Review by shenmuer2001

Reviewed: 05/29/09

Phantasy Star Portable does not live up to PSO

Back in the day, the Dreamcast was a thing of beauty. Not only were the graphics great and the games easy to pirate (which was better for the fans than the developers), but it was a system of innovation. At that time, Sega seemed to want to take over the world through one medium: the World Wide Web. To do this, they included a 56k modem with every system and tried to create an internet service similar to AOL or Netzero: Seganet. To ensure that gamers would use this service, Sega knew that it needed to create phantastic games that would be played online. One such game that was developed for the Dreamcast was Phantasy Star Online, aka PSO.

PSO was a groundbreaking title. It was the first MMO-style game to be found on consoles and it had a function of "word selection" where, while talking to other players, you could choose from a list of words that would then be translated into other languages. This feature made PSO one of the first truly international games. Another fan favorite/abuse was, much like the system itself, the ability to hack save files to allow for abundant cheating found all over the game's servers. But even more important was that the game itself was so much fun. Sure, the plot wasn't much to call home about, but the point of PSO was never the story. It was about going online, meeting people, and having fun beating up monsters. Add to this a collection of memorable villains (who can't still picture boomas and rag rappys jumping out at the players), wonderful music (I still hear that lounge theme in my mind), and enough missions to keep people happy, and it is easy to see why PSO is a fan favorite. Later releases would add even more fun missions (such as a mission in which the player would go to a village of rag rappys while listening to Samba de Amigo music), which in turn added more enjoyment for new and old players.

Some time after PSO was released and after the death of the Dreamcast, Sega decided to revisit PSO's game engine but with a new twist. What if, they thought, we created a game similar to PSO but we add a stand-alone story mode to the game? I can't actually comment on this game, Phantasy Star Universe, because I have never played, but I want you, the reader, to see that Sega's philosophy for this series had been changed from "let people battle together online" to "be just like other RPGs only with a different battle system."

Further down the line, Capcom created a game called Monster Hunter. This game had a similar concept to Phantasy Star Online: ignore the plot and create better gameplay. People wanted to hunt monsters, so that's what Capcom allowed them to do. People also found that hunting monsters with their friends is one of the most fun and rewarding challenges, which has led to this game being insanely popular (at least in Japan).

This leads us back to Sega's headquarters. Unlike the Sega that created games such as PSO and Shenmue, this Sega is beaten and worn-out. It has lost money and wants to produce only surefire successes. It is a Sega that praises profits over innovation. There is a meeting currently going on there. The old Japanese CEO rubs his head, obviously stressed, and asks his employees if they have any ideas as to what to do next. One man, hair still black but thinning, points out that Monster Hunter is hugely successful for Capcom, which makes the CEO ask if Sega has any games similar to it. A slightly overweight man points out that they have the PSO series, which causes the CEO to demand that a portable version of that game be made. All people in that meeting get raises, and Phantasy Star Portable was born. (Note: that may not be how Phantasy Star Portable was born).

The only problem with Portable is that it fails on so many levels. First off, this game also has a "story," but it's unnecessary. The story is basically Pinocchio in space. Yes, there's also parts of the story that deal with terrorism and corrupt religions (I guess Tokugawa Ieyasu's ban on Christianity has created a notion that organized religion is evil in Japan), but it's so pointless and forgettable that I found myself not caring about it at all. Add to that some techno-babble and you'll find yourself throwing your hands in the air and saying whatever.

Actually, a lot of the game is forgettable. While this game had music and I did listen to it most of the time, I can honestly say that I couldn't hum any of it to you. Instead of adding to the atmosphere, it just seems to be there. The monsters are also forgettable. The only monsters that I can remember are the boomas and rag rappys; the reason for that being that I was familiar with them from PSO. There are robot things, bird things, hunter things and wolf things. The areas that you fight in themselves are also forgettable. They mostly consist of large open areas to fight monsters and various walls (be it cave wall, building wall, or tree wall) to show you where you cannot go. I say "see" loosely, since most of the areas are too dark to see anything clearly, even with your PSP at its brightest setting.

The characters in this game are also a joke. I suppose this is because they all come from Phantasy Star Universe, so fans of that game will know and love everyone coming back, but for those of us who skipped PSU, they're just a bunch of archetypes. Ladies' man? Check. Perverted old man? Check. Girl with big boobs who complains about them? Check. They have every anime stereotype in this game except for a cat-girl. Even worse, they're all useless. They have no intelligence in combat, so most of the time they'll only attack what you've attacked or occasionally heal you. They'll follow you around when you're not fighting, which leads to them being caught in traps constantly. Plus, unless you are a force (read: magic-user), you have no way of healing them (well, you have one item, but you can only hold 10 of them), which means that they will be constantly dying. This means that they make better meat-shields than anything else.

Now, let's talk about the missions. This game has two types of missions: story missions and free missions. They are exactly the same except one has cutscenes and spoken dialogue. In the free missions, there is only one type of mission: go from point A to point B and kill a boss. That's it. So, you travel through drab locations fighting uninspired monsters listening to dull music. Four times. Yes, for each area there are four different classes you can beat it on, which means that there is no difference other than stronger monsters. This lack of variety makes the game feel tedious. There might be different missions on multiplayer mode, but I wouldn't know because you can't play the game over the internet, only on the ad-hoc servers. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing. It seems like it would take an eternity typing messages to people, so it would be easier to just talk to other people.

Despite all of the games flaws, there are a couple of enjoyable parts to it. For one, the voice acting is pretty good. I especially love whoever says "Welcome to my store." It sounds slightly fake but it's great. I also like how you can switch jobs at any time during the game, which meant that I was able to be a fighter, a ranger (read: gunman), and a force. Finally, I liked how Sega knew what its fans want in regard to assist robots. It is much easier to find robots that look like old Sega consoles than it was in PSO, and I was happy to be able to fight with a Sega Saturn floating around me.

All in all, this game just wasn't much fun. The game play was tedious, the visuals were boring, and the story was forgettable. It seems like Sega needs to return to PSO to figure out what they used to do right. If they make a sequel to this game, they need to have a wider variety of missions and should consider ditching the story. I'm only giving this game as high of a score as I am because despite all of these problems I couldn't stop playing. Here's hoping that this series and Sega will becoming great again.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Phantasy Star Portable (US, 03/03/09)

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