Phantasy Star Online was one of the very first console massively multiplayer online role playing games. While the Dreamcast’s life span was short lived, Phantasy Star Online’s life was far from short as it moved to almost every other home console last generation. While Phantasy Star Universe is the first real sequel to Phantasy Star Online, many changes were made that pushed many fans to go back to the original Phantasy Star Online. Now that the fan base is split between Phantasy Star Universe and Phantasy Star Online, SEGA has created a title that goes back towards the original Phantasy Star Online with Phantasy Star Zero for the Nintendo DS. While it sounds all fine on paper, the question is if SEGA can really duplicate the success of the original Phantasy Star Online with this new entry and bring the full experience onto the DS.
Phantasy Star Zero takes place in a world where everything was basically obliterated from the Earth. Humans survived from hiding underground and over time rebuilt civilizations on earth. The earth however is now covered in a deadly gas that holds back civilization from expanding. Because of the gas, monsters are now concentrated in these safe pockets of land near where humans have started living. In order to protect the towns from these hostiles, hunters are employed to take care of tasks outside of towns that may result in confrontation with these creatures. You play as a random person, which you create, who one way or another ends up with the local towns hunters guild along with a mysterious girl. Quickly you will find that there is more going on then just simple petty quests to do as the story quickly evolves to a fight for survival as a scheme against the human race has been plotted.
Recent Phantasy Star games haven’t exactly been known for their story, but Phantasy Star Zero story is a bit more ambitious then the original Phantasy Star Online while falling a bit short compared to Phantasy Star Universe. If you couldn’t already tell by the term “mysterious girl” the story in Phantasy Star Zero is fairly generic and you won’t find many surprises here. Depending on what race you choose your character to be, the story will alter. Eventually they all end up on the same course after the first few missions in the game. The extra story per race adds a little bit of replay value as it slightly changes some events,but it is only really worth it for those who are really desperate to see everything it has to offer. There are a variety of side quests that tell mini stories, but they are relatively uninteresting. The characters would most likely be fairly dull if it wasn’t for the fact that the dialogue is fairly entertaining since the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.
While Phantasy Star Zero does have a story, it is far from the focus. Phantasy Star Zero, like Phantasy Star Online, is a dungeon crawling experience where you basically you go to an area kill enemies and get item drops that will hopefully improve upon your current equipment or skills. It really is just a grind, but Phantasy Star Zero brings in a simple yet entertaining battle system to make the whole experience enjoyable. There are quests offline and online to play, but most of them amount to simply playing through a dungeon, beating a boss and then moving onto the next to continue collecting loot.
Like Phantasy Star Online, Phantasy Star Zero has a real time battle system comparable to Blizzards’ Diablo series. The big difference between the two is that Phantasy Star Zero implements 3 hit combo system where you basically tap the attack button in rhythm to pull off 3 attacks in a row without stopping. You can also combine both light and hard attacks into 3 hit combos. This adds a little bit of strategy because each light hit increases the accuracy of the next attack, so pulling off a light, light, hard combo will make it more likely all 3 attacks will hit where as doing a hard, hard, hard, combo will most likely end with a miss or two and leave you open to enemy attacks. It is also crucial to get the timing right or else you won’t complete the combo and be left open for attacks. This is the basis of the attack system for not only Phantasy Star Zero but for the entire series from Phantasy Star Online and up.
Phantasy Star Zero, despite being based off Phantasy Star Online, does pull a few features from Phantasy Star Universe. Photon Arts are special moves which can be used by using PP, which are essentially your magic points. You can use them by holding down the attack button and charging your attack until you unleash it upon foes. Some of these moves can damage multiple enemies, cause status ailments, or do multiple attacks on one foe. Each weapon type has about three Photon Arts it can possibly have and each weapon’s charging time is different so your strategy with Photon Arts change per weapon even if the weapons have the same Photon Art. The lock on system makes a return, but it isn’t very reliable and tends to break off of enemies way to easily when at close range. The offline mode has NPC partners that tag along like in Phantasy Star Universe. These partners, while not incredibly intelligent, do a good job being meat shields and dealing out small amounts of damage to distract enemies. You can issue commands to them and while some times they do a good job following them don’t be surprised if they do exactly opposite of what you said.
While Phantasy Star Zero does play very much like Phantasy Star Online it does have some new features of its own. The addition of the dodge roll is helpful for evading enemies, especially after the end of a combo. Phantasy Star Zero also changes how drops work. Instead of enemies dropping individual items a box appears at the end of each battle which contains all the items that the enemies have dropped. This removes the emphasis on constantly skimming the floor for rares that Phantasy Star Online had and keeps players focused on battling. Obtaining all the items at the end of a battle also gives a greater sense of accomplishment when finishing the room. Phantasy Star Zero returns the spells to the player rather then equipping them onto weapons like in Phantasy Star Universe. Some minor changes were still made to the spell system though. You can assign a basic spell to a button and hold the button down to charge the spell to make an area effect version of the spell.
Phantasy Star Zero includes a online mode, but is far from what past titles in the series have achieved. Phantasy Star Zero uses Nintendo’s friend codes system, so players who are hoping to run online and meet new friends will be out of luck. Without friend codes you can play with random people online and tackle a single dungeon together. There is a fairly good match making system you can customize so if you need to run a specific dungeon then you need not worry about constantly getting a dungeon you don’t want. After the dungeon is finished you can’t keep playing with the people in the game. Instead you are unable to play another dungeon until you quit the game and join a new group of random people. Without friend codes though the only means of chat are pre-set phrases which are severely lacking, not even including a “Good-bye” phrase.
With friend codes the online mode is improved, but it isn’t significantly better. You can continue to play with friends even after a dungeon is completed. Unfortunately once a party is started it is locked, so if a player wishes to join or rejoin an entirely new room must be created. Friend codes also allow you to play quests online. The quests are essentially the normal dungeon runs though, so its hard to differentiate them. You can chat with friends using the touch screen to draw in message boxes but the writing space is so tiny you can only fit in a few short words at a time. If you plan on having a in-depth conversation with other players then you will need to find a different form of communication. Customizable preset messages are available to use and are a bit helpful when you are trying to tell someone something important as soon as possible. Another small detail worth mentioning is that when playing online item drops are client side, so you won’t have to worry about sharing the drops with other people. If it drops, it is your item as long as you have the inventory space.
Visually Phantasy Star Zero looks great on the DS. Surprisingly the game has almost no slow down. The only real noticeable hiccup is when enemies spawn there is a slight pause. The areas are now broken up into small zones for each room which limits the amount that is on screen at once. The backgrounds in these areas are a bit blurry, but they do a good job of giving a sense of scale despite being in what is essentially a small room. While there is a slight pause between these zones, it is rarely noticeable unless changing rooms rapidly. Character creation could have been better, but it gets the job done successfully making distinguishable characters. Just don’t be surprised when you find duplicates of yourself. The soundtrack in Phantasy Star Zero is fairly impressive and fits the game well. It is worth wearing headphones the first few times you play through a area, but you might find yourself turning the sound off after you have traversed a area multiple times. There are small bits of voice acting, but there is so little of it that you won’t have to worry about being pounded with annoying voices.
Phantasy Star Zero overall is really a dungeon crawler where you continuously grind your way through areas over and over again to get better gear and level up. Thankfully the battle system, while simple, has enough depth to keep players interested beyond the story mode. One great thing about this title is that it goes back to the Phantasy Star Online roots of the series and not only keeps core elements of the title intact but also builds upon it in a new direction. Phantasy Star Zero is a great time sink and while the offline story is rather short the online mode can keep you returning if you are into collecting gear and further improving your character. If you really liked Phantasy Star Online and were disappointed with Phantasy Star Universe then give this one a shot. Just don’t expect the full fledged online experience similar to that of Phantasy Star Online and Phantasy Star Universe.
- Classic Phantasy Star Online action with more then enough additions to make it feel fresh
- Some of the better graphics on DS, runs smoother then most multiplayer Phantasy Star games
- Quite a bit of replay value
- Entertaining dialogue
- Online mode isn’t the series best
- If you didn’t like PSO then you won’t like PS0
- Somewhat weak story