Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve talked about Phantasy Star! Due to Phantasy Star Online 2 finally being announced for a US release at this year’s E3, I felt it was a good time to talk about the games I haven’t covered yet. After all, Phantasy Star is my passion and there’s still a ton of games left to talk about! So, let’s continue where we left off.
Phantasy Star Universe is certainly the black sheep of the franchise, and one of my least favorite games in the series. While I definitely wasn’t a big fan of Episode III, at least it felt like a Phantasy Star game. Universe is trying too hard to be “Monster Hunter In Space”, to the point where it falters under the weight of its own ambition.
The game revolves around a young man named “Ethan Waber”, who happens to be the playable character for this game’s story mode. The game starts off simple enough, showing Ethan bopping around and having fun. He’s then drafted into a war against an alien menace, and becomes a “Guardian” as a result.
Ethan is probably the worst part of this game. His voice is pretty obnoxious, and his design is overall bland. He looks and acts like some kind of “space hipster”, and it gets really grating after a while. It doesn’t help that you’re stuck playing as him through the game’s entire campaign, as opposed to the custom characters of the past few entries.
While you can still create a character in this game, it’s only in online multiplayer. There’s also another mode where you can create a character, but you have to play through the entire game to unlock the mode and all the quests available for it. Even then, you can only play through quests that are available in the story mode.
There was also a severe lack of quests in online multiplayer, which made the whole thing feel rather lackluster. Couple that with the game’s needlessly complex crafting system, generic story, and a lack of the classic Phantasy Star staples, and you have one of the more hollow experiences in the franchise.
Surprisingly, Sega took the fandom’s dislike of Universe to heart for the game’s sequels. The game was followed up with an expansion just a year later, “Ambitions of The Illuminus”. It added in a better story mode, the ability to play as a custom character from the beginning, elements and monsters from the original Phantasy Star Online, and tons of new content. Even better, Ethan was working for the villains this time around! Yes, that means that you get to smack around the unlikable protagonist of the previous game!
Illuminus also replaced the J-Pop theme song of the previous game with an epic rock cover of it. Almost everything about the expansion felt like a step up from the previous game. Unfortunately, Illuminus also created an odd “identity crisis” for the Phantasy Star Universe sub-series. The franchise kept flip-flopping back and forth between trying to use its own elements and stories, and trying to pander to fans of the PSO games. As a result, it made the later games feel a bit disjointed.
Regardless, Illuminus was a fun return to the Phantasy Star games of old. With Illuminus, Sega realized that people seemed to like the PSO stuff more than the PSU stuff. This resulted in them releasing a pair of games in 2008, each one being in set in the two different universes. Phantasy Star Zero was a prequel to the original Phantasy Star Online, and was certainly an interesting game.
Zero takes what people loved about Phantasy Star Online, and brings it to the Nintendo DS! In this game, you play as a custom character who has just joined the “Hunter’s Guild”. The Hunters in this game are similar to the Hunters in the original PSO games, right down to the fact that both destroy alien mutant creatures and save the world. It’s pretty awesome to go back to being a Hunter, especially since the Universe series introduced their less cool counterparts, “Guardians”.
Zero was interesting in that it brought back a lot of gameplay quirks from PSO. This included removing the crummy vehicle sections and weird crafting system from Universe, and bringing back the “MAGs” from the original game. A MAG is a tiny creature that floats over your should and requires subsistence, which means you have feed to him all of your excess items. Feeding the creature will result in his eventual evolution!
Zero also brought back the monsters and general feel of Online, while giving the game a rather interesting story mode. The thing that made this game’s story interesting was that the race you chose to play as DEFINED your character. Each of the three races got their own unique intro to the game, and choosing a certain race would also define which areas you go to first. While it doesn’t change what happens in said areas, it does add for a bit of variety on repeat playthroughs.
Of course, Zero wasn’t the only Phantasy Star game to come out in 2008. The PSP also got Phantasy Star Portable earlier that same year. Phantasy Star Portable was a handheld spinoff of the Phantasy Star Universe series. The game takes place after the first game, but before the events of the expansion.
You help a “CAST” (which is a robotic being) named “Vivienne” stop yet another alien invasion. Phantasy Star Portable is a decent game, but its status as a handheld game holds it back. It lacks a lot of the more interesting elements that made previous Phantasy Star games fun. There was no online multiplayer, you couldn’t walk around the store areas, and the game’s story was sufficiently lacking.
I’m not saying Portable 1 was a terrible game, but it was just too bare-bones for me to get into. Thankfully, it’s sequel more than made up for it! Phantasy Star Portable 2 was released a year later and fixes many of the problems I had with the previous entry. For one thing, the game has online multiplayer!
Being able to go online and play with random people on a portable device was extremely fun! Of course, the online multiplayer was prone to hacking and cheaters, but what online game isn’t? Phantasy Star Portable 2 also brought back the ability to walk around the space-station, while talking to various NPCs along the way.
The game featured a ton of weapons to collect, over 3000 to be precise! The combat was the classic combat you’d come to expect from this franchise, with a few slight changes made to streamline things. For example, “Photon Points” were no longer tied to weapons at all now, and were instead tied to the the character itself. This meant that you couldn’t just switch out your weapons when you ran out of juice, you’d have to just wait for your character to recharge.
By far, the best part of the game was its room customization. I know talked a lot about this in the Phantasy Star Portable 2 review I did a while back, so I’ll keep this brief. PSP2’s room customization is amazing! Imagine being able to choose from hundreds of different room layouts, and almost a thousand different decorations to fill the room up with. There are literally millions of possible room combinations. Best of all, you could go online and visit the rooms of other players, as long as they were in the same lobby as you.
PSP2 is probably one of my favorite games of all time, but it’s sadly also responsible for killing the franchise in the West. The lack of sales for the Portable games meant that the games stopped getting released over here. Sega blamed the fans, despite the fact that it was their lack of advertising that killed the franchise.
Phantasy Star did continue on in Japan, however. Phantasy Star Portable 2 received an expansion which tied it closer to the Phantasy Star Online series, which is pretty awesome. It just sucks that we never got that game! We also never got Phantasy Star Online 2, or any of its many spinoffs… At least, not until the aforementioned E3 announcement just a few weeks ago.
After the series being stuck in Japan for almost a decade, it’s finally making its return to the West. I’ve been waiting for PSO2 forever, so it’s gonna be awesome to finally get my hands on it! Hopefully all this waiting will be worth it! Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this Phantasy Star mini-retrospective! I apologize for part 2 taking so long, but at least I finally get it done.