It is funny, if not ironical, that I should be here to start a thread with a partial review of Phantasy Star 0 in this forum. Funny, because I don`t own a DS, and my PC is not quite suited for DS emulation. The latest Desmune runs slowly, but without white screens and sound bugs that prevented me from experimenting the game when I first downloaded it, right after its release in America (I had the rom saved all this time, waiting for the development of a suitable DS emulator for it, as No$GBA crashes when the gameplay starts). The Nintendo DS should be my next "technological" acquisition, though its not easy to find PS0 in any shop I know, and in fact, I`ve never seen it. And Ironical, because I really don`t go along with action RPGs and I`m a critic of the way the Phantasy Star franchise has become since PSO.
But here I am!
I just started a new game this week Too much work leaves me too little time to play, though. I progressed into level 14, and have beaten 6 quests so far, so all I can say is what I got from this beginning. So, no spoilers ahead besides the obvious :^P
The first thing I noticed was that they replaced the song played in the japanese version during the cinematic intro with an orchestral theme. Which was actually most expected, as I`ve seen this done many times before. I like the japanese song best, though the orchestral is not bad, it`s catchy enough. The cinematic looks cool. I think I only posted once in the PS0 board, and i was praising the animation. It may not look important, but it shows that some extra effort was put into the production of this game. You get to see more cinematics further, and they keed it leveled with the title.
However, the intro gave me the wrong idea of what the game would be like. It shows your random lone, common boy that is to be the ultimate hero of the universe, a very, very cheap plot resource. But when the game starts, you find yourself not really alone. You are already about to become a full fledged hunter, whose skills are praised by your tutor, Kai, and recognized by the mayor. I mean, you are not just a silly child that looks cute with a knife in their hads, you are something. The game also lets you choose your character`s attitude in the dialogs, though it doesn`t seem to make much difference, but it brings you in the role.
Character selection and customization is something I`m not really used to, but quite simple. I think at least color swap should be of a wider range. I remember playing those boxing games for the Genesis (Greatest Heavywheighs of the Ring and similars) where you can customize your fighter`s trunks, hair color and style, height, skin tone, and it seemed like I had more options there than in PS0. Anyway, I like to snipe out bad guys from a distance, and chicks, so I choosed a RAmarl.
You start in a town that sounds like it is way bigger than the square in front of the Hunter`s Guild where you are initially allowed to explore (it seems to expand later, so far I got into an underground area with two shops). The plot leads you to the guild and people go all tutorial on you until you enter your first mission. While you run around getting to know where are everything, the music sounds cool and fitting. Although all characters run like they are in the moon (they jump like impalas, wtf), graphically the characters, scenario, and animations look very nice for a DS game. Too bad you don`t have a dash button to run back explored areas. The sound is ok, you don`t get much besides "ah", "uh" in combats and speeches in the few animated sutscenes. Monster sounds are fitting, weapon and tech sounds are cool (following a pattern started in PSO, I reckon). Ambient music stays in the background, though it changes depending on the situation in combat mode - as I write, I find myself surprised that I can`t remember any musics besides the one for shops, city, character selection and the opening animation.
Speaking of buttons, the gameplay caught me. I`ve read that it`s almost the same as PSU, but I`ve never played it, so I can`t compare. But I found it easy to use, similar of that of Knights of the Old Republic, only being more direct and action oriented. Yet, you get to assign up to 6 preset commands that can be triggered in battle without the need to get into the menu, which makes your character imobile while hell blazes around it. Normal and strong attacks (which are enhanced if you keep pressing the corresponding buttons), techs, items, special moves, it is up to you what would be in your palette. You can make up to 3 attacks in sequence, which usually makes the last attack stronger and more accurate. Depending on the weapon, the 3rd attack may be just a stronger hit, a double hit, or a wide hit, smacking anything in range by your target. Also, there are various ways of enhancing your equipment, so you can make a standard weapon more fitting to your fighting style and phocus on the different kinds of enemies you may find ahead.
NPCs are dumb. You can give them general orders, and that`s as far as you get to a group strategy, as you can`t choose which weapons and techs they are going to use and when. Even if you are a Hunter or a Ranger, you should bring along a Resta tech and lots of dimates, because I died a couple of times and lost other NPCs a lot while waiting for Sarisa to heal the party for me, which she usually does when SHE needs healing. And you get stronger than your fellow NPCs early in the game, so they usually end up being just alternative targets for your enemies, which leaves you free to act and whipe out the foes yourself. Enemies are not that smart euther, and will act the same given certain conditions, which you must observe to get the right timing to attack with little harm to yourself. Nonetheless, while battles in action RPGs scare me out (because I tend to panic and lose control of what I should press for what), battles in PS0 are fun and easy to deal with (some battles are not easy at all, like the first times you find the dragon).
Plotwhise, the game gives you a few points that are not really credible. The plot revolves around a human world (in what world? I still don`t know) that was devastated 200 years ago, whiping out Newmans, making Casts sleep and lose memory, and having the few human survivors silent about it, and all registered history vanished I understand the history being vanished, but I don`t get it the survivors not telling their descendants about what happened. Anyway, vast areas of the world were reduced to wastelands due to polution, and the few viable sites were repopulated by humans and awakening Casts, where cities were built. Monsters (or "hostiles") roam around these same sites, so, to protect the cities Hunter Guilds were formed. Another aspect of the story that bothers me is that the mayor and other NPCs in your city are purely good. "We have to do risk ourselves to help people out and nothing else matters" and this kind of stuff seems unreal, if not childish. How Kai takes easy on Sarisa`s seemengly dangerous secrets didn`t go well on me either. Sarisa`s spontaneous help when your character faints in the first mission also doesn`t look right for someone who has grown brainwashed by the idea that Humans were stupids and responsible for the tragedies of your people`s past and should be left to die, and nothing else (see where Reve goes under the same doctrine). It sounds more correct if she didn`t approach right away and stayed behind, studying your characters, just to realize at some point that something is wrong about what was told about humans.
So far, the main plot seems like something that could have happened right after PSII. A "Mother" entity rulling over everything, the destruction of the world as its known, the uncertain destiny of Newmans, a rebuilding society paved on technologies found in ruins of the past civilization, that could pretty much be Motavia a couple of centuries after the Great Collapse. Sounds like a bit of the original Phantasy star storyline, expanded, and adapted into a game that doesn`t belong to that sotryline (the enduring "Newman" problem right on the spot). I`m just at the beginning, but it all sounds a bit confusing :^P
Overall, it is a game I`m willing to get more into. I believe it will positively surprise me.
SEGA owes me money!