Review by LordShibas

Reviewed: 01/07/10

A review by someone who has played this game for over 100 hours

After my two recent MMO addictions, I decided to go back to playing my PSP for some normal, less demanding gaming that wouldn’t cause me to lose sleep and skip my usual trips to the gym. I chose to play Phantasy Star Portable, which seemed like a good idea, however, I was ill prepared for the mind bending quest which I was about to embark on. Phantasy Star Portable is an action RPG that takes place in the Phantasy Star universe, and actually plays very similar to an MMO. Questing, fighting enemies, and striving for good drops are all commonplace.

Before I get to my review, I feel the need to explain the significance that the Phantasy Star series has for me as a gamer. When I was a young gamer, and all of my friends were totting around their Nintendo Entertainment Systems, I was one of the few people I knew that had a Sega Master System instead. The Sega Master System had a slew of good games, but the one game that truly captivated me like no other was the original Phantasy Star. Given the amount of free time I had when I was younger, I don’t think it’s possible for me to fathom the amount of times I played through the original Phantasy Star, but it was without a doubt over a dozen times.

Not only did I treasure Phantasy Star, but it was my first RPG ever, and it’s the reason that I love RPGs to this day. Fast forward many, many years, and here I am with my RPG vocations still going strong. RPGs have been my favorite genre of games for years, and Phantasy Star is much to blame for my steadfast persistence.

When I moved on to the Sega Genesis, I played and adored all three Phantasy Star games, including Phantasy Star 3, the supposed black sheep of the series. When the tides turned to the Dreamcast, I was very apprehensive about the Phantasy Star Online games, since at the time, I feared the changes that were made to the Phantasy Star formula, and I was a little bitter about it. So I never did play the Phantasy Star Online games.

When Phantasy Star Portable was announced for the PSP, I was extremely excited, and I couldn’t wait to see what Sega had in store for the game. I was a little bummed when I found out that it was a portable version of Phantasy Star Universe, which I had never played, but I went ahead and made the capricious purchase when the game was released. After seeing Phantasy Star Portable sit on my shelf for months and months, I finally worked up the courage to play the game, hoping for the best, and hoping that the new direction for the Phantasy Star series would be to my liking.

Initially, I was only moderately impressed with Phantasy Star Portable. There was a lot to like about the game, but there were some glaring problems, like the poor party AI and the long UMD load times. In spite of these problems, I pressed on, and found that the more and more I played Phantasy Star Portable, the more addicting it became. Pretty soon, I was playing it for seven hours a day on my days off, and I would have played it more if I could have.

Having now put over 100 hours into Phantasy Star Portable, I can now say that not only do I approve of the new direction for the Phantasy Star series, but in some ways, I like the new style of Phantasy Star even more than the original, standard turn based games.

In Phantasy Star Portable, you customize a generic character that is a member of the Guardians. The Guardians are bounty hunter type people that have steady jobs thanks to the troubled System of Gurhal. Gurhal consists of four planets which you can travel to at any time. Each planet has a Guardian’s Branch, which offers up missions for you to take on. There are two types of missions: Free Missions and Story Missions. Free Missions are mainly for leveling and finding rare items. The Story Missions are a small set of missions that follow a rather simple story, and they attempt to give some meaning to your actions.

While it may sound pretty basic so far, this is where the simplicity ends. Phantasy Star Portable doesn’t really follow a conventional RPG style. The races, Types (see Classes), and skills will take a while to get used to. At the beginning, you can choose to play as 4 races: Human, Newman, Cast, or a Beast. I chose to play as a Human, since they are the most basic race in the game. They have well rounded stats, but lack the special abilities of other races, like Beasts being able to go berserk, and Casts being able to use SUV Attacks.

Next, you can pick a class, or “Type” for your character. This can be either a Hunter, Ranger, or Force. Hunters are standard melee characters, Rangers are good with guns, and Force characters can use Technics, which are the game’s form of magic. There are five additional “Advanced Types” that you can switch to once your level gets high enough.

There really is a lot to discuss with this game, and as much as I do like to ramble on, I’ll stop here and get to my review.

Graphics 8/10

Since Phantasy Star Portable is a port of Phantasy Star Universe, it may not look very impressive by comparison. However, for a PSP game, Phantasy Star Portable looks pretty darn good. Sega has done an exceptional job of scaling down the world of Phantasy Star Universe onto the PSP.

The 3D landscapes during the missions offer a nice variety, from space deserts, to lush forests, all the way to a mission where you must purify a train of a SEED infestation.

Phantasy Star Portable has a bevy of weapons that you can use. Since I was a Hunter, I stuck to melee weapons, but I still had tons of options to choose between at any given time. Axes, dual swords, knuckles, dual claws, sword/gun combos, and batons were just a few of the weapons that were available to me, and that’s just for the Hunter Type!! Each weapon is cleverly designed, and weapons with elemental properties have a distinct, colored glow, which looks pretty cool.

While the standard enemies are adequate, the bosses are very well done. As you approach the end of missions, dragons will swoop down from the sky to fight you, large fish creatures will emerge from lakes to confront you, and large, knight enemies brandishing lances will charge at you while on the backs of four legged beasts. The overbearing design makes the bosses seem quite impetuous, and seeing what awaits you at the end of a mission is almost always a treat.

If the graphics in Phantasy Star Portable have one stigma, it would be the slowdown that hinders the game when the screen gets busy. For the early parts of the game it’s not a big deal, but as the game ramps up the difficulty, it throws more and more enemies at you at once, and things can slow down to a crawl in the later missions. You almost get used to it after a while, but you can tell that Sega bit off a bit more than they could chew at times.

One final thing about the graphics is the ability to buy clothes for your character. You equip armor like any standard RPG, but it stays invisible, and you get the stat boosts. This makes way for some cool customization with all of the clothes you can buy or find. Clothes consist of tops, bottoms, boots, and several one-piece outfits that can be obtained. You can mix and match these to your heart’s content, you can buy them in different colors, and you can even run through the entire game with your character in a pair of spandex and a tube top if you so desire.

The clothing option is superficial only, but it lets you switch up the look of your character at any time, which can be quite fun. I think all RPGs should have this as an option. Phantasy Star Portable is the only RPG I’ve ever played where I can say that I beat the last boss in the game while my female character was wearing a bikini.

Sounds and Music 8/10

Phantasy Star Portable has a pretty good soundtrack, and I really liked the music for the AMF HQ Recovery mission. I’d say for every catchy track, there was probably about two that were forgettable, but none of them were really bad.

The sound effects are excellent, and each weapon sounds different and has its own distinct sound effects. Swinging around the batons sounds like a lightsaber, the claws let out a demon’s cry when you swing them, and the knuckles let out a mashing sound as you pummel your enemies. Keep in mind that each weapon type has many unique weapons with unique looks and sounds as well.

Now we come to the voice acting. The voice acting is actually not that bad. The problem is that due to the incredibly pathetic story, the voice actors are forced to say some of the dumbest things imaginable. One could easily mistake the poor dialogue for bad voice acting, but I was able to make a distinction between the two.

Story 4/10

You know, I really enjoyed playing Phantasy Star Portable, but I feel that I would be lying to you if I told you that the story was anything other than awful. The story follows the SEED infestation of the Gurhal System. SEED are basically mutated, infected creatures that must be killed in order to be purified. That’s pretty much it. You end up trailing an antagonist who is to blame for the outbreak, but it’s not a very complex plot.

The best thing about completing the story missions is that beating story missions unlocks new Free Missions, new items in the stores, and new clothes for your character. Just think of it as a means to an end. The sooner you get through the Story Missions, the sooner you can go back to the Free Missions, which is the meat and potatoes of the game.

I’m not going to dwell on the story, but I’ll just warn you not to pick up this game with aspirations of playing through a great story mode, it’s just not going to happen.

Gameplay 9/10

Phantasy Star Portable is all about excellent gameplay, and it does not disappoint. Before I start talking about the gameplay, I feel the need to explain that I spent a lot of time playing this game. Over 100 hours, and this is a score based on how much I enjoyed the gameplay when all was said and done. Playing this game for 5 hours does NOT give you any indication about how deep and rewarding the gameplay experience in Phantasy Star Portable is. Heck, even playing this game for 20 hours doesn’t do it justice. I really found myself appreciating Phantasy Star Portable when I was about level 40-45, and the game started to get much more difficult in the later missions.

The early missions in the game are simple, and their simplicity may turn off some people, but I implore you to invest some time into this game before you pass judgment on it. It really has a lot to offer. The enemies and missions gradually scale up in difficulty, and by the time you hit the highest level S rank missions, you will be fighting some very tough foes indeed. Don’t believe me? Well some of the S rank missions have you fighting up to six bosses at the end of a single mission. Yes, six bosses, all right in a row. Now that’s fun.

Phantasy Star Portable is almost solely based on enemy drops. You can buy items from the stores, but it will not take you long to purchase everything that’s worthwhile. Extorting Meseta (Phantasy Star’s currency) almost becomes meaningless about halfway through the game. By the time I finished the game, I had over 10 million Meseta, and I literally had nothing to buy with it. All of my weapons and equipment were far better than what was available in the shops, I had purchased every single piece of clothing I could, and curative items were the only thing worth buying, and they didn’t cost much at all.

Before I talk about the Free Missions, I’d like to say that I’m mainly a story driven RPG gamer. I like playing through stories, and I rarely partake in side missions that are optional, even in RPGs that I really like. However, once I started playing the Free Missions in Phantasy Star Portable, I couldn’t stop. Each Free Mission has four ranks, and each one is more difficult than the last. I had an overwhelming desire to beat every single Free Mission. In the end, I beat all but one Free Mission, which is quite a lot. This also is the main reason why I put over 100 hours into this game, which is by far the longest amount of time I’ve ever put into a single play through of a single player RPG in my entire gaming life.

Given the fact that I only played through the game as a Hunter/Fighmaster, I feel like I only scratched the surface of what Phantasy Star Portable has to offer. Speaking of the different Types, you do not have to stay with the same Type through the whole game. You can switch at any time at the main base on the Guardian’s Colony. This can make weapons and skills that you are unable to use applicable, and can totally change the way you play the game.

One negative thing about the gameplay is the absolute horrid partner AI. When you do any set of missions, you will have partners with you, and they are pretty much as dumb as bricks. They will stand there, just not attacking enemies, and will follow you too closely. You have to take their inadequacies into consideration. When you see five enemies approaching you, be ready to take out five enemies by yourself. It’s that simple. The partner AI is probably the second worst I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s only overshadowed by the AI in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates for DS, which holds the title for the worst party AI I’ve ever seen in a game.

Once you get used to the fact that your partners are brain dead idiots, you can use their predictability to your advantage. You can trick them into springing traps for you, and you can use them as meat shields against the enemies.

To sum up the gameplay in Phantasy Star Portable, I would say that it’s a dungeon crawler/looters dream come true. There is so much to do, and the customization offers limitless possibilities. Most aspects of Phantasy Star Portable are rudimentary, but the gameplay really takes the game to a whole new level. I’ve played very few RPGs in my life that sucked me in the way Phantasy Star Portable did.

Longevity and Re-Playability 9/10

There’s not much to say here. Statistically, this is the most amount of time I’ve put into a single player RPG in my life. It took me over 100 hours to get through all but one of the single player missions alone, and I didn’t even explore the multi-player mode that most people say is quite good.

Conclusion

If you are looking for an RPG that will take up loads of your time, then give Phantasy Star Portable a try. It may not be perfect, but it has really restored my faith in the Phantasy Star series. I’m now really looking forward to Phantasy Star Portable 2.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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