Although the Phantasy Star series boasts an extensive and rich history, it was only in 2000 that the game really stepped out of the shadows. Basking in the limelight of the Dreamcast and its dazzling 128 bit graphics, SEGA took the series in a bold and exciting new direction: online. Where the MMORPG was previously banished to the realm of PCs and keyboards, Phantasy Star Online brought the experience to the home console, and RPG fans opened their eyes to a whole new world of gaming. For many, PSO was their first foray into online role playing - to character creation, real-time combat and team communication - and is therefore looked back on fondly, even if the vision is impaired somewhat by the mists of nostalgia.
With Phantasy Star 0 on the Nintendo DS, SEGA has used the original Phantasy Star Online as a framework, tinkered with the interface so that it works on two screens, scaled the graphics down a tad, and swapped the massively-multiplayer components of the game with WiFi multiplayer. The result is a baby version of Phantasy Star Online that bears an uncanny resemblance to its predecessor. Those who played the Dreamcast version will revel in the familiarity of PS0, which captures the feel and underlying atmosphere of the original with great success.
Before getting stuck into some good ol’ fashioned dungeon crawling, a character must first be created, and PS0 has three distinct races to choose from: The Human Race, which offers good all-round skills and attributes (why is it that regardless of the game, the human race is always the good all-rounder?); The CAST, artificial life-forms that can use traps, but not techniques; and the Newman, elf-like beings who are skilled with techniques but low on defence and health. With a race chosen, players then specialise their approach to combat, where further proficiencies in melee, ranged combat and spell casting can be assigned. With all that mundane stuff out the way, you can customise the most important aspect of your avatar : his or her appearance.
With your avatar tailored to your liking, he or she is dropped into the hub city, where all the action is orchestrated from. The first thing you’re likely to notice is that the game looks fantastic - the 3D visuals and soft colour palette impress on the DS’ small screen. New characters and important boss battles are introduced through anime cut scenes, giving the game a polished feel to it. Once you’ve finished looking around and talking to the residents of the town, it’s time to acquaint yourself with the Hunters Guild.
In the Phantasy Star universe, players assume the role of a Hunter: a hired warrior who is sent on errands organised by the town. These quests add structure to the feeble narrative that otherwise drives the game. Although there’s choice in which quests you choose to accept, a difficulty ranking shoehorns your character down the appropriate story-related path. Completing these quests yields money, as well as experience you will have accumulated on the quest itself.
Combat is slow, at least in comparison to other Phantasy Star titles. My CAST character takes about half an hour to swing his (admittedly large) sword, and stringing together a combo can take the best part of a day. This sluggish pace to combat is the result of a cumbersome chain system that requires precise timed button presses in order to link attacks. Where most hack ‘n slash titles rely on furious button tapping in order to string together combos, the lethargic button pressing of PS0 gives the game a clunky and disjointed feel.