Phantasy Star Portable PSP
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: SEGA
Phantasy Star Universe was a game that didn't turn out to be as good a game as many fans of the Phantasy Star series would have hoped for. The single-player element of the game proved to be a decent action-RPG experience but it certainly wasn't anything special. The game also suffered because you couldn't take your character from the single-player game and use them in the multiplayer game. Phantasy Star Portable for the PSP, disappointingly for some, is closer to Phantasy Star Universe than the Phantasy Star Online games that appeared on the Dreamcast but some of the mistakes made in PSU have been rectified here and for all its faults, it's a game that should satisfy fans of the series.
Your first task in Phantasy Star Portable will be to create your character and you'll be pleased to learn that you can use this character in both the single and multiplayer modes. The character customisation options are actually quite good. You can choose from a selection of races such as Human, Newman, CAST or Beast. You'll get to customise everything from the face model to your character's eyelashes. The initial choices of character classes are Hunter, Ranger and Force. Finally you'll choose an AI assistant (called a Partner Machine) that can accompany you and each of the available ones has different skills to offer. Once you're done you'll have the choice of playing either the single-player Story Mode or the Ad Hoc only Multi Mode.
The game begins as you've just completed your training and have become a Guardian. You're assigned to the Mobile Defence Force in order to protect the Gurhal System. Along with a new CAST recruit called Vivienne (you'll also have an assortment of party members during the course of the game) you'll take on a variety of story and free missions (in other words compulsory and optional missions) as you attempt to defeat the attacks of an enemy known as SEED.
I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable the single-player Story mode was. Sure, the storyline isn't memorable and it will feel familiar to those who've played Phantasy Star Universe but it's a very accessible action-RPG. Your AI comrades are rather ineffective, have pathfinding issues and generally don't feel like they are helping much at times. I found the controls easy to get to grips with. The combat was also enjoyable although like every action-RPG, the combat can feel repetitive after a while. Thankfully, the combat never feels like you're simply button-bashing and it certainly has its finer points which keep it interesting.
The multiplayer side, which offers up to four players the opportunity to take part in a variety of missions, is disappointing however. That's not to say it's not worthwhile but as you can't play the game online you're stuck with having to find up to three other friends who own a copy of the game. Needless to say then that many won't get to experience the multiplayer side of the game which is a shame because it's definitely a game that's more enjoyable when played with human companions.
Graphically Phantasy Star Portable looks OK. Unlike Phantasy Star Universe, Portable does away with letting you explore outside of the missions. Instead you'll simply go from one menu to another in each of the game's locations. Disappointingly, the game features some rather bland looking character portraits. During the missions, which are played from a third person perspective, things look a little better but it's far from being a great looking PSP title. That said, the character models look decent and the frame rate mostly holds up rather nicely. Load times aren't too bad either and their length is certainly more than acceptable for a PSP game. The interface is also quite good and is easy to get to grips with.
Phantasy Star Portable won't give deaf gamers any real problems. The game's cutscenes are subtitled although there are no character names or portraits placed alongside the dialogue. In-game dialogue is also subtitled, although here you do have large character portraits and names to show you who is saying what. The in-game speech appears in speech balloons so it's always easy to read. You'll also be able to read it at your own pace as you'll need to press the X button to advance the dialogue. Tutorial messages are shown in text so you'll have no problems in getting to grips with the game. Comments made by characters during the course of a battle are in text. The damage you cause and experience you gain are shown and you're notified when your character has levelled-up.
Those looking for a good single-player action-RPG will find just about enough in Phantasy Star Portable to keep them satisfied. It would have been welcome if the game's storyline had actually been something to get excited about but sadly that isn't the case. Whilst the multiplayer experience has the potential to be enjoyable, it's a shame that not many will experience it unless you have PSP owning friends who also have a copy of the game. The ability to play the game online should definitely have been included. In short, Phantasy Star Portable is a good game but it's also a game that could have been much better.