Sweet As Syrup: Phantasy Star Portable 2 Review

Last year, I started a marathon on my favorite game series of all time: Phantasy Star. It went on a lot longer than I thought it would, but I enjoyed writing all the posts on it all the same. The last post I did was Phantasy Star related, so I thought I’d follow them up and hopefully finish this marathon at long last! So, let’s start with Phantasy Star Portable 2, one of the best games in the series!

Originally, I was going to review the first Phantasy Star Portable game. I still intend to get to it at some point, but I felt that it was a bit too similar to Phantasy Star Portable 2 and Universe. I’d end up repeating myself a lot, so I figured I would just move onto the second game instead. Phantasy Star Portable 2 is one of my favorite RPGs, and is special to me. It’s the last Phantasy Star game ever released in America, and the newest of the series that I have played. It’s hard to believe that is has nearly been 7 series since this game was brought to American shelves. Without further adieu, let’s dive right into it!

Background Information

Phantasy Star Portable 2 is an action RPG that was released in 2009 in Japan, and brought over to the rest of the world near the end of 2010. The game was released exclusively for the PSP and was developed by Alfa System, who also developed several Tales games. The game received an expansion called Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity, but this was released exclusively in Japan and never brought over here.

Plot and Characters

It’s been three years since the events of Universe and peace has returned to the Gurhal system. You play as a mercenary (or former Guardian if you imported your save-file) who is visiting an old derelict relics site. While there, you happen across a young woman named Emilia. After meeting her, you luck suddenly takes a sharp dive as you both become trapped in the ruins. You eventually escape, but not before you bare witness to a strange spirit dwelling inside Emilia.

From there, you are recruited into a mercenary firm called “Little Wing” and are tasked with going on various missions, sometimes ones where you have to protect the galaxy! All the while, you keep encountering a strange teenage boy dressed in black, who also poses a threat to the entire Gurhal system. It’s up to you and your rag-tag group of allies to put a stop to this and protect the galaxy you have made home!

Yeah, it’s a pretty basic plot, to be honest. However, it does incorporate several elements from previous Phantasy Star games, as well as bring back some old characters from Universe. This was intended as the final game in the series (before the expansion pack and phone spinoff came out) and really does feel like a finale for the series. It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but it takes a lot of the elements and concepts from previous games and manages to roll with it.

The plot itself is divided into 10 chapters, and may take the player several hours to fully get through. The plot brings the player to various locations, including some taken from previous games. There’s also a great VR-themed level that takes you back to levels from the original Phantasy Star Online! Unfortunately, this variety works against the game, as it will often make the plot feel all over the place. On top of this, the reuse of certain levels makes the game feel a bit too formulaic at times.

Where the game really shines is in its characters. Usually, I can’t stand the generic anime stereotypes often present in Japanese RPGs. While the characters here felt like stereotypes, there was something extremely endearing about how they were written. The father-daughter relationship between Kraz and Emilia felt genuine to me. A hard-ass who drinks a lot taking care of a young girl who acted like a spoil-brat feels like something too common in real-life. It was so heartwarming seeing these characters trying to act as a family unit, despite the bizarre scenarios that often got in their way.

Other characters really stood out to me as well, like the warrior boy Yut, or the French femme fatale known as Chelsea. Lumia Waber, the sister of the protagonist of the first game has returned. She’s probably my favorite character, she went from being a generic happy-go-lucky sister to a no-nonsense tough girl. The only character I found myself not liking at all was the aforementioned Emilia. She was just too obnoxious and a lot of the plot involves our heroes dealing with her hissy-fits. It gets annoying after a while.

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Robots in swim-trunks?! Truly this game has everything.

Gameplay

Much like a lot of the games that came before it, Phantasy Star Portable 2 is an action RPG. You choose from one of four playable races, which are Beasts, CASTs, Newmans, and Humans. Each race has their own specific skills and attributes which makes them more unique than the others. For example, the Beasts are basically werewolves who turn into giant feral creatures to attack their enemies. Each race has a special “limit break” movie that lets them dish out some serious damage once their meter builds up.

Gameplay takes place from a third person perspective, putting you in the boots of a custom created character. You choose from one of four classes which are as follows: Hunter, Force, Ranger, and Vanguard. Each class has their own specific forte, with their own weaknesses and advantages. The game boasts over 30 different types of weapons, with thousands of unique individual weapons. Certain weapons will spawn with elemental attributes or special effects attached. This means that certain weapons can be more effective than others, even if they are generally “weaker” items.

The game takes on a linear mission structure, similar to past Universe and Online games. Each mission will take you about 20 to 30 minutes to complete, and there are a total of about 10 story chapters to complete. The game boasts a ton of optional side-quests and missions, along with a special award system that grants you items based on how many milestones you hit.

You can also upgrade your class and gain special stat bonuses, as well as upgrading the levels of weapons you’re allowed to use. This allows you some degree of customization when it comes to how you want each individual class to function. You can change classes back at Little Wing headquarters, as well as obtain new items and equipment.

Sadly, the classes aren’t too unique when compared to other similar games, or even other games in the series. This is more of a nitpick, but it irks me to see that the classes haven’t really changed all that much from the early days of Phantasy Star Online. It’s something I can live with, I just wish there were new and differing classes, because I feel that would add more variety.

Combat flows very nicely. It all unfolds in third-person, allowing you to attack, dodge, and block. You’ll have to learn to exploit enemy weaknesses, as well as focus on a variety of different weapons in order to win. The game is very tricky, and is not afraid to wipe you out for not playing carefully enough.

One feature I liked was room customization. You are given a room in the game, and tons of different decorations and themes to give it flare. It was fun playing multiplayer with friends and visiting their crazily designed rooms. I’ll get more into the multiplayer aspect in a second, but for now I want to touch on just how much I loved the room creation in this game. There were millions of options on how to decorate your room, with more unlocking as you completed the story. Normally, I hate this kind of thing in games. However, the sheer amount of insane decorations and furnishings you can dress up your room with was astounding.

While customization was a strong point in this game, sadly multiplayer didn’t stack up as well. Games were frequently laggy and slow, with occasional disconnections. I’m not sure if this was just my shoddy internet connection or not, but this was a frequent issue when I played. It gets more annoying when you start doing the special online quests that instantly fail when someone logs off, be it by accident or on purpose.

The online player community wasn’t as good either. I would frequently get into rooms with rather angry individuals or just all around disrespectful people. Not only that, but plays would frequently hack the game in order to max out their level cap. Hacking and cheating was extremely frequent in the game, and the devs did little to circumvent this. It was entirely possible to run into level 200 plays who would die in a couple of hits, which shouldn’t be possible in this game.

While the game did feature a highly improved battle mode, as well as the ability to visit the rooms of other players, this didn’t stop the multiplayer from being a chore at times. It’s sad that I had just as many bad memories with the multiplayer as I did good ones. I’ll be honest, I kind of miss that the online multiplayer is no longer functioning. Overall, I enjoyed the game, despite its various problems. The game’s challenging difficulty level of customization were a plus for me. Sadly, it falls short when it comes to multiplayer. On top of this, gameplay hasn’t changed all that much from previous entries. Despite it feel pretty much the same as old games, it’s refined enough that I can forgive this shortcoming.

Visual Stimuli

The game looks really good, I must say. While the graphics are pretty are definitely compressed to fit on that PSP screen, there’s still enough visual flare to make it look interesting. Voice-acting is okay, nothing too special there. Some voice actors/actresses don’t really pull their weight, and some can be a bit grating at times. A good example of this is Emilia’s voice actress, who sounds like she’s screaming every second line she says.

The voice-acting is decent enough at times, and there’s only real voice-work during the CGI cut-scenes, which don’t show up a whole lot. Still, it can be a bit annoying and distracting to players, especially people like me who play Phantasy Star solely for the gameplay and not the story.

Characters are well designed enough and definitely have a unique flare to them. Most of the main characters differ enough in design to feel like varied individuals, and a lot of the designs have a good look to them. Monster designs are okay, but sadly a lot of the monsters in this game are recycled from previous games. You’ll find yourself running into a lot of old enemies with slightly updated appearances, which can give off a feeling of “Been there, done that”.

Music in this game is fantastic, though again some of it is recycled from previous games. This doesn’t stop the tracks from still being amazing though. Almost each area in the game has a unique backing track to it, that surprisingly never gets old to me. Phantasy Star is a series that has always been known for its awesome music, so it’s hard to really find fault in the soundtrack of any of its games.

In short, I loved the music, character designs, and graphics, but felt that the monster designs and voice-work was a bit flimsy. The game definitely needed some extra polish in those areas, I must say. They aren’t really deal-breakers for me and don’t impact the whole package all that much. Still, the presentation has a tendency to be hit-or-miss at times.

In Summation

Despite its formulaic story, greatly lacking multiplayer (which is now defunct anyways), and recycled design, I still felt this was a fantastic game. Sure, it doesn’t do anything all that unique or groundbreaking, but really managed to refine the game-play of previous Phantasy Star games. Couple this with room customization, thousands of differing weapons to collect, and some really nice graphics, and you have a game that is still fun to play in the modern day.

Just be warned that this game can be very repetitive and grindy, and a single play-through of the main campaign can take many hours to complete. It’s a difficult and very challenging game that can require some careful thinking at times. In all honesty, I’d say this game is a forgotten classic. It isn’t as good as the original Phantasy Star or Phantasy Online games, but it’s still a fantastic game on its own. That’s why I can definitely say that this game is as sweet as syrup. Copies of this game aren’t super easy to find, but I highly recommend playing this game if you can track it down. It’s a fun little dungeon-crawler for PSP and an excellent successor to the Phantasy Star pedigree.

My Thoughts On The Phantasy Star Online 2 Anime

It may be hard to believe, but it’s been a whole since the anime adaptation of Phantasy Star Online 2 aired. Believe it or not, I love animated series based off video-games. Some of my favorites include the Viewtiful Joe anime, Bomberman Jetters, Megaman Starforce anime, and Sonic SatAM. The thing is, those shows were trying to be proper adaptations as well as tie-ins. What happens when you get a show that is just basically a giant commercial with a boring first-half? You get something that is truly a chore to sit through and watch.

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Even cool posing robots can’t save our hero from getting bored, much like the audience.

Today, I wanted to give my personal thoughts on that very show. Keep in mind, I have nothing against the Phantasy Star Online 2 game. I may be a hardcore Phantasy Star fan-boy, but I’m not going to pick on a series because it tries something new. The problem with PSO2: The Animation, is that not only does it fail as an adaptation, it also fails at being entertaining.

So, what is this anime? Well, without spoiling too much, it’s a canonical tie-in with Phantasy Star Online 2. I can’t say how it ties into canon, because that would be spoiling it. What I’ll say is that the anime takes place on earth, as opposed to the universe that the games take place in. The first half of the anime is just people playing Phantasy Star Online, with very little threat or consequence plaguing them.

It’s boring, bland, and hard to sit through. The anime revolves around Itsuki, a young man who is invited to join the student council. The catch? He has to keep up good grades, while also PLAYING PHANTASY STAR ONLINE 2. Yep, it’s one of those shows! Yes, the point of the series (at least the first half) is for Itsuki to prove the higher-ups of the school that a person can play an MMO while maintaining good grades. What would normally be an easy task for someone with decent time management skills, eventually becomes a chore for Itsuki.

I was taking college courses last year and I decided to do an experiment: Could I get consistently good grades while playing Phantasy Star games? As such, I played both Phantasy Star Zero and Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst around the time of several tests. I got good grades on all of them and didn’t fail a single one. Now, to be fair they were probably easier tests than what Itsuki would be taking. Still, point stands is that I juggled two different massively large Phantasy Star games while getting good grades, while Itsuki could barely handle a single one. This is just a nitpick, but let’s dive further into what makes this show so bad.

For one thing, those first six episodes are nothing but slice-of-life nonsense. Most characters are bland, and the lack of unique character designs makes most characters feel same-y. Sure, the designs in-game look more interesting, but we very rarely get to see those designs early on. Most of their time is spent outside of the game, with them engaging in a lot of boring exposition and filler. While it’s true that there are hints of something greater about to happen, it takes forever for the show to actually get to it.

The second half picks up and introduces us to some crazier elements and that’s when the show gets interesting. However, most people would have quit long before then. There’s little in way of the engaging content keeping the viewer watching. Heck, they spent an entire episode at a Phantasy Star convention, which I don’t even think exists in real life!

Another problem with the show is that those first few episodes treat the audience like idiots, a lot. They will explain internet lingo that most people who have been to a message board would’ve known already. This is especially confusing, since the anime is targeted mostly at people who already play the MMO. If you play any kind of MMO, you’re going to pick up on this lingo on your own, that’s just how it works.

Not only that, but there is just a lack of that energy and thrill that made Phantasy Star games so special in the first place. They could’ve easily adapted 90% of the PS games into an anime, but instead they just made a clone of Sword Art Online. Sega is actually friends with the makers of Sword Art Online, A1 Pictures, so it makes sense to pay homage to them with a series. The problem is that PSO2:TA just feels like it’s trying too hard to be like Sword Art Online, without trying to be like Phantasy Star. It’s got a serious case of identity crisis and it ends up hurting the show considerably.

Now, I’ll be lying if I said this show didn’t have some good stuff in it. The in-game designs are fun and interesting, and I love the charismatic personalities of the people who are playing the game. The opening them is pretty snazzy and fits the Phantasy Star world very well. Lastly, the final few episodes manage to be more entertaining than the entire package put together. Sadly, there’s not much more good I can say about it.

It’s bland, boring, generic, aimless, and doesn’t get to the good stuff until over halfway through. I get that it’s a tie-in, but that’s not excuse for putting out a sub-par product. People have been asking for a Phantasy Star anime for decades now, yet Sega couldn’t even put effort into creating something that lives up to the quality of the games. Worse still, they gave this series an American release, yet the game its based on still hasn’t come out over here. What the actual heck, Sega?

Regardless, I can get why people like this anime. Some of the slice-of-life scenarios can be kind of entertaining, plus it’s more PSO2 content. However, for the life of me I just could not get into it. I’m not going to judge anyone for liking this anime, I respect that people can get something out of it that I couldn’t. I just don’t think I’ll be re-watching this series anytime soon, because I was so turned off by how its content was presented.

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”.

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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!

 

 

Played Phantasy Star Zero For The First Time Ever

I’ll be honest, I found this game immensely satisfying for what it was. I enjoyed it even though it was effectively a kid-friendly version of a classic MMO. I find the characters and story to be forgettable thus far, but it still is a very fun time indeed. It plays like the old PSO, which is both good and bad. It feels way too similar to old stuff for my blood, but I still got a ton of enjoyment out of it. It’s nothing too spectacular, but I like it thus far. Expect a review of it soon, once I get the time to do so.

Skipping Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity

It’s been fun going back to the Phantasy Star series for this review marathon, but sadly I cannot review Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity for various reasons. For one thing, the game was only released in Japan. I could import it and try to play it here, but I do not have a working PSP. I could emulate it, but I’m not a big fan of emulating games. On top of emulating it, I would also have to install an English patch into an emulation. I have no experience on that subject, but I may look into that at a later point in time. At the moment of the marathon though, I unfortunately cannot get my hands on the game. My apologies in advance if you were expecting a review of Infinity.

Sweet As Syrup: Phantasy Star Universe Review

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.

Plot

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.

Gameplay

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.

Visual Stimuli

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.

In Summation

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.

Looking For Some Phantasy Star Action?

Check out the private server Ephinea! No, this is not a paid advertisement of any sort. However, I feel that this Phantasy Star Online private server is amazing. Ephinea is a completely free download, the creators of the project ask for no money at all. The servers are self-funded by the hosts themselves and the cost to host servers is phenomenally low. Ephinea acts as a perfect recreation of the original PSO experience with added features. Not to put down the other PSO private servers (Like Ultima and Schthack) but the constant updates to the interface and new additions make this the best private server.

The game itself boasts a moderate community. You will usually never see anymore than 50 people online, but there is still enough peeps there that you won’t feel completely alone. The users that dwell there are nice and super helpful! To get the game running, you need to download the game’s installer. More than likely, this will not agree with your antivirus. The game is a “false positive”, essentially a download that is entirely safe yet sets off your antivirus. This is because of how the game is coded. It it an MMO, which means the program connects to the internet. This would cause certain antiviruses, like AVG and Norton for example, who throw a fit about it. As I mentioned in my Blue Burst review, it is best that you always make sure to run back-checks on what you are downloading. If you don’t believe me in saying that the download is safe, be sure to scan the files and search forums first. I am not leading you on at all or lying to you about this being safe, but sometimes you can’t trust a random stranger on a blog. And with that, I bid you adieu. Ephinea has a server of kind people to play with, but keep in mind every server has its black sheep. Be wary of trolls and play with some pals and I’m sure you’ll have a good time.

Sweet As Syrup: Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution Review

I thought since I talked about the original Phantasy Star Online game a few days ago, I’d talk about the spinoff. I have mixed feelings on this game. I appreciate that they tried something completely different for this game, but to me it just failed to impress. It did have a lot of parts that I enjoyed, but at the same time the game had a tendency to drive me up a wall with the way some of its content was presented.Without further ado, I present to the fine ladies and gentlemen reading this blog a game that I find to be middle of the road. Now, I shall discuss Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution.

Need To Know Information

Phantasy Star Online Episode III was released exclusively for the Nintendo Gamecube. It changed genres from being an MMORPG to being an MMO card-game for this installment. The game ties its plot to the original 2 episodes, so its best you play the other games in the series to get a good idea of the plot.

Plot

The way PSO Episode III presents its plot is much different than the last 2 episodes. The plot of this game takes place 21 years after Episode I and II and features you once again travelling down to Ragol. Episode III is split into three different chapters. The game starts you off by giving you the option to select between two different stories to follow: The “Heroside” and the “Darkside”. The Heroside follows a group of government-appointment officials know as Hunters trying to fight off a group of anti-government terrorists known as “Arkz”. In Darkside story, you take control of Arkz in an attempt to overthrow the government. The third chapter acts as a melding of the two stories and serves as the bookend for the entire story.

The bulk of the plot revolves around a new system put in place that digitizes monsters and items from the previous games into C.A.R.D.S. which stands for “compressed alternate reality data”. Both the Hunters and Arkz fights using these cards. The plot itself is told through static image cut-scenes which had a tendency to bore me upon first watch. I didn’t find them to be that drastically entertaining and I couldn’t get invested in the primary characters due to them being stereotypes. There wasn’t a single character who’s name I could recall after playing through the game. I had to look up online what their names are because I completely forgot what they were!

Gameplay

The most interesting part of PSO Episode III is its gameplay. Unlike previous games in the series (Which were action RPGs) this game is a strategy-based card-game. You build a deck of cards in the game and gain cards by completing missions which awards you with booster packs. The mechanics of this game take a while to get a hold of. Both Arkz and the Hunters  use C.A.R.D.S. You are tasked with rolling some dice at the start of each match. This determines how many “Action Points” (or AP) you will have each match. You rely on these action points for several things such as summoning new monsters or equipping new items to moving your character across the battlefield or using special attack cards. There is also HP which acts as your character’s health bar. In similar games of this nature, if you drop to 0 hot points you lose. The system, while being a bit convoluted at first, is actually quite fun to use. It’s fun toying with deck combinations and trying to find the right balance of cards to use.

While both Arkz and the Hunters play similar to one another, there is a great difference between how they play. Arkz summon monsters to aid them in battle. This allows Arkz to send their monsters to attack their enemies and control the battlefield. The main weakness of Arkz is that players have to manage both their character and their monsters. The Hunters play differently and use cards to summon items and weapons. These items act as protection but also stat boosters for those characters. If an item gets destroyed, the Hunter takes 1 hit point of damage. A hunter can always summon more items, but if he gets attacked with no items equipped then he will take an extreme amount of direct damage.

You can also create a character using the character creation from the past game. Unfortunately, character creation is pointless this time around. You see, you are a “commander” which means you don’t actually take part in battles. You select one of the game’s 24 characters to represent you in the combat section. Your custom character is entirely pointless, only good for running around the station and structuring card decks. That’s it! This always annoyed me, especially because it renders the character creation almost entirely pointless.

Worse than the pointless character creation system is the way the missions handle difficulty. You see, a lot of times it seems like the enemy CPU rarely makes mistakes. If you aren’t careful, they can easily corner you and wipe out on the later missions. The bosses are worse as a lot of them just break the rules or have unfair stat advantages. Sure, the Phantasy Star series always had the occasional hard-as-nails boss fight with each game. However, almost every boss in this game is a chore to get through, especially if you don’t have the right cards. All in all, I found myself rather mixed on the gameplay. It was fun, but there were annoyances with how certain features were implemented that kept me from fully enjoying it.

Visual Stimuli

PSO Episode III uses the exact same graphics engine as the last game. You can tell since the models are starting to look even more dated at this point. It isn’t the worst though and it isn’t really a pain to look at either. It gets the job done and looks nice enough. The music is still pretty good even though a lot of it is recycled from the last game. The hand-drawn stills that appear as the game’s cutscenes look great. It makes me wish they were animated due to how amazing the artwork on them were! The character designs I felt were weak though. They just felt like generic templates, kind of like the ones used for side characters in the original game. Aside from that, presentation-wise the game looks well enough and sounds fantastic.

In Summation

This game is okay, but it has a lot of problems that are sometimes annoying to deal with. It’s fun but the graphics could use some work and the missions have a tendency to take a little too long. The game plays completely different from the previous game, which bothered me as a kid but not so much anymore. I still love this game and it has some fun strategy gameplay. The story of this game isn’t the best and kind of forgettable and the game is pretty grind-y. And despite not being able to make my own character, I had a fun time. Despite all that, I can’t say that this game was sweet as syrup. It just lacks so much when compared to the last time. If I had to give it a score, it would be 6.5/10. I only reccomend it if you like trading card games. I can’t reccomend it to Phantasy Star fans though, since it doesn’t play like any other game in the series and feels lacking. Go ahead and give it a shot, it’ll be a fun distraction at least for a few hours or so.

Relive The Phantasy!

There are some things that are special to me and one of those things is a game I cherish greatly: Phantasy Star Online. I loved this game since I was a child and I recently posted a review up of it. I honestly want to get people interested in this franchise since it means a whole lot to me. Sadly, Sega has stopped bringing Phantasy Star over to America. I honestly think Sega should bring Phantasy Star back to this country, it was just such a good game series!

So, for those of you reading this, I suggest that if you have a Phantasy Star game of any kind, you should take part in this project. Take a screenshot of your favorite Phantasy Star game and a moment that meant something to you. Then, send those photos to Sega on a specific date. I may have a problem with the way Sega is run nowadays, but I honestly think they can change and start bringing these games back to the shore. Maybe, if a lot of people sent in pictures of their favorite moments to Sega’s personal e-mail, we could get Sega of America to care again! If you’re on Twitter I suggest you use the hashtag #bringbackthephantasy Whether you are a fan of the original Phantasy Star series, Phantasy Star Online, Phantasy Star Universe, or even the newer games, you should show Sega that you still care. Even if Sega doesn’t care much about the Phantasy Star base in America, it’s still a worthy effort to try. I suggest sending all your e-mails to Sega on this date: July 23, 2016. This was the day the last update of Phantasy Star Online was released. Again, change may not happen but it’s good to talk about these things. Games are an art-form that I believe needs to be preserved. Whether they make new games or re-releases doesn’t matter to me, as long as Sega brings back the Phantasy.

Sweet As Syrup: Phantasy Star Online Blue Burst Review

There comes a time in a man’s life when he goes back to something that brought him such joy in his childhood. This could be to reflect on the nostalgic bliss of the franchise they love, or it could be just to have fun enjoying something they have long cherished. To me, Phantasy Star Online is a bit of both. I loved it as a pre-teen and had fond memories of it, and I still love it today. So, let’s you and me travel back to the long forgotten year of 2003 and reflect upon something I consider to be a grand treasure.

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Blue Burst sounds like some kind of delicious Kool-Aid flavor. (Image and game are the property of Sega)

Background

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, there are some things you need to know about this game. For one thing, it is available on Gamecube, Dreamcast, the original X-Box, and PC. Unfortunately, these games are immensely hard to find nowadays. Even if you do find them, you’d only be able to play the offline versions of these games. There is a workaround though, but it requires the usage of a PC. You see, due to the positive fan reception of this beloved series there are several fan-run private servers. These servers usually have the game available for download on PC.

Keep in mind, I DO NOT CONDONE PIRACY. However, you cannot find these games anymore and Sega will most likely never release them. I only support the downloading of the game’s installer as a way of preserving the game as an art-form. If Sega does re-release the original PSO games in some capacity, I highly reccomend getting the paid versions. As of now, the only way to play these games are through an installer or through buying copies with jacked-up online prices. Also, MMOs run on private servers tend to flare up anti-virus programs. Always be careful when downloading any program and be sure the source is trusted. There are many PSO private servers that are on the level but due to the coding of the program would most likely screw with your anti-virus program. I am using such a private server so I can give you guys a full examination of what the game used to be. The server I am using is Ephinea and I find it to be safe. Again though, always be wary of what you download. Scan files, look through forum posts, and make sure everything is fine.

Plot

Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst features three different episodes with different storylines: Episodes 1,2, & 4. What about Episode 3? Episode 3 is actually its own separate game entirely. The plot of episode 1 of PSO is that after destruction of the protagonist’s home-world, humankind (And robots and elves) set off into space to look for a new planet. The Pioneer Project is started and eventually the humans find a new suitable planet. Pioneer 1 settles on the planet named “Ragol” and all is good for a while. However, when Pioneer 2 tries to connect to Pioneer 1, a giant explosion occurs on the surface of the planet. Pioneer 2 loses contact with Pioneer 1 as a result of this. The Principal than decides to send down “Hunters” (Who are the player’s character) in order to find out the truth about this bizarre event. Once on the surface, you fight off the various species of wild-life and eventually happen across a mystery that threatens to destroy all of humanity.

Episode 2 tasks you with travelling back to Ragol to investigate a secret laboratory. You end up doing some VR training sessions before you are thrust into yet another death-defying fight against every gruesome creature Ragol can throw at you. Episode 4 is more of a mini-expansion and focuses primarily on side-content unlike the last 2 episodes. Episode 4 involves a comet nearly smashing into Pioneer 2 and you being sent down to investigate it. The stories in these games are mainly told through logs left by characters o by computer terminals found scattered about. It’s not an extremely in-depth or character-drive narrative, but it provides you enough incentive to go forth and adventure.

Gameplay

The bulk of what makes PSO so great comes primarily from its gameplay. PSO is an MMORPG, but unlike other competitors in its genre, it actually plays like a game. And yes, I know all MMOs are technically games but few of them play like PSO. Most MMOs drop you into a large open-world and task you with various fetch-quest missions. Sometimes, you’ll be sent into primary story missions but more often than not it’s just a bunch of aimless wandering and monster killing. PSO has some of those qualities but manages to be a lot different. For one thing, there are no large open areas. You are sent to various areas that basically act as linear dungeons. There are secrets areas and the occasional optional path, but not a whole lot to explore otherwise. In most areas, you need to kill all monsters in order to progress through the level. While that does seem lame, PSO’s areas varied and interesting enough so that it doesn’t get repetitive.

The areas pack a good amount of variety, such as having you traipse through a lush forest or trudge through a lava-filled cavern. There is never an area in the game I found to be that immensely lacking and the game managed to hold my interest throughout. The gameplay is also a departure from most MMOs. Unlike a lot of MMOs were you constantly press on hot-keyed buttons to cast spells or do special attacks, PSO is more focused on input based attacks and combos. You can do three types of attacks: Normal, Special, and Heavy attacks. Normal attacks are your typical attacks and do the lowest amount of damage. Special attacks are for weapons with elemental attributes, this allows you to perform attacks that draw upon an element like fire or ice. Finally, there are heavy attacks which hit like normal attacks but do more damage and usually have less of a chance to hit. Both heavy attacks and special attacks are slower than normal attacks and all three kind of attacks can be chained together into three-hit combos.

The best part of this game comes with its 12 different classes. All 12 classes falls into one of three different categories: Hunter, Ranger, and Force. Hunters are all around classes but lean more towards focusing on melee combat. Hunters can use sabers, swords, slicers, but can also use guns and staffs. Rangers are focused primarily on wielding guns and attacking from long-range while Forces can cast powerful magic spells. All 12 classes have different weaknesses and strengths and are quite well balanced. The game has a character creation system that isn’t really that robust if you compare it to games nowadays. For the time though, it had a lot more things to tweak than most character creation systems made in that period. Your character also has a pet that constantly floats over his shoulder known as a “MAG”. Your MAG can be fed items in your inventory to level up his stats. Much like the Chao from Sonic Adventure, you can get your MAG to evolve into various forms by feeding it the right items. There are also rare MAGs you can get in the game, some even being floating videogame consoles or characters from other games.

The game also features an online mode. This feature allows you to connect with many other players. Once logging on to the private server of your choice, you are brought into a virtual lobby. You can talk to other players, ask for advice, and do typical MMO interaction stuff. From there, you can start a room and set the parameters for the kind of game you want to play. The game has several dungeons and 4 different difficulties, so there is a lot of content you can partake in. The game has a level cap of 200, even though you don’t really need to level up that high. The Ephinea server also adds several features the original game didn’t such as an improved loot system and a new hardcore mode which gives you only 1 life to beat the entire game with. Ephinea is really the way you want to go if you want your experience to be the closest to the original game as it can be.

Visual Stimuli

The game has dated graphics and character models by today’s standards, but looked great for the time. The backgrounds are pretty dang good and have a fair amount of variety and the game possesses a nice beautiful soundtrack. Monster noises and sword slashes are spot-on and some of the bizarre growls and roars the creatures can produce can really chill you to the bone. The production value on the game overall are amazing and I highly recommend it to everybody.

In Summation

Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst is a great game, and I highly reccomend it. It improves upon the previous version (Phantasy Star Online Episode 1 & 2) and adds an additional episode plus some needed fixes. Blue Burst will not rock your world, but it’s generally a fun game to play with friends. Just be warned that this game is over a decade old and it may seem dated for its time. It may be difficult to get this game running for some people (Especially if you have an overprotective anti-virus like me) but it is totally worth it. With that, I can say this game is definitely sweet as syrup. While I do flip-flop on using rating systems, if I had to give this game a number it would be an 8.5/10. It’s fantastic and is still fresh and fun even years after its release.