I’ve gotten bored of unstructured rambling about games, so for this time I shall return to my good ol’ organized review format. Rejoice…uh, whoever preferred the old format.
Phantasy Star Portable is a spin-off of Sega’s franchise, Phantasy Star Online. That itself is a spin-off (or I guess not spin-off, since it’s been more prominent that its main series for the past decade) of Phantasy Star, a set of four RPGs with a sci-fi theme for the Sega Saturn. 4chan’s /jrpg/ loves it (the original series, I mean). Phantasy Star Portable (which I shall now refer to as PSP1 for short) is an Action RPG that consists of button mashing, dungeon crawling, loot collecting, and…that’s basically it. It was pretty fun and relaxing for most of the ride, but not really my kind of thing. It tries hard to feel like an MMO, but since I don’t like MMOs much, it didn’t have much lasting appeal.
The combat is is a button-mashy action type where you press square to do a normal attack with your weapon, and triangle to use the skill equipped on that weapon. It doesn’t really evolve as you progress through the game, but it is very fun for a while. You have a palette to which you can add weapons and items to, and you can easily switch between weapons on the go using it. You have up to 5 slots in the palette, so you can equip up to 5 of any two-handed weapon or sets of two one-handed weapons. There’s many different types of weapons in the game, each with their own perks, so you can easily switch around to avoid being sick of the same ol’ sword slashes. It accommodates a variety of fighting styles, as expected of something based off of an MMO. My personal favorite weapon type is the Double Saber, because having skills that make you spin and charge at full speed is ridiculously fun. Second favorite is probably Twin Sabers, due to their fast attacking speed. In PSP1, you basically accept a mission at the mission counter, and you will be automatically led into a dungeon. From there on, you traverse through the dungeon, get to the end, fight the boss, and get your reward in items and class EXP. Story progress is made through “story missions,” whereas you can grind and farm for items in “free missions.” Each free mission also has varying ranks of C to S, which determines how high the levels of the enemies in there are.
You create your own character, and you can choose your race at the beginning, ranging from Human, CAST, Beast, and Newman. Human is your generic well-rounded race that you’re supposed to choose if you don’t know what you’re doing. CASTs are mechas, Beasts are exactly what they sound like and focus on physical attacks, and Newmans are more magically inclined or something. I chose to be a boring ol’ human because I’m lame like that. Then you get to choose from three classes: Hunter (melee-focused), Ranger (long-range weapons user), and Force (mage). They are all rather flexible, and can equip a variety of weapons. You level your class level by clearing missions, and you can unlock further classes by levelling up the starting ones.
The variety of weapons, classes, and skills make this game pretty enjoyable, but I still cannot say I like it. Not too long back, I didn’t like ARPGs (or action games in general) at all. Part of the reason was because I suck, but a even more prominent factor was bad camera controls. I hate wonky camera controls, and it gets ridiculously annoying when you are running around, multiple things get behind you, and you can’t see half of what is going on. My favorite ARPGs are the ones where you don’t have to rotate the camera (top-down style like Ys, or zoomed out camera like 3D Tales). To make my annoyance with cameras skyrocket, PSP1 stuck the camera movement onto the D-pad and character movement to the analogue nub. As a result, I basically have to use the “claw” (or “crab” if you prefer to call it that) position for extended periods of time, which gives me cramps after a while. It is ridiculously uncomfortable. If you don’t mind using the “claw” then this game is plenty of fun. I’d imagine that the gameplay of its sequel completely outclasses it, though.
If I said that I cared about the story at all, I would be lying through my teeth. PSP1’s plot pretty much expects you to have played PSO, so if you haven’t played any Phantasy Star games before like me, you would have no idea what is going on for quite a while. The game expects you to know the terms and names it throws around, so unless you’ve played games in the series before, you would be feeling pretty lost. The plot itself is not exactly outstanding, and pretty much a sci-fi standard ARPG excuse plot in terms of depth. It keeps things simple to the point that you actually chase the same villain for the whole game, and it isn’t going to draw you in or require much thought.
Like the story, I would be making a false statement if I said any of the characters were memorable. I guess the only one whose name I could remember consistently is Vivienne, your partner CAST who is made to be more emotional and wants a “heart.” To an extent, I also remember Hyuga, a standard-fare smooth-talking playboy type. Generally the characters are flat and play whatever cliche they fill straight. That’s okay, the main attraction of the game is the gameplay.
While the cover art looked very nice and Vivienne’s in-game portrait is cute, everyone else’s looks range from somewhat off to right down the uncanny valley. Plot is told in your typical portrait-and-textbox format, whereas the dungeons are rendered in 3D. They look decent from a graphical standpoint, but are very repetitive. Gameplay graphics are fine, until the screen gets too busy with everyone’s flashy skills and the framerate receives a hugeass drop. In the higher-leveled free missions, the game lagged to the point where Ys: The Ark of Napishtim felt smooth. Needless to say, frustration was felt.
I barely noticed the soundtrack. It’s very forgettable, I guess.
Fun and relaxing button-mashy Action RPG that tries hard to be a portable offline MMO (although it is possible to play online through Adhoc party, and that is the reason why people stuck with this game for a while). Storyline is not very long, at something like 20 hours if you don’t bother with too many free missions. It was enjoyable until the camera controls and lag killed it for me. If PSP3 or something comes out for the Vita and puts the camera to the right analogue stick instead of the d-pad, I would probably play it (under the assumption that I will get a Vita). Until then, I’m trying to avoid any game that uses the “claw.” I’ve heard that Phantasy Star Portable 2 outclasses the first game in every way, so perhaps pick that one up instead if you want to play an Action RPG. Like most party-based ARPGs, the ally AI is terrible. At least they automatically revive themselves with full HP after being dead for a short while, so you don’t need to waste time healing them.