Review by CthulhuDreams99

Reviewed: 03/13/09

Have you met Monju's ditsy little sister?

I have to be honest. Many months ago when I first saw advertisements for Phantasy Star Portable, I saw it as the primary reason for me to buy a PSP. So I got one and got my hands on a copy of this game.

First and foremost, I loved the originals on the Sega Master System, and the sequels on the Genesis or Mega-Drive. I never had a chance to experiment with any of the games after 4, but I heard they were good fun. Saying all this, Sega had a lovely little biscuit in store for me with this gem.

Story: Well, let’s start with the bad news. It’s quite linear, there’s not a lot of involvement of your character in the actual plot, and the characters all fall under the same few stereotypes you see in all things from Japan’s popular culture.

With this in mind, let’s now look at some good things.

You can actually affect the flow of the story within the game. This is something Japanese game developers should be taking notes on. Granted, you don’t have many options, all story developments come from your choice between two options with NPCs. Now you may be questioning what I meant when I said your character is not really involved in the development of the story, even though it stems from your choices in dialogue. Well, let’s put it this way. The dialogue options remain the same regardless of what race or gender you are. There is no room for you to develop the character in a sense that really makes it your own. The story mainly derives from a side character.

To summarise the story briefly without spoiling it, you are a recent graduate of the Guardians, basically a sort of “space police” and you must take your new partner through a variety of missions and conspiracies.

Graphics: There’s really only one word to describe it. Beautiful. The colours are all vivid, the lighting effects look vibrant, and the levels all retain a concise amount of detail, enough to keep you from getting too bored wandering around the same maps to collect weapons and experience, yet occasionally detailed enough to distract you.

The dialogue scenes are very well made with plenty of detail in the character models and a great range of expression for each individual character. It’s too bad each character falls into a typical category of cliched stereotype, but the details are very good.
The CG sequences, while very good, are a bit grainy compared to the in game graphics strangely enough. But only slightly. There’s nothing really to complain about with the visuals. Top notch work again, Sega.

Sound: The in game music is nice ambient music, but it isn’t the best. I would like to have heard a little more variety, but the majority of the themes do elicit the feelings of “sci-fi” and “fantasy.” The sound effects are also very nice, and well timed. On a great note, I haven’t found any sounds in the game so far that have caused any unwelcome damage to my ear drums.

The voice acting is…well, it’s typical Japanese voice acting. Good points about that, there are voices for everyone with dialogue, excluding yours of course. If you’ve seen any Japanese cartoon, you know exactly what to expect. The voice acting is professional, and well done, but it doesn’t really make each character feel that much more of an individual. I forgot most of the NPC’s names almost immediately and identified them largely by what stereotypical group they fit. While far from disappointing, the voices are not completely satisfying either for this reviewer.

Gameplay: Ah, onto the main course of this review, and the point where Phantasy Star really shines.

Almost everything superficial about your character is customisable. When I say superficial, I’m referring to everything concerning your appearance, which is fantastic. You have a selection of facial styles and facial features related to whichever of the four species you choose: human, neuman, beasts, or casts(robots). Not only can you customise the face mainly to your liking, you can play around with the proportions of your character as well. For my own amusement, I made my first character a tall, very very rotund woman just because I COULD. If you wish to make your character very muscular, sure thing. You want a slim chesty female, up to you. It’s all your choice. Another great feature, hair and eye colour is also quite variable, you even can make minor gradations in hue, which to the artsy types is rather important.

You can also adjust the pitch of your character’s battle cries and grunts, which is better than being stuck with some annoying squeak. My rotund character got an equally fitting deep manly voice, adding even more to my own satisfaction with the level of customisation.
Weapons and clothing are great, you have a veritable cornucopia of selection, and each of course has a unique appearance. Another fantastic touch. You can play dress up as much as you like with your highly-customised in game avatar.

Now to the actually controls. The analogue stick controls movement, while the d-pad controls camera. The shoulder buttons centre the camera from your character and toggle secondary weapon. The face buttons correspond to your attack, your “photon arts,” actions, and toggle your quick menu.

The quick menu is beautifully done. You can switch weapons and use items flawlessly and without consequence or worry. You just need to equip items and weapons onto your “action palette”, and then cycle through and use to your heart’s content.

Magic, or techniques as I recall them being referred to in the Phantasy Star idiom, are made very simple. They are treated like augments you equip to your weapons. They are simply called “photon arts” in the portable version. They level up to increase damage, lengthen combos, and so on. Outside the melee exclusive weapons, you have a variety of elements that you can best match to increase damage to the local monsters and creatures you must battle on each map. Each element also effects the colour of your weapon as well. Melee weapons also typically have an included elemental with a percentage relating to extra damage. One final point, no MP, or TP, but rather PP. PP, meaning “photon points”, not micturation as the anagrams above would lead one to believe. This PP lets you know how many times you may use a given “photon art.” This regenerates on its own, or quickly with a special item. This, as well as damage, can also be increased at the upgrade shops, up to ten times per weapon. Each weapon also has a grading, which effects damage rank and necessary statistics to use.

Now, levelling. Levelling is linked to your job, up to ten ranks for each, and you can trade jobs to your own desire as many times as you like, as long as you have the money, and 5 levels in your initially chosen job. Each job breaks down into melee, ranged, and magic, or hunter, ranger, and force. These each have advanced levels, granting access to better rank weapons, as well as the hybrid jobs which grant access to the elusive “S” rank weapons. Another thing to keep in mind, you have two different levels to keep track of, character level and job level. Job levels cap out at 10, so keep that in mind while grinding away to make your character “ubermensch.”

The game also compartmentalises into two modes, story or mission. Mission is more free and involves playing with other people, I have yet to try out this feature so cannot give any real comment on it. The story mode is really the single player mode. However, in addition to the regular story missions, you can download missions to your PSP to add even more challenge to your game.

Overall: Ah, to rent or to buy. Well, BUY. The depth of game play and customisation cannot be fully appreciated without putting enough time. On the other hand, if you are looking for a fully immersive experience, I couldn’t recommend it. The game itself is fun, if at times occasionally repetitive. Do not let this deter you. This game features several points that clearly put it above the average throng of Japanese RPG games, the character customisation, the variability of gameplay, the choices actually effecting the outcome of the overall story (even if the story is quite hackneyed), and of course the cathartic pleasure of plenty o’smackdown.

I’d give this game 8 out of 10. The positive points far outweigh the negative, and it shows some signs of possible changes to the cliched formula for making games in Japan

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Phantasy Star Portable (JP, 07/31/08)

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