Phantasy Star Universe: Ambition of the Illuminus is the latest in Sega’s (Sonic Team) Phantasy Star RPG series. I’ll briefly explain the series’ history. Phantasy Star first debuted on the Sega Mega-Drive in 1988. This game was considered very ahead of its time, boasting features such as 3-D dungeons (remember, this is the system that competed with the original NES). The first game was followed by Phantasy Star II through IV on the Genesis. All of these games were excellent turn-based RPGs, and if you haven’t played them yet, you should! After Phantasy Star IV, the series went on hiatus until 2000, when Phantasy Star Online–the first ever console online RPG–came out on the Dreamcast. This game met with massive success, despite its limited amount of levels and non-existant storyline. The game departed from the traditional turn-based RPG style and took on more of an Everquest-style MMO feel. Players controlled one character and focused on building up stats and collecting rare items. In 2006, Phantasy Star Universe launched on PS2, PC, and Xbox360. It is a very similar formula to PSO, but features many more areas to explore and play through. There are 3 planets, one colony, and a fourth hidden planet compared to PSO’s one planet.
I’ve been hooked on this game for a few months now, so after some 300-400 hours of gameplay, here are my thoughts. Overall, I’ve enjoyed PSU. There are a couple of things I love and a lot of things I hate about it, but I’ve stuck with the game. Here are the things I’ve been impressed with. PSU’s combat system is the single greatest triumph that Sonic Team has managed to pull out here. Players can strafe while attacking among many other vast improvements over PSO. There are new special moves that can be performed for melee players, range players have specific bullet skills, and there are more techniques (spells) for the mage characters than ever before. All of the aforementioned abilities can level up to 40, which takes a huge amount of time and adds depth to the game. The graphics of the game are beautiful, as always. Sonic Team has a knack for creating intriguing worlds. However, despite the huge chunk of time and money I’ve put into this game, that’s about where my praise for it ends. Here comes the rant!
First: $10 fee per month to anyone who wants to play, in addition to your ISP costs. I’m still not sure if I’m okay with paying hundreds of dollars for one game, but I try not to think about it. The game has a small but dedicated group of players. This means that it’s hard to find a good party that wants to play in the stages that you want to play in. The reason for the small population is Sonic Team’s initial conduct in releasing the game.
They had next-to-no available content at launch. The game felt more like a beta than an actual release. Weapon classes that go from C and B through to A and S were only available in C initially, and that lasted for WAY longer than it should have. Due to the game’s initial lack of depth, gameplay quickly became boring and frustrating for the people who had excelled. As a result, much of the game’s subscribers left for greener pastures, and since then, despite a massive addition of content, it has failed to recover. If Sega had released this game with the amount of content that is present today, chances are you’d have heard of it by now.
The music in this game is only alright. It’s nothing compared to PSO. PSO featured awesome electronic ambient music that was extremely interesting and futuristic sounding. It created a unique atmosphere that everyone from the PSO days remembers fondly. PSU’s music fails to create a memorable atmosphere by comparison. The electronic music has been replaced by a more traditional orchestral score that you might find in a medieval adventure game. Graphically, Sonic Team’s designers are talented, though very lazy. There are a ton of levels that are simply reskins of each other. Reskins are also highly prevalent in the game’s monsters and weapons. This is disappointing, considering how many hours of grinding are required in order to enjoy high-level play. On your way to the top, you’ll wonder why they didn’t just take an extra day to create a saber that doesn’t look exactly like the one you just upgraded from.
Another major problem–possibly the most glaring problem–is the fact that this game’s storyline is subpar at best. I suffered through the game’s offline mode–all 15 hours of it or so–and by the end of the game I did not care at ALL about any of the characters.
They all drove me up the wall. For a game as complex as PSU is, Sonic Team has chosen to write the storyline as if it is being played exclusively by 8-12 year olds.
However, something I’m looking forward to in PSU-land is the upcoming “Maximum Attack G” event. The game’s big events haven’t been in the US up until now. Japan sees all the new content first, and after it’s proven to be bug-free, it comes over here. The old PSO maps are being reintroduced as playable levels, and this game-wide event. It basically involves killing a lot of monsters (a goal of some millions of monsters will be set for ALL of PSU’s players combined to reach), and special items will be out in full force.
Another thing is that Sonic Team will most likely stick with this game for another couple of years. By then, I’m sure they’ll have done a lot of really cool things with the game, because after all, this game has been designed with a TON of room for upgrades.
So here’s the bottom line: I recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed the other Phantasy Star games. For those who haven’t, pick up the latest pack of old Genesis games from Sega (it’s on PS2 I believe). It has PSII through IV on it. Otherwise, I would recommend renting the game and playing its offline storymode. That way you won’t have to pay ten bucks to do it. If you enjoy the game’s mechanics, and think you’d like to try creating your own character and looking for some friends to play with online, go for it. You probably won’t regret it at first, and hopefully by the time it starts getting old, Sonic Team will have added some new content to keep the interest of you and everyone else.