Phantasy Star Universe

By on October 27, 2006

Lots to dislike. Just a bit more things to like.

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First Impressions
My reaction is

Oftentimes, I come across a game that I’m not terribly excited about yet I really want to enjoy it. Sometimes it’s a game with some widespread mainstream acceptance but more likely, it has a small but zealous cult following whose chantings and incantations revolve around their idol. Phantasy Star Universe falls into the latter category. A friend of mine happened to own the game and he prophesied that I would join in their adoration of PSU. Call me a heretic but it just didn’t happen for me.

My first attempt at getting PSU to run was handily thwarted by inexplicable technical difficulties. It wasn’t until many moons later that I was even able to experience the actual game itself. When the game does run, a companion program, which I can only assume to be anti-copy/anti-cheat code , runs in the background as well. Those of you who are wary of unintended consequences should consider yourselves warned. Once in the game, you will be treated to a cinematic that gives some background story. The Gurhal Star System is where all the action takes place. The usual fare of multiple races fighting a prolonged war and then coming to peaceful terms is narrated in not too many words.

The main story is about Ethan Waber, an overconfident young man with a wacky fashion sense, whose father died some years ago while serving the GUARDIANS, an organization that protected the citizens of the Alliance. He grew up to hate the GUARDIANS because of his father’s death. Predictably, Ethan’s outlook eventually changed and he joined the organization because of his actions early in the first chapter.

The first chapter starts out as mostly a tutorial mission. It’s a pretty dull beginning with a whole lot of nothing but in-engine cut scenes for a good part of the chapter. Once the action does start, it becomes quite tedious as the fighting mechanic is not very flexible. It plays a lot like a typical RPG but with some twitch reflexes required for aiming a gun and swinging a sword. Controls are directly derived from console gamepads so there is no mouse play involved. Camera control is also essentially non-existent and can get pretty frustrating when enemies end up behind your character. The default control setup is unintuitive for the PC and having the ability to customize it is no excuse.

Speaking of customizations, PSU boasts over 200 different weapon combinations including dual-wielding, two-handed weapons, and various ranged weapons as well as the regular assortment of consumable and durable items. There are even different clothes to be worn and items to be crafted. I’m not certain if many of these combinations are useful though because I found ranged weapons to be not worth the trouble- considering the bad control scheme- and the two-handed melee weapons just felt too slow and cumbersome.

Graphically and aurally, PSU has its share of highs and lows. It’s not a technical marvel but the manga sci-fi canvas has traditionally produced good art in gaming. Still, it feels outdated and flat in many areas. The audio score is a lot more chaotic though with inconsistent voice acting quality. Ethan’s sister, Lumia, has an especially annoying, whiny voice that just makes me want to leave her behind the pile of rubble. At least then her voice was somewhat muffled. Some of the musical pieces are decent and the weapon sound effects are as spot-on as fictional weapons can be.

Throughout the game, I badly wanted to like it. Not just out of fear of my friend’s possible Inquisition; it’s an interesting game and the numerous possible customizations intrigues me. If you’re a big fan of the Phantasy Star franchise, you’ll probably even love this game. Unfortunately, the overall lack of polish and disregard for PC norms can take a huge toll on me.


The Scorecard
GAMEPLAY
7
Lots of weapons, bad control setup.
GRAPHICS
7
Cool art but too outdated.
SOUND
6
Lumias' voice made me want to strangle her.
VALUE
7
Fans of the series will probably love it.
FUN FACTOR
7
I really wanted to like it.
OVERALL
6.8
Lots to dislike. Just a bit more things to like

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