Saturday, 13 February 2016

#1: Phantasy Star Portable

Well, one game has fallen to my mighty thumbs so far this year: Phantasy Star Portable. It styles itself as a sequel to Phantasy Star Universe, picking up the plot 3 months later, but it almost exclusively uses resources from that game, so the experience is very similar indeed. The plot is even basically the same, what with a looming threat from SEED and the planetary representatives being jerks about letting the Guardians do their jobs.

Stepping back a bit, PSU is essentially a revisit of Phantasy Star Online, one of the first graphical MMOs. PSO is an offshoot of the long-running Phantasy Star series, the first title being a party-based dungeon crawler on the Master System. From the beginning, it has stood out with its female protagonists, high-tech setting and singular visual style. It has also produced some excellent soundtracks, several of which grace my media library.

The first four games are standard JRPG fare, but Online created full-3D (slightly) randomly generated environments, and also introduced MMO-standard grinding/farming mechanics. Despite this, it can still be played in single-player mode with a definitive 'credit roll' ending; this lets you replay the game on a higher difficulty setting, similar to Diablo II. The fact that you can use the same character off- and on-line meant that hacking was a huge problem, leading to many revisions of the game being released on various consoles. It was probably one of the Dreamcast's most popular games, keeping it going longer than it might have otherwise.

I played as a Newman Hunter at first, giving myself a rather unlikely hair/skin colour combination as is my wont. My experience with PSU so far led me to focusing on melee weapons, as spells and ranged weapons really don't benefit from Universe's (slightly) more complex combat. The different weapon types (of which there many) have reasonably different feels, making the choice meaningful; there is a 'palette' of six weapons you can freely switch between in battle, though if you're quick with the game menu, you could swap in even more during combat if you really wanted to. My favourite part of this system is that you are able to put melee weapons in your right hand and ranged weapons in your left, allowing for quite a bit of customisation. Portable adds (I think?) Mags which fill up the ranged slot, either providing cover fire automatically or being a decent launchpad for spells if you're not otherwise a spell-focused class.

As soon as I hit Hunter level 7, I changed to Fighmaster, which essentially just a better Hunter, able to wield several S-class weapons. Unfortunately, the only one I found was a Mag that only Rangers could equip. This appeared to be a set drop in the final area, because I got several of them.

Difficulty was usually low, though some bosses were much, much harder than their surrounding dungeon. De Rol Le made an appearance (first in PSO) and it fully took an hour to beat him, because this incarnation lets you hit him even less than the original one did. The final boss blew me away so quickly in my initial attempt that I just knew it would be impossible without grinding. Over the next 3 hours I gained 8 levels and a couple of equipment upgrades, and this was JUST enough... the final boss gauntlet (3 forms, essentially) left me with only 6 of 30 healing items, and no Scape Dolls (instant resurrect if you die).

Overall, a decent game, but if you've already played Phantasy Star Universe, there isn't much to see. The soundtrack and graphics are both essentially the same, just of lower quality.

My next game (picked by my beautiful assistant) is, uh... Balloon Fight. Maybe this one won't need 3 hours of grinding.

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