Sweet As Syrup: Phantasy Star Zero Review

I’ve been talking about Phantasy Star on this blog quite a bit as of late. This Phantasy Star marathon was only going to encompass the 5 Phantasy Star games that I played, but I recently played through a sixth game: Phantasy Star Zero. I’ve wanted to play this game for years, but only got a Nintendo DS in 2014. By then, the game became somewhat hard to get in stores. It was a game that came out in 2009 and to my knowledge there hasn’t been any sort of re-release or reissue. I finally got my hands on this game and I’m going to share my thoughts on it with you. Keep in mind, I will only be reviewing the offline components. I did not try the online features (Though I hear the server is still up and running) So, without further ado let’s see if Phantasy Star Zero isn’t nil in quality.

Need To Know Information

Phantasy Star Zero was released in 2008/2009 for the Nintendo DS. The game is often referred to as a prequel to Phantasy Star Online, however this isn’t made fully clear within the game itself. The game was released with an online component that was completely free, and remains so to this day. This game is so far the last Phantasy Star released on a Nintendo console since 2008. The game was initially released in Japan in 2008, but was brought to America the next year, along with another game called “Phantasy Star Portable”.

Phantasy_Star_Zero
To The Whole New World! (Image propety of Sega and Sonic Team)

Plot

The game takes place on an unknown planet 200 years after a mysterious event known as “The Great Blank”. You play as a protagonist with an unknown past. You come across three heroes representing the three different races and journey with them to take on an encroaching threat from a species known as “The Newmans”. Along the way, you uncover a mystery that brings you face to face with the ultimate evil. The story plays out differently depending on the race you choose for your character. Choosing a certain race depicts which areas you’ll go to first. You’ll also get different cut-scenes in each of the three stories, which makes them feel a lot more unique.

Sadly, all three stories end the exact same way which is a bit disappointing. The game does make up for it though by having unique dialogue for whichever race you end up choosing. This adds a lot to the lore and story of the game. Sadly though, the plot feels a bit generic. It feels too much like typical anime storytelling and lacks the flare that the original Phantasy Star series had. It’s a much better attempt at telling a story than Universe though. In fact, some unique and interesting stuff did happen in Zero. On top of this, the game does a good job of depicting the differences in body structure between the races. For example, Casts can pop off their heads and put them onto different bodies. This made for some really unique and interesting moments in the plot.

The game designers and voice actors also had quite a bit of fun with certain events in the story. I won’t spoil it, but some crazy silly stuff happens at certain points in the game. This kept the world interesting and the characters somewhat fresh, even if the story had a tendency to drag near the end. All in all, it isn’t a terrible or painful story by any stretch of the imagination and was enjoyable enough that I didn’t suffer through it. And really, it did what it was supposed to and gave me a purpose as to why I was running into dungeons and slaughtering countless monsters. That’s really all I could ask for, honestly.

Gameplay

Honestly, the best part of this game is how it plays. Phantasy Star Zero brings back the addictive dungeon-crawling gameplay of the Online series. The game plays very similar to the Universe games. You have regular attacks and heavy attacks like in previous games, but can now wield Photon Arts. MAGs return from Phantasy Star Online and once more provide you with Photon Bursts. The Photon Bursts in this game I found to be a bit more flashy than in Online. Also, Photon Bursts no longer pause gameplay when they are used which is great because I always found that to be a bit annoying. Generally, combat is the same as it is in previous games.

The game lets you choose between 14 classes split among the three aforementioned races. You can be a Human, Newman, or Cast that falls into one of the two genders or three vocations. Hunters are your typical warrior class, while Rangers fill the role of long-range support, with Forces being the magical damage-dealers. Once you choose your class, you are taken to a character customization screen. Sadly, there aren’t a whole lot of options for character creation. This is one of the weak-points of the game, as Phantasy Star Portable was much more diverse in its customization. Heck, even Online let you tweak your character more! To be fair, customization is only a minor thing really. So, I can’t really count it as a major failing in the game department.

One of the weaknesses that I found with the game was the lack of areas. There are 7 areas in the game and a lot of them feel like they go on forever. Sure, the areas are varied and there is good monster variety, but there are a lot of times where I just wanted the level to end. There were also certain changes that were made to the Online engine that kind of annoyed me. For one thing, all areas are split up into small segments that you travel between. The problem is that all these tinier areas kind of look the same. So, there will be times when you hit a dead-end and try to make your way back only to realize your lost.

One thing that the game did great was how it handled loot. In previous Online games, items would just drop randomly when you killed a monster. In this game, a giant chest drops when you wipe out a room of monsters. This means you don’t have to run to every corner of the room and check every nook and cranny to make sure you got everything. All of the items you get are either in the chest or in boxes so there isn’t a lot of needless running around.

The game offers all of the loot and items you’d expect from a Phantasy Star game. You get all kinds of new weapons and gear, plus new weapon types like shields and spears. The game has a good variety of gear to choose from as well, the point where it may become a bit daunting. If you ever played Diablo, you know what I’m talking about. That unceasing urge to hoard every item in the game is enticing. Something that may annoy veterans is the inclusion of Photon Drops early in the game. Photon Drops were a special item-based currency in the original Online games that took you forever to get. It was used to access an item shop that gave you rare stuff. It serves the same function in this game, only you gain access earlier and Photon Drops are as easy to find as candy. It’s not a terrible change, but it is one that messed with me considering how hard it was to get these things in PSO. In all honesty, I find the gameplay to be rather top-notch despite its shortcomings.

Visual Stimuli

The game looks fantastic for a DS game. Keep in mind that the DS isn’t one of the most graphically capable consoles out there, so having a game that looks this nice is a rather welcome change. Character designs on the other hand felt very generic. The game used a different art-style from PSO and it gives the characters a more cutesy anime look. On top of that, the Humans were given strange cowboy-esque attire. It wouldn’t bother me so much, if it wasn’t for the fact that only the humans dressed this way. Every other race looked like how they did in earlier PSO games. I got a Wild Arms vibe from these more western design, not that there’s anything too wrong with that. They tried something different with the designs and art and I can respect that.

The music for this game is marvelous! Everything sounds how you would expect and some of the tracks for the game were downright beautiful. I especially loved that goofy little jingle that played whenever a rare enemy showed up. The game boasts voice-acted cutscenes and the VA cast does a good job playing their respective characters. I especially love Yuri Lowenthal as Kai, he brought his usual energy to the character which is always appreciated. I found the visual elements of this game to pretty well-done overall.

In Summation

The game is pretty sweet. Sure, it doesn’t do a whole lot new and doesn’t have a whole lot of unique areas, but has a lot of heart. The game lacks meaningful side-content, but has some great post-game content. Generally, I found the game to be fairly solid and fun and I feel it is a game you need to play if you like Phantasy Star. It may be a bit hard to find, but it is worth it. I give this game a solid 8/10 and can say without a doubt that it is as sweet as syrup. It’s a fun game that can get repetitive, much like all the other Phantasy Star games. It’s good if you are looking for a Diablo-style game to binge on.

Also, this is my 100th post on this block! I’m glad people are enjoying the stories / reviews / random blog entries I’ve put out thus far. You guys are great and I love that you take the time to read through my stuff. Thank you for your support and I look forward to posing more stuff in the future!

 

 

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