Phantasy Star Online is and always will have a special place in my heart. I am not sure how long I played Phantasy Star on the Gamecube, all I know is that I loved every second of it and spent many hours spent killing monsters and gathering loot.
I longed for a sequel to the game that reinvigorated my love for RPGs. Unfortunately a sequel did release, but in the form of Phantasy Star Universe. While Universe was not a bad game and did improve upon the lackluster campaign and story of Online, it did not seem to recapture the magic that permeated throughout Online. So I have waited patiently for the game that could give me that Phantasy Star Online feel.
Phantasy Star 0 once again peaked my hopes that a true successor to Online would finally grace us with its presence. After a quick import I have subjected myself to countless hours of grinding and skipping through endless lines of Japanese text to determine whether or not 0 will succeed or fade into obscurity.
Gameplay wise, Phantasy Star 0 is a step in the right direction from Online. The spectacular real time combat in lieu of turn based or pseudo real time as in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, makes its return with a few bonuses. Now a dodge button is available to make combat more in depth and less frustrating at times. This dodge button does take up a spot in the hot keys, but it is well worth having. You can now also charge attacks in addition to having light and heavy blows. By holding down the attack button, you charge up your strike or shot at the expense of a few MP points and upon releasing your character engages in a good looking animation that results in several hard hitting attacks. The photon blasts also return but now require the simultaneous pressing of the L and R buttons to fire off.
The loot also makes a triumphant return. As in the previous installments, the loot is doled out at a good pace to ensure constant awareness yet prevent over abundance. While loot still comes from various boxes scattered throughout the environment, enemies no longer drop loot when they are killed. Instead, after clearing a room of enemies, a box spawns that, when struck, spews out a proportional amount of loot to the number and level of enemies killed. Loot also spawns for each player, preventing fighting over a particular piece and one person swooping in and taking everything before you clear the room.
The loot is still impresive in itself as it was in previous installments. Weapons are just as visually different as ever and the amount of weapon classes seems to only have gotten larger. Each weapon class also has its own visually unique charge attack.There seems to be more potion type items, though the meaning and effects of the new items cannot be determined at this time. There are also more disc (how you learn magic) type items as well as new traps, including a new healing trap that is great to spring on yourself when running around in the world. The grinders (how you level up weapons) also return and are much less rare as they used to be, which is a pleasant change for when you need a boost in power.
The MAGs make a spectacular return as well, which is a huge relief since their absence in Universe was a big disappointment. They still evolve in awesome ways, my current MAG has the head of a puppy, the tail of a seahorse and hovers about knee level. Another pleasant change is now you can feed any item to your MAG with the exceptions of other MAGs. The MAGs still offer you the same bonuses they did in Online, but anything beyond that I could not tell.
The levels and boss encounters are still varied as ever. Each level seems unique even for the series itself. The visual diversity and quality of the 3D environments are impressive for the hardware. While the bosses do still follow the Phantasy Star formula, Dragon fight, water creature fight, robot fight, they still feel different enough from the previous bosses in the series so that repetition does not set in. I cannot be sure the relevance of the creatures in their environments and the environments themselves since all of the information pertaining to them is in Japanese.
As in Phantasy Star Universe, there is a seemingly expansive story full of dialog and cutscenes, though the quality of it and its writing cannot be determined until it is translated. The story also seems to fluctuate depending on which race of character you pick. Unlike Universe, in the story mode you utilize the character you have created and it transfers over to wireless and online as well. The story seems to also flow into the side quests as well as the main quests.
Character creation still is limited, even more so than Online, but the characters can still be visual diverse to a certain extent. While the character creation may not be top notch, the fact that you use the same character for all three modes is a huge relief from Universe. Having to level more than one character was a huge pain. The Nintendo WiFi and wireless modes work wonderfully and the chat system is easy to use. Trading items is a bit more difficult to use than in the previous iterations, since it must be done through the bank in the main hub. You can now have a joint bank account between all of your characters (maximum of three). Which is a nice feature to help boost any other characters you wish to make.
Phantasy Star 0 is the game I wanted out of Universe. It is a logical step up from Online and the fact that playing the online mode no longer requires a subscription is a nice change in the sea of pay to play multiplayer RPGs. I cannot wait until the release of the translated version of 0. This will be one of my games of the year when it is released and will suck away many hours of my life.