The camera is frustrating too, following your character with such intimacy that much of the environment is relegated to outside your field of vision. Your eager team mates follow you so closely that they often end up getting in the way, frustrating even further. Being able to pull the camera back just an inch or two would have given you a much better idea of what's going on.
Gameplay quickly slips into a familiar cycle: accept a quest, kill monsters, collect loot, kill boss, get stronger, rinse and repeat. Those with obsessive compulsive tendencies will find the routine comforting, but more adventurous players might find the lack of variety boring. There are seven environments to plod through, but latter quests recycle these with little alteration to the original mission. Although the environments consist of randomly generated floors, it fails to save the game from quickly descending into mindless tedium.
PSO finds some redemption in its expansive selection of loot, with literally hundreds of weapons and armour to furnish your avatar with. After clearing each screen of hostiles (monsters), a treasure chest appears, full to the brim with money, items, weapons and armour. Sifting through the riffraff for that killer sword or rare piece of armour is as addictive as ever, and selling anything unwanted will help free up your inventory while giving you some extra cash to spend at the shop. Weapons and armour can be improved through augmentation too, and with the right items, you can add a plethora of stat buffs and advantageous side effects to your equipment.
Fans will be pleased to see the return of Mags: little robotic partners that loyally follow your character into the heart of battle. As well as increasing your stats, they can unleash devastating screen-filling attacks or heal your dishevelled character should you find yourself in a tricky situation. Mags can be improved by feeding them items you find along your travels, and help you develop your partner to your liking.
As a solitary experience, Phantasy Star 0 is hard to recommend. The once pioneering gameplay of PSO now feels tired and dated, and there’s little incentive to play by yourself for any considerable amount of time. If, however, you are lucky enough to have a couple of like-minded chums, the game is a far more satisfying experience. After overcoming the headache of Nintendo’s fundamentally flawed 12-digit friend code system, Phantasy Star 0 allows players to team up with three other hunters for co-operative monster slaying frolics. Although online play is plagued with numerous connection problems, local WiFi works well.
No longer burdened with mentally challenged AI team mates, real strategy can be employed using the excellent communication system integrated into the bottom screen of the DS. The PictoChat-esque interface allows messages to be sent quickly and easily, allowing for spontaneous changes in strategy. Competitive loot collecting with friends is great fun, and showing off a rare new weapon or shiny piece of armour to real players never loses its charm.
The success of Phantasy Star 0 is largely dependent on how you play the game. If, like me, you prefer to play games like this by yourself, then it’s probably best to steer clear of Phantasy Star 0. The mechanics haven’t aged well, and there are far better games out there deserving of your hard-earned cash. If you happen to have friends who are eager to play with you and don’t mind overcoming the hassle of online play, there’s a surprising amount of fun to be had with the game. Whichever camp you find yourself in, Phantasy Star 0 doesn’t quite live up to the memory of Phantasy Star Online from 2000, which if nothing else, highlights just how far the genre has come in the last ten years.