bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Phantasy Star Universe (PlayStation 2)

In the past couple of years, its seemed as though the online role playing game is the sure fire way to make some cash, this is unsurprising, considering the following these things receive, and the opportunity to have potential players buying a subscription to play your title. A lot of these are released purely for the PC and tend to be extremely life consuming affairs that require a lot of time and patience for you to reap any benefit for playing the game. With this in mind, Phantasy Star Online has always been a mildly popular title. Its an Online Role Playing Game for those that don’t have the time to spend many many hours reaching the next level increase. Its a simple, Diablo 2-like area explorer, where there’s always plenty of items to pick up and do what you want with, and the latest release, Phantasy Star Universe is no different to this basic set up.

There’s a lot thats been changed between the many versions of PSO and the newly released PSU. The action no longer takes place on Ragol, which was the setting for all 4 episodes of Phantasy Star Online. Universe instead takes place in the Gaharl system, a universe made up of 3 planets and a space colony. Another major change is also how the game is separated now, PSO allowed you to make a character and use it in both an offline mode and an online mode, this led to alot of cheating problems, plus a lack of direction for anyone wanting to play single player. With PSU, Sonic Team have included a completely separate story mode, it still uses the same controls, but has pre-determined characters and scripted events.

This gives the game a feel of having two games for the price of one, which is a good thing, and the Story Modes only draw back is average voice acting and uninteresting characters. The story is interestingly set out into chapters, which are played out like a television serialisation. With each one being roughly an hour to an hour and a half to play through, there are 12 missions in all, and you’re gradually introduced to new characters and locations, as well as being able to do all the other stuff you would normally do online, such as partake in none story missions, buying, selling and synthesising weapons, armour and items, aswell as dressing Ethan in clothes bought from the stores on each planet, the same also applies to your room on the Space Colony.

This is one of the best parts about the online mode, the sheer customisation, depending on whats available at the time. You see, as things stand at the time of writing, there has been one update, released a week before the games European launch, this allowed you to play on the Beat planet of Moatoob and also unlocked some new missions for the other 3 areas. But SEGA have promised an update each month, and that seems to be the case in Japan where they are, I think, on their third update.

Enjoyment of any online game will come from the company you keep, and the problem with Phantasy Star Universe is that it doesn’t seem to have taken off in Europe, meaning unless your willing to wait up until silly times of the day, theres not going to be a lot of people to party with. Plus with the series’ history of cheating, its difficult to trust anyone you run into in the games lobbies and cities, even though online cheating hasn’t been properly accomplished yet.

Here’s the part of the review where you need to have played a fair bit of Phantasy Star Online to read. This is because it involves a lot of technical changes over the older titles in the series. You see, theres a lot of more complicated item stuff this time, weapons have to be approached differently, as does your class and MAG’s are no more. But I’ll go through these things in the order I’ve listed them.

With weapons, you buy your basic weapon, and then add something called a Photon Art to it, this is going on the example of a Ranger class character, so, for example, if you buy the long ranged gun type Rifle, from there you can buy various elemental Photon Arts such as Plasma Shot, which you then use as a normal item to learn and then link to your weapon, this gives your Rifle an elemental bullet made of lightning which can also shock and creatures you shoot with it, temporarily disabling their attacking abilities. You’re also limited in how much you can use these (think of TP in PSO and you’re pretty much there) but you can level them by using them as much as possible. This adds an element of strategy to the game, leaving you to learn what Photon Art would be best in each given situation and switching between them as and when you can.

Classes are still split into the old Hunter, Ranger and Force types of old, except now any species can take one of those jobs, but obviously some are better than others at each one. Also, you can also change your class at any point, for a small fee, and as you complete missions you receive Job Points which gradually raise the level of your job. Later on, when your jobs reach certain levels, you will be able to choose an advanced job, making your role in a party more specific.

Finally on this technical review of the new parts of the game, as said previously, MAG’s are no more, they have now been replaced by something called a Partner Machine. Unlike with MAG’s your Partner Machine is limited to staying in your room, storing your items, synthesising new weapons and items you have found boards and synth ingredients for feeding. Yes, you still feed them. This time round, you don’t feed it 3 times every five minutes or whatever it used to be, but you can feed them up to 100 times every 12 hours. Also, the stats which you level up determine the PM’s strengths in synthing certain item types, for example, if you raise your PM’s Striking stat, it will have more success at synthing Hunter type weapons. Also, once your Partner Machines level reaches level 80, it takes on a humanoid form and can be brought into a party in place of a human controlled character, so long as you are the party leader. This is good for when you really need that extra body to draw away some of the attention from the various creatures in the game, but it was an irritating mistake on Sonic Team’s part to give them the ability to shout out random sentences every couple of minutes.

Now we have all that out of the way, I’d like to say this, Phantasy Star Universe will no doubt be a disappointment to those who were expecting something as big as Phantasy Star Online was the first time it was released on Dreamcast, but approach it as a fan wanting more of the same but slightly different, and you will be extremely pleased. It still has that life sucking ability to draw you in and not let you go that the Dreamcast, and to a lesser extent, Gamecube, XBox and PC versions of Phantasy Star Online had, and is still incredibly enjoyable for those that may have tired of the ways of the older games. Its not a revolution, but its certainly an evolution, and that, in my eyes is a good thing.

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