Phantasy Star Universe Xbox 360 Review

May 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Whilst Phantasy Star started life as a single player RPG with a compulsive storyline, latterly the series has transformed into an online multiplayer RPG, where narrative very much takes a backseat to the highly monotonous, but nonetheless addictive level grinding. This metamorphosis obviously wasn’t going to sit well with a large number of fans, who previously enjoyed the series for its rich storyline, not to mention lack of idiotic hackers who ruin the games balance.

With the newest iteration, Phantasy Star Universe: SEGA hoped to attract some of these old fans back by crafting an epic single player mode with an emphasis on the storyline, just like how it was many moons ago. With a full blown online mode (akin to the past few games) also in the package, fans of the online versions are also well catered for. So, everyone will be pleased, right?

The story mode puts you in the role of Ethan Waber, who early on in the game, begins training to become a GUARDIAN (basically a fancy name for an elite soldier in the game). Ethan is the usual likeable main chap, his friend, Hygua is meanwhile the usual women chasing type, their instructor Karen is the usual sensible focussed type, whilst Nav is the usual wise old man. We guess you can see the pattern now.

Phantasy Star Universe’s cast of characters are without doubt clichéd, and – save for its sci-fi theme – as is the narrative that they’re a part of. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still a nice yarn, with pleasing touch’s of humour throughout and more than enough twists and turns to hold the interest, but we simply desire more than the usual these days or at the very least an outstanding localization effort, something which, with its bland script and voice-acting (that never rises above decent and at its worst is truly awful) it almost certainly doesn‘t offer.

The story mode plays identically to the online mode. So it’s still essentially a dungeon crawler. Like its online predecessors, combat is real time, with the difference being that weapons can be duel wielded, and the fact that it’s actually more simplistic than it has ever been. Combos previously had to be meticulously timed, whereas now just simply pummelling the attack button as if it were your worst enemy will produce an effective flurry of attacks.

For the majority of the game, you’ll be joined by a couple of A.I team-mates. These hold up pretty well in skirmishes, but outside of combat they have a tendency to stupidly run against objects. Strangely you are not able to utter orders to these lot, or even equip them with weapons and armour. It’s frustrating being in a dire situation and having your so called buddies simply refusing to cast the life saving heal spell on you, and with that said we have got to wonder why SEGA didn’t implement a command system, or at the very least, less dim witted A.I to prevent this from happening. In this aspect the online play has a considerable advantage.

This and other aspects show that the focus of the game is evidently still on the online side of things. For instance why can’t you pause your game whilst playing the story mode? Online play is just as it was in previous games, which is to say it’s not a full blown MMMORPG, perhaps the simple moniker of “online RPG” is more fitting.

Before you begin you must knock up a character, choosing your class and appearance. All of the old classes have made their return along with a few new ones. The new beast class in particular is sure to prove popular, as when you reach level 20 you’re able to transform into his/her fast and furious namesake. The appearance of your character must also be determined, from a range of options that offers significantly more choice than previously, but still not enough to give you an avatar that you feel is truly your own creation.

As is usual with the genre, the emphasis is very much on powering up your character by buying stronger weapons and armour and levelling him/her up by slaying beasties. Fans of the genre will also be pleased to learn that the game has an item synthesis system and the chance to upgrade your weapons, both of which are pleasing new additions.

Another neat new inclusion is your “room”, your own personalised area, where items can be synthesized and your partner bot can be fed items. This space can be decorated, with items purchased or sometimes found in dungeons. You are even able to visit the rooms of others to purchase any items they have up for sale, amongst other things.

It can’t be argued that there’s also an emphasis on chatting with other people roaming the servers. If you’d rather not converse with others though the headset or are without a compatible keyboard, this is a painstakingly slow process. On the bright side, shortcuts of often used comments are available to be used when the situation requires it. You’re even able to type out your own, although unfortunately there’s limited slots to do so.

It’s evident that Phantasy Star Universe is a mere PS2 port, rather than a truly shiny next gen offering. From a visual standpoint, if you’re looking for a game that flaunts the 360’s next generation beauty, with its sometimes flagging framerate and shocking popup there’s almost certainly nothing outstanding here for you. Artistically though, with its many colourful (in the literal sense) characters and generally appealing visual style, its outstanding.

Phantasy Star Universe perhaps doesn’t offer enough for those looking to relive the memories of the series prior to it becoming “connected” to the world. Don’t get us wrong, the solo mode is still well worth playing, but in spite of SEGA’s good intentions, as with the online options, generally it’s just not going to appeal to that particular type of person. The online play is addictive, but not for people who want a radically new experience. Overall, a pleasing package, but sadly not in the way that everyone will be pleased.