Phantasy Star, my unrequited love. I enjoy this game with every fiber of my being, but much like a dog who is annoyed when his kibble is switched out for a diet equivalent, I too am put off by this different tasting game. Phantasy Star Universe is a bizarre attempt to cash in on the Monster Hunter craze that boomed in 2006. It still had all the workings of a Phantasy Star game, but was layered with a bizarre crafting system and a forgettable story. What we end up with is an MMORPG that sometimes forgets it is an MMORPG. Is it still fun? Well, yeah, but it has some serious issues that prevented it from being as good as it could have been.
Need To Know Information
Phantasy Star Universe was released in 2006, 2 years after the last significant Phantasy Star release known as “Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst”. PSU featured a fully-realized story mode, kind of like the original Phantasy Star games from the 80s and 90s. Universe’s story is split into 12 chapters and is styled like an anime. For example, each chapter will feature a theme song, ending credits, and a preview of what will happen in the next chapter. Phantasy Star Universe uses a similar gameplay engine to the Phantasy Star Online games. Despite this, PSU takes playing in a universe different from those of previous Phantasy Star games.
The game casts you in the green and white shoes of a young man named Ethan Waber. One day, Ethan Waber crashes his hover-board into the limosine of the most well-known people in the entire galaxy: The Divine Maiden. After some shenanigans, Ethan witnesses the concert of the Divine Maiden, only for the station he is on to be attacked by a vile threat known as “The SEED”. Ethan is begrudgingly forced to work alongside the “GUARDIANS”, a force of peace-keeping warriors. Ethan hates the guardians for his own personal reasons, but works with them to safe his sister and get out safely. After escaping, Ethan joins the GUARDIANS and becomes entrenched in a war to stop The SEED from wiping out everything in the known universe.
Sounds engaging right? Unfortunately, it just isn’t. The plot feels like a generic anime plot and this hurts the general feel of the game. Phantasy Star II had one of the best stories in game history, but Universe’s plot fails to compare to that game or even other games in the series. Characters just seem to pop out of nowhere due to plot convenience and there is a lot of cringe-worthy dialogue peppered through the game’s main campaign. All in all, it just failed to keep my interest. On top of this, the game’s protagonist Ethan just isn’t super likable. He feels like a ripoff of Tidus from Final Fantasy X, but lacks that goofy charm that made Tidus kind of a likable character. The story did have its moments, but that was mainly for the cheesier moments. I liked the story only for the silliness, it just didn’t grab me like the older games did. On top of this, the world just felt way too similar to previous Phantasy Star games instead of trying to be unique enough on its own. Let’s face it, the planet of Parum is basically Ragol with a different name slapped on it. They are just way too similar for it to be otherwise.
Phantasy Star Universe plays a lot like the various versions of Phantasy Star Online, but has various improvements. The combat and movement felt a bit quicker, your character moved and turned faster. Your attacks look and feel less robotic and you can now dual-wield various weapons. You can wield a sword and gun at the same time, now that is awesome! Special attacks have been replaced by “Photon Arts” which are much better in my opinion than the old special attacks. Photon Arts are flashy attack moves that look and feel much better than special attacks in the old games.
As per usual with Phantasy Star games, you have a ton of weapons and armor to collect. The problem? Most of the weapon drops seem to be pretty disappointing. Maybe I just had terrible luck, but the amount of S Rank weapons that dropped for me was 0. I actually had to buy an S Rank weapon at the store. You can also upgrade weapons, but I found this to be a bit annoying. You see, upgrading is kind of a gamble. You see, you upgrade by using “Grinders”. If you use too many grinders on the weapon, you run the risk of reducing the weapon’s level to 0 and not being able to upgrade it as much. I don’t really like an upgrade system that has a chance of screwing you over, to be honest. This is because some of these grinders for rare weapons are hard to find or expensive, so you have a chance of wasting your money and having to upgrade your weapon all over again by wasting even more money. This just annoyed me to no end.
Another thing I didn’t like was traveling to other planets. This is a feature Phantasy Star hasn’t had since the original series. The problem is that these planets are just basically re-skins of each other. Whenever you go to a different planet, it is basically just a town hub with some areas you can do missions on. Almost every planet has the same stores as the last one and there is little to tell them apart aside from a slightly different layout and different denizens. The planets just felt like a wasted opportunity to do something unique for this new Phantasy Star spinoff. Sadly, it just fell flat. The original Phantasy Star games managed to go the multiple planet concept much better, by giving each world its own distinctive feel and history. I just wish they could have gone that extra mile for this. On the subject of planets, the missions on them felt too overtly long. Missions in this game tended to stretch on for a solid 30-40 minutes which got tiring very fast. Unlike PSO, you can’t use a Telepipe to jump back to town whenever you want so you’re stuck on this long mission until you beat it.
One aspect of gameplay that rubbed me the wrong was the “Free Mode”. This mode was not “Free” in the least, which always irked me. You see, to unlock this mode you have to beat most of the story mode. This wouldn’t be so bad if the story didn’t feel so generic and bland. By the time you unlock Free Mode and get to play around with the character creator, you’ve pretty much done all the single player content. Sure, there are some side missions but these are the same as story mode. You can also go online which lets you use Free Mode without having to beat the story. Sadly, this is also kind of annoying as even the Online Mode lacks a sufficient amount of meaningful content. All in all, I found the gameplay aspects to be a mixed bag for me.
The graphics are pretty alright for the time. There are some issues such as character designs being this really bland mixture of colors. They would look at lot better as 2-Dimensional drawings, but here they are 3D models that look human in shape yet have all these weird colors. It makes the designs just seem a bit off to me. The voice acting is another issue as I found several of the voice actors to be phoning in their performances. It lacked finesse and was not a huge pleasure to listen to. Some of the voice acting just sounded really stiff and bland, coupled with a pretty awful script and you have something that is hard to take seriously. If the cut-scenes aren’t your jam, then you can just simply skip them like I did. I always feel bad about skipping cut-scenes though, even in a bad story. Because you know some time and effort went into them even if the end result was lackluster.
Phantasy Star Universe is a fairly lackluster game. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Phantasy Star Online Episode III, I thought it was a good solid spinoff with a lot to enjoy. Sadly, Universe doesn’t carry that same spirit. It’s hard to say I like Universe all that much. Sure, it can be fun at times but the character designs and story take me out of the experience. It feels like it is trying too hard to be a generic anime and not enough on trying to be a Phantasy Star game. I have to say that this game is definitely not sweet as syrup. I regret to give this game a 4/10. This game had its bright moments, but it felt too generic to be a Phantasy Star game. In all honestly, it felt like a budget title that just had the Phantasy Star moniker slapped onto it. I reccomend this game if you are curious, it could be enjoyable for a few hours at least. I doubt the game would be able to hold your interest for much longer than that though.