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Phantasy Star Universe (Xbox 360)

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1 Review

Manufacturer: Sega / Genre: Action & Adventure

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    1 Review
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      27.03.2007 00:52
      Very helpful
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      A fitting sequel, but showing its age against the heavyweight MMORPGs on PC.

      INTRODUCTION

      It’s been five long years of waiting, but finally the epic online world of ‘Phantasy Star’ has arrived on the next generation consoles in the form of ‘Phantasy Star Universe’. Eschewing the traditional RPG territory of wizards and elves, PSU instead places you in a futuristic world dominated by cyborgs and robots; in this realm you take on the role of a Guardian (an intergalactic peace officer), roaming planets attempting to rid the galaxy of the invading SEED forces.

      In this incarnation, you have three different modes of play. In ‘Story Mode’ you are able to take on the role of Ethan Weber and guide him through twelve gaming chapters as he ascends the ranks of the Guardian forces.
      ‘Extra Mode’ provides a tempting look at the online play mode, demonstrating the delights of character customization and free-roaming environments, and finally, ‘Network Mode’ will grant you the option to battle against strangers and friends alike in a pervasive online world; this ever expanding environment will allow you to enjoy battling beasties for months and years to come.

      GRAPHICS

      In terms of the look of PSU on the 360, things aren’t all that bad. Developed in tandem with less powerful machines in mind, the high definition graphics are suitably bright and luminescent. The large levels of transparency and neon look just as good here as they do in other Xbox 360 titles. Background areas are both bright and airy, and yet aren’t too directionless or empty; a good overall balance was called for and it seems that Sega have got it right on the money!

      However, the increase in resolution and low polygon count does make ‘Phantasy Star Universe’ seem slightly dated and angular. Nonetheless, this doesn’t make a huge impact on the game as a whole and is certainly acceptable for a cross-platform title.

      FMV sequences (of which there are many in the ‘Story Mode’) are smooth and detailed, however the poor lip-syncing is rather off-putting looking like a poorly dubbed Japanese marshal arts movie, which I’m guessing isn’t too far off the truth of the matter. As far as rough edges go, this is a rather major one and certainly goes toward losing marks for presentation.

      SOUND

      It’s wonderful to hear ‘Phantasy Star’ with a Dolby Digital surround sound mix. I’m glad to report that a suitably wide range of tunes do the job of creating an immersive gaming environment. I doubt you’ll have to resort to your own tunes too quickly, as none of the tracks is particularly nauseating; that said, you’ll probably tire of the music after investing a number of days in the online mode, so its best to get a few well-loved playlists sorted out for when things inevitably turn sour.

      To ensure a broad sonic consistency, many of the series’ spot effects have made their way into this latest incarnation. These are suitably artificial and futuristic without being too metallic or ‘hard’. It’s a shame that more variety wasn’t employed to liven up the mix a little, however this is sheer wish fulfilment on my part and isn’t to the detriment of the game as a whole.

      STORY MODE

      The offline single player ‘Story Mode’ is where most people will begin their ‘Phantasy Star’ adventure. Unlike the previous game, Sega’s ‘Sonic Team’ has taken time to create an intricate, episodic game experience. Each chapter takes on the style of an animated TV show, beginning with a title sequence and ending with a “coming up next time” teaser. The format seems fresh and original, although it may seem quite off-putting to role playing game veterans, who might find the oversimplification and streamlining of the narrative to be unnecessary and to the detriment of the game as a whole.

      ‘Story Mode’ starts off slowly, tentatively introducing you to the play system. This offers newcomers to the world a gentle tutorial and provides a quick refresher for long-time fans. It won’t take long for you to learn the basics and soon you’ll be well on your way to earning your first level up.

      Most of your time thereafter will be spent killing alien life-forces and shooting your way through multiple dungeons. This constant battling can unfortunately become quite a mind-numbing task, and after several chapters you may find your interest in this mode beginning to wane. Having said that, later levels do provide a little more variety, offering a diverse range of play styles to break up the ‘hack ‘n’ slash’ marathons; several vehicle and pod neutralization missions attempt to fragment this monotony, but are ultimately over far too soon and you’re quickly returned to the tedium of monster mashing and box smashing.

      To compound matters, there’s no real incentive to explore the open missions once you’ve completed them; you’ll find you become more than strong (and rich) enough to finish the entire game mode without the need to play them. Levelling becomes a linear affair which requires nothing more than simply playing a chapter to its logical conclusion; this means that the forty plus hours of gameplay promised in the marketing blurb actually translates to twenty five hours at most. With ‘Gamerpoints’ offered for arbitrarily completing mission after mission, there’s nothing to draw you back to this mode once you’re done; thankfully, this is actually a blessing, as by the end of the final chapter you’ll probably be begging for this linear, unexciting mode to be over anyway.

      Add on top of that the work-shy (nay glitchy) A.I characters, the tacky voice-overs and a cliché-infested storyline, and you’ll find that this ‘game-on-rails’ mode is one you could happily have done without.

      EXTRA MODE

      After successfully completing mission four in ‘Story Mode’, you’re free to access ‘Extra Mode’; here you’ll be able to create a new customized character and roam the off-line realm without restraint. As you complete the storyline chapters, you’ll simultaneously unlock the relative missions here, expanding the range for off-line exploration further and further.

      This mode is a nice treat, allowing you to explore the world without the restrictions imposed by the episodic storyline; but again, it’s a fairly hollow experience from which you’ll have to start from scratch. There’s nothing here that you can’t entertain in either of the other game modes, which makes its inclusion, ultimately, a rather pointless endeavour.

      That said, should you wish to get a feel for the online mode without having to go through the process of subscription first, then ‘Extra Mode’ is probably going to be the closest thing to emulating the event itself albeit playing with slightly dumb ‘bots rather than human beings.

      NETWORK MODE

      Although the off-line modes fail to inspire, they really hold little significance in the world of ‘Phantasy Star’, as it’s the online play that holds the true weight of the title. It’s here that you’ll be meeting up with your buddies to go huntin’ and killin’ over ‘Xbox Live’.

      As far as the MMORPG guide book goes, ‘Phantasy Star Universe’ follows a ‘Guild Wars’ style of play where you meet in lobbies, join a party and then siphon off into smaller groups consisting of up to six players. This system keeps the game play smooth, and provides a more even distribution of tasks and rewards than the more typical ‘free-for-all’ MMORPGs such as ‘Final Fantasy XI’. Whilst the inevitable human factor still leads to misaligned play in the early stages (where only half the party do the lion’s share of the work) eventually things begin to die down as your in-game list of friends allows you to weed out the typical jumble of miscreants and item hoarders.

      In the plus column, fans of the saga and those new to the world of online RPGs will find comfort in ‘Phantasy Star Universe’. Its unique style is easier to learn than most, and the off-line modes allow ample tutorial time for the uninitiated. Things are certainly more complex than back in the days of ‘Phantasy Star Online’, but not to the stat-heavy degree of some MMOs. This strikes a wonderful balance between action, adventure and statistical elements.

      In this latest incarnation, Sega have finally decided to go fully ‘Client/Server’ so all character information is stored online. Needless to say, this has meant an end to the diabolical level of cheating that used to occur (the original Xbox incarnation was hacked within a day of release). Similarly, regular updates are now instantly available, creating a more engaging and omnipresent online experience, regularly filled with new items, missions and weapons.

      However, this new found centralised system has lead to several new negatives. Firstly, due to compatibility issues, Xbox 360 users cannot interact with those on the PC and PS2 servers; this is somewhat isolating and disappointing in equal measure. Secondly, the evolving game world means that players now have to pay an extra £6.99 per month to play on top of their ‘Live’ subscription. This isn’t prohibitively expensive considering the cost of other MMORPGs, but it’s still a far cry from the free online play delivered from the Dreamcast’s ‘Phantasy Star Online’.

      OVERALL

      ‘Phantasy Star Online’ will remain one of my favourite games of all-time, being the innovative, luscious-looking, groundbreaking title that it was. However, without those factors going for it, ‘Universe’ looks rather anaemic when placed up against the modern competition from the ever growing wave of MMORPGs entering the market.

      Those with a nostalgic passion for ‘Phantasy Star Online’ will no doubt embrace this new incarnation without question; however, those with no ties to the series may find their online gaming lust barely satiated by this latest incarnation. Fans of the ‘Phantasy Star’ series feel free to add another star to the final score, but a solid three is more than fair for the rest.

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    • Product Details

      The long awaited new title in the beloved Phantasy Star series is here. Phantasy Star Universe delivers a rich, ever evolving world and will provide hours of entertainment to both online and offline RPG enthusiasts. Single-player fans will embark on an offline quest as Ethan Waber, a 17-year old cadet intent on saving his sister from an invasion of mysterious life forces called THE SEED. While online players will create their own characters from a range of races, and then set off to explore all three planets in the Gurhal solar system. Fans will travel with a squad of other adventurers, enter urban sprawls teeming with hundreds of other players, and build their avatars into powerful warriors.