|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: SEGA||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SEGA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 10, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Kyle B. Stiff
Though hampered by a few loud faults, Phantasy Star 0 is a rare gem for the DS and demands rental, if not outright purchase. The setup: You play as a bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic world where civilization was destroyed by a mysterious event called the Great Blank. The world is rife with toxic areas, so men and monsters compete for space in the habitable zones. There are quite a few character customization options, so expect to see the unexpected while playing online. You can play as a human, who can specialize in any class (close-range combat, long-range combat, and magic), or a robotic CAST, or a magically potent newman, which is a genetically-engineered transhuman being.
And the setting may be post-apocalyptic, but since it's Japanese, think Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind rather than Fallout.
I've never quite switched from disliking a story, to completely getting into it, as with Phantasy Star 0. You have to really, really enjoy the Japanese love for mundane banter between happy-go-lucky characters to get anything out of the story's humble beginnings. Another thing that hamstrung my enjoyment of the story was the fact that my character, the character you create, the "main" character, rarely takes center stage. As is often the case with Japanese RPGs, if you are allowed to customize your character, then you can forget about them ever being the center of attention. It is no different for PSZ. Your character will sometimes be addressed, and allowed to choose from a few responses, but otherwise the supporting cast drives the story forward.
The story completely won me over. I won't give anything away, but the situation becomes dire... even epic. Nothing is as it seems, each of the three races has its genuinely interesting history revealed, and the shadow of the Great Blank looms once again. Pretty amazing stuff for a DS title!
However, the story takes its time in warming up. Of the three races, the humans all seem to be goofballs, and the robotic CASTs aren't as cold-blooded and calculating as one might expect, which leaves the burden of being interesting on the newmans. The newmans are like a sci-fi ideal of what humans might one day become: Hyper-intelligent, physically frail, psychically gifted, less wild and more civilized, and with a very slick fashion sense. Unfortunately, the newman who joins your crew happens to be an ugly duckling; rather than pal around with a futuristic commando, you get stuck with a preteen "magical girl" guided by her own innocent naiveté. Yes, I'm sorry, but it's one more Japanese game with a "magical girl" in it. Fortunately, you at least get to see and interact with other (more hardcore) newman, including Captain Reve, a bloodthirsty commando trained to serve his people's mysterious living deity, and Ana, a badass rebel dressed to kill and driven to challenge the status quo.
Still, this is no online-only game with a story mode tacked on. Actually, you usually have to clear a stage in single-player before it becomes available in multiplayer! So I guess you could say that the story is both enjoyable... and MANDATORY.
Only the Japanese could make a post-apocalyptic world of ruin appear so brightly colored. I would rather see freaks in black leather with tribal body piercings and macabre tattoos bearing futuristic weapons in a bleak world of rust, discolored skies, lonely and forbidding ruins, with an overall grim outlook that comes across during tense conversations. Come on, Japanese game makers, what about gamers who are into both anime and heavy metal?! It doesn't all have to have a candy coating, does it?
Still, some of the later stages are very, very visually striking. I found myself rotating the camera on more than one occasion to get a better look - an unexpected joy for the graphically simple DS. The character animations are also extraordinarily good, and not just for the DS. One of my characters, a female newman in a slinky neon outfit, had me continually mesmerized by her double-headed lightsaber moves. She was a damn sight more graceful than the "Star Wars Kid," I'll say that much.
So the graphics get a big "hell yes," and not because they're as good as a high-end PS3 game, but because the developers were able to make a visually interesting space with the limited resources at hand. Many, many game developers could learn from this notion.
However, the ball is occasionally fumbled. Some of the early stages are a little bland. And among the character classes, I'm not sure why one of the human types looks like a young child wearing shorts...? When did that become cool? Don't young children who wear goofy-looking shorts play games so that they can be someone else? Someone much cooler and badass-looking?
Oh, well. Only in Japan!