Phantasy Star Universe Xbox 360
Published by SEGA
Developed by Sonic Team
Release Date: Out Now
The Phantasy Star series has been a long running one. Originally the games were turn-based affairs that appeared in the latter half of the 1980s on the SEGA Master System but what most people know the series for is the Phantasy Star Online games that appeared on what turned out to be SEGA’s final console, at least for now, the Dreamcast. Ever since, fans of the series have been waiting for a true sequel to arrive and finally it’s here. Of course online gaming has changed dramatically since the last Phantasy Star Online game and Phantasy Star Universe is going to have to be something special in order to stand out.
The single-player game in Phantasy Star Universe is actually OK and those looking for some hack ‘n’ slash RPG action on the Xbox 360 might want to consider Phantasy Star Universe purely for its single-player story. In the single-player story you’ll play as the rather arrogant, at least initially, Ethan Waber. Ethan has a loathing of the Guardians, which is unfortunate as he resides on a Guardian Colony. The resentment he has for the Guardians soon disappears however when deadly invaders known as The SEED hit Gurhal System (where the colony is located) and Ethan’s sister, Lumia is placed in a perilous situation. Ethan manages to rescue his sister with the assistance of a Guardian (who helps him despite his attitude) and the whole experience causes a dramatic change in his attitude towards the Guardians. So much so in fact that he sets out to train as one. The game is played out through twelve chapters and focuses on Ethan’s rise from Guardian hater to Guardian hero.
As well as playing through the single-player story you’ll also get to participate in Free Missions during the single-player game. These essentially mimic the online experience with AI characters making up the numbers to accompany Ethan. Online the game can be played in up to groups of six. There are three classes in the game. Hunters are great for mêlée action, Rangers rely on guns and other ranged weapons whilst Force gets to use TECHNIC’s (magic type weapons), which are powerful although Force characters do not have much HP so essentially they are more of a ranged character. It should be noted that you can change class at any time, which helps to keep things interesting. Regardless of whether you play online or offline missions are pretty straight forward. Each location is split into smaller zones and in each zone you’re required to take out all of the enemies and usually collect key cards in order to gain access to another area. You’ll engage in over a dozen boss fights and whilst they are more challenging than the usual fights the game never feels really challenging (due to the AI not being that intelligent), which some might find slightly disappointing. Doing missions will enable your character to level up and gain money (called Meseta) that can then be used to purchase a multitude of weapons and items.
Whilst most will be picking up the game because they enjoyed Phantasy Star Online, it’s a fair bet that some will have never played those games and they might be unsure whether to give the online side of the game a go. Usually a 30 day trial allows gamers to test the water and see if it’s for them. There’s no such 30-day trial here though. In fact there’s no trial period at all. If you want to play the online game you’re going to have to visit the Xbox Live Marketplace and pay the £6.99 asking price. This will be no problem for those who are determined to enjoy the online game but it’s a big problem for those who haven’t played the Phantasy Star Online games before and have already paid £44.99 and then have to pay out an additional £6.99 to simply see if they like the online side of the game.
When playing Phantasy Star Universe it’s difficult to remember you’re actually playing an Xbox 360 title. The game certainly doesn’t look bad but it certainly doesn’t look like it is being played on a next generation console. Walking around any of the areas in the game and you’ll be disappointed to see NPC’s appear and disappear before your very eyes. The various enemies you’ll face also pop into your vision and simply disappear when defeated. Whilst the character models look good a lot of the environments look far too angular. It gives you the impression that the game was created for a lesser system and then ported over to the Xbox 360 without taking advantage of the hardware the console has. The amount of small loading times also gives strength to this argument.
Phantasy Star Universe is mostly OK for deaf gamers but there are some omissions. The movie that plays when you first load the game isn’t subtitled. There are also cutscenes that play in between the chapter in the single-player game and these aren’t subtitled, which is odd considering elsewhere in the single-player game it’s all deaf gamer friendly with conversations during the main game being shown in speech balloons and character's thoughts being shown in thought bubbles. These conversations require you to press the A button in order to proceed so you’ll get to read the text in your own time. If there’s one complaint I do have is that when playing the game on a standard TV the text isn’t always as crisp as it should be. It’s still easy to read though and shouldn't give anyone any problems. Voice communications are supported when playing online which may put deaf gamers at a disadvantage if not playing exclusively with deaf gamers.
Phantasy Star Universe is one of those games that is difficult to praise or be too critical of. On the one hand you have a game that doesn’t take advantage of the Xbox 360’s capabilities and doesn’t justify the extra £15 on the price tag (£44.99 compared to the £29.99 asking price for the PC and PlayStation 2 versions). On top of this there isn’t even a 30-day trial to see if you like the online side of the game before paying out £6.99 per month to play the game online. Taking a look around online I found the Xbox 360 game for £29.99, which seems good until you consider that on the same website they had the other versions for just £14.99. Ignoring those complaints for a moment, the game is a solid hack ‘n’ slash RPG with a good single-player component that thanks to the Free Missions you’ll unlock (in Chapter 3) will practically last you forever or at least until you’ve had enough. Fans of the Phantasy Star Online games will no doubt be satisfied with Phantasy Star Universe. Those who haven’t experienced the PSO games may do well to rent the game first and see if it appeals to them before paying the asking price.
Phantasy Star Universe is a game for fans of the Phantasy Star Online games. Others may not be so forgiving of the £6.99 per month online fees and (by Xbox 360 standards) the poor graphics, not to mention the AI which isn't all that difficult. At least there's a solid and fairly lengthy action RPG single-player experience here.