combat lets you away with button mashing, but, if you want to invest a little more thought into your fighting, well timed attacks can lead to criticals. Moving on, an item palette can also be summoned with a button press, allowing you to get quick access to the items that you have placed in it, often proving to be a real life saver in the most desperate of situations.

The accompanying AI teammates are decent enough help in dealing out the damage, although their path finding is awful, and when coaxing them to come unstuck from a wall, they then have the cheek to ask if you got lost? If they were real people, I would politely tell them that I wasn’t the one running dumbly against a wall. AI buddies are either determined by events in the story, or you can assemble a team of your choosing for missions outside the said story; in which particular members aren’t required.

Phantasy Star Portable is the sort of game that will have its fans toiling away for hours: levelling up and maxing out stats. It’s just a shame about the shoddy AI and the lack of an online mode, but, other than those complaints, this is a fantastic portable version of the series.

Now, I’m off to level up and hopefully find some rare items.