Sega has been trying for a decade to transition the Phantasy Star series from cult-favoured RPG’s to commercially successful MMO’s. Their first attempt back in 2000 was a valiant effort but was hindered by the limitations of the Dreamcast and dial-up Internet speeds. Flashfoward 10 years to a world where Broadband Internet is a standard and almost everyone and their mother owns a Nintendo DS, the time seems right for Sega to finally revive their dream and release an alternate version of the Dreamcast classic, one that will actually be embraced by the masses this time around. Though the DS too has a host of limitations it also allows Sega to focus on the elements which matter the most, namely a solid gameplay experience and fully functional online mode. The latter of which is where Phantasy Star Zero truly shines and is the reason why any RPG lover who owns a DS needs to go out and purchase this game right now.
Before I get to the online aspect of the game I’d like to congratulate Sega for including an enthralling single player mode on a game which primarily focuses on it’s multiplayer proponent. The story, which slightly alters depending on which race you choose to play as, is certainly intriguing and does a great job keeping players hooked right up until the very end. The story see’s mankind attempting to rebuild their civilization after a giant war known as the Giant Break reduced most of their world to nothingness some 200-years ago. You take on the role of a young Hunter and it’s up to you and your party to rid of the world of monstrous creatures who roam the wilderness threatening your existence.
There are three different races for you to choose from at the start of the game and they each have their own set of attributes. Humans are generally well-rounded and serve as the go-to choice for casual gamers, CAST’s are highly powered androids but lack certain abilities such a magic and finally Newmans are a mysterious race whose regaining abilities makes them perfect for more advanced players. Each race also has different class types and you can freely customize the aesthetics and gender of any of them.
The weapon based combat system is incredibly deep with a staggering 350 weapons crammed in to the tiny DS cartridge, If you like looting you‘ll love what Sega has to offer here. As with any RPG, players will gain experience, level up and expand their arsenal through-out the game. Phantasy Stat Zero also has a healthy mix of amour and items to keep players satisfied and some of the more elaborate battles can be pretty epic for a DS game. As fun as playing alone can be it does present problems which are alleviated in multiplayer. The most frustrating of which is your party members dim-witted AI, you’ll frequently have to monitor and baby-sit them as they’ll often do more harm than good. The camera system is also problematic which can make protecting your party members a little difficult but it never gets bad enough to hinder your progress.
Like the all recent Phantasy Star game the main draw of Zero is it’s multiplayer mode. Multiplayer consists of both online and local wireless co-op modes where you and up to 3 friends (or random strangers) can discover the truth behind the Giant Break together. Phantasy Star Zero boasts one of the best online modes on the DS to date, putting some of Nintendo‘s own efforts to shame. There’s no voice chat support but players can communicate via a PictoChat-esque messaging system which allows players to draw or write messages on the fly and share them with party members.
Graphically Phantasy Star Zero is certainly bright and colourful but the 3D polygons look almost like they’ve been ripped from a PSone launch title that hasn’t aged well. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the DS’s limited horsepower it can be a little jarring to those who have already played beauties such as Phantasy Star Portable on the PSP or even the Zelda games on the DS. Getting to the end of the game is a lengthy progress and along the way you’ll unfortunately encounter some repetitive quests, I would have liked to have seen more mission variety and less fights against bosses that I’ve already beaten!
Other than those few qualms Phantasy Star Zero is a great game which fans of the series and RPG-lovers in general will enjoy. If you have the means to play with others I’d definitely recommend it over playing alone but even if you do decide to play through solo you’re still in for a treat. There’s no shortage of great RPG’s on the DS but if you want one that you can experience along with others it truly doesn’t get any better than this.