Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Phantasy Star Portable

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Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)

Electronic Theatre Image            The latest Phantasy Star title has arrived in Europe in the form of a handheld release, the highly-anticipated Phantasy Star Portable exclusively on PlayStation Portable (PSP). As the first title in the series developed from the ground-up for a handheld console, eyes are on Phantasy Star Portable for a cue as to the future of the series, and the possibilities that lie within the even greater opportunities presented in Phantasy Star Zero, coming to Nintendo DS later this year.

            Finding itself following directly after the PlayStation2 andElectronic Theatre Image Xbox 360’s Phantasy Star Universe, in the timeline of the Phantasy Star universe, Phantasy Star Portable introduces the player to a new prototype CAST named Vivienne, who has a little more up her sleeve than first appearances would lead you to believe. Minor storylines twist and turn within the overarching battle for survival, including bizarre tales of android relationships and sexual harassment. One could argue that insightful analysis of real-life situations occur, but its delivery is often so ham-fisted as to derail any statements made.

            Much of the game plays in the now traditional fashion first laid down by the DreamCast Phantasy Star Online outings. The player begins by creating their avatar, Electronic Theatre Imagefirst choosing one of four races and customising their appearance. The customisation is limited, but no more than the GameCube, Xbox and PlayStation2’s Phantasy Star releases. Only three job classes are available to begin with, though the player does have the option of switching later in the game, when a lot more variety also becomes available. A Partner Machine is also chosen at this point from a selection of six, and acts as Artificial Intelligence for most of the single-player experience.

            The player embarks upon missions selected from a HUB world. As opposed to having a full 3D Lobby System as in the home console releases, the HUB is viewed as a 2D isometric plan, through which player moves between Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and locations with the D-Pad or Analogue Nub, and activates the dialogue with the Cross Button. Missions are, of course, fully 3D and take place in a variety of locations. The environments vary dramatically in scale and the first planet, Perum, houses what is easily some of the best level design that’s been seen in the series.

The game uses the familiar timed-combo system, in which the player must delay their button press in order to land powerful hits. Typically vast deposits Electronic Theatre Imageof weaponry and armour are available in this extensive scavenger hunt, ranging dramatically in both offensive and defensive options. Players are able to assign numerous weapon combinations and items to a quick-select menu, operated by holding the Circle Button and using the D-Pad to highlight your chosen option, then releasing the Circle Button – a surprisingly intuitive system for a console on which adaptations of home console series typically fall when relaying complicated control methods to the less dynamic PSP presentation. As is the case with Hack-N’-Slash titles such as the other titles in the Phantasy Star series, gathering new, more powerful equipment and seeing the new effect your hard-won armament, blade or gun is a large part of the addiction, and Phantasy Star Portable delivers with the panache that Silicon Knights’ Too Human so sorely lacked.

The available multi-player has only been given the local option, with online modes sorely missed. With Phantasy Star Portable undoubtedly set to be seen by many as a pleasant opportunity to while-away the months til Monster Hunter Freedom Unite arrives on UK shores, it’s unfortunate that SEGA decided not to go whole-hog with multi-player features.

Phantasy Star Portable is undeniably one of the best looking games currently available on PSP. The main storyline is elegantly delivered in 2D cut-outs and simply gorgeous Cut-Scenes, light-years ahead of most other releases on the system. Although theElectronic Theatre Image enemy Character Models are no more distinctive than earlier 3D outings, the amount of detail present on those in Phantasy Star Portable is quite impressive. The voice acting is mostly decent, but occasionally its’ easy to see wayward emphasis and flatly delivered emotion when reading the associated subtitles.

Phantasy Star Portable is a delicately delivered handheld adaptation of a much loved series, and it’s clear that the developers share the fans admiration for the long-lived Role-Playing Game standard bearer. Missions are drip-fed in bite-sized chunks, the main storyline is presented in a more than endearing fashion and the item hording is as addictive as ever. As with the best of the series, Phantasy Star Portable is no short-lived affair, and to say that SEGA have managed to create one of the most compelling PSP releases to date would not be overstating the fine balance of action, character progression and storyline revelations. With Phantasy Star Portable now in the bag, the bar set for Phantasy Star Zero simply couldn’t be any higher.

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