RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jul 29th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under RPG, sega, ps2, xbox 360, 360, windows, pc

Phantasy Star is one of Sega's longest-running video game franchises. It really is one of the company's own flagship products and has near continuously seen development and releases since the Japanese release of the first game for the Master System back in 1987. By now Phantasy Star could be said to be divided into two eras. The first is the older single-player era; all the games for Sega's cartridge consoles fit into this camp. The first game was a first-person dungeon crawler while the second through fourth used a top-down perspective for the full experience. Each of these games were single-player role-playing games, meant to let players build characters from nobodies into world-defining powers through the magic of grinding. The Sega Saturn generation only saw a release of the first four games on a compilation disc. Sega had new plans in mind for the series and its upcoming late 90s console, the Dreamcast. Phantasy Star Online released and featured multiplayer action and a single-player option. This fusion and ability to move your character back and forth from online to single-player was a massive change and evolution from the roots of the series. Today, all new Phantasy Star releases follow the basic outline explored by one of the Dreamcast's premier role-playing releases of Phantasy Star Online. However, there needed to be a next step beyond this original game; a bridge between this now archaic multiplayer console relic and the already aged and newly starting to be reimagined Phantasy Star Online 2. This bridge would be Phantasy Star Universe, which would see its original Japanese release on Playstation 2 and Windows on the final day of August of 2006, with a North American launch following in late October. An EU release followed in late November; the ultimate bonus of an AU release came the following week of very late November. An Xbox 360 release would come virtually simultaneously to the North American releases, however the Japanese release lagged behind until just two weeks before Christmas of 2006.

Phantasy Star Universe sees many elements of its design come directly from the original Phantasy Star Online. However, some aspects are changed. One of the first examples noticed is the massive change to the single-player experience. For Universe, the single-player campaign is a full-on cheesy space opera. This was something craved for by Japanese role-playing game fans of the time as shown by the sales successes of games such as Star Ocean: Till the End of Time and the first Xenosaga. This change to fully scripted characters in the single-player campaign means that players can no longer create a character in the single-player mode and transfer it over to multiplayer once they've gone through at least the basics. Now the experiences are fully separated. Today, this no longer really matters as the official servers for Phantasy Star Universe are long gone. The different planets and many shops are locked at the start of a single-player campaign. This offline element serves as a tutorial for the online mission types, offering the repeatable missions to grind out money and experience while also working to increase their Guardian ranking. Despite the lack of official online servers, this leaves the teenage space opera single-player campaign alone to shine quite faintly.

Phantasy Star Universe is set is the same overall universe as the first Phantasy Star Online. All the action in Universe is set in the Gurhal Star System, which includes the three planets of Parum, Neudaiz, and Moatoob as well as the GUARDIANS space station colony, which serves as the game's overall hub. The main character of the single-player story is named Ethan Waber, which is fully in line with the naming conventions of Japanese space operas of this time. Ethan and his sister Lumia are residents of the Guardians colony. Ethan has a rather immature disinterest and borderline hatred for the Guardians. You see, his father was a Guardian who was killed in the line of duty. The colony is soon attacked by some strange and unknown assailants, and Ethan works together with some Guardians to save his sister, and his mind is quickly changed. Ethan joins the Guardians after this attack, where he and his classmate rival Hyuga Ryght are assigned to the command of a young newman, or an essentially pointy-eared human, named Karen Erra to be their trainer and superior officer. Renvolt Magashi, introduced fairly early in the overall story, is the extremely obvious antagonist. There is absolutely no effort placed into the realm of nuance in this game. The basic setup for the game of introducing allies to show players the possible builds of the game makes sense. This still does not make it feel like this game's narrative setup is borderline parody of Japanese science fiction tropes. It's either that, or a far worse serious checklist of those same tropes.

The graphics on Playstation 2 are not even that great. The overall art style of the environments still feels and looks exceptional, but mostly from the distance. Textures are often low resolution and blurry, and this is more apparent when using the game's first-person perspective function. The game's graphical downgrades are likely a result of Sega's planning for online play. The game may have to render dozens of avatars and their unique sense of fashion based on the architecture of the Playstation 2. The Xbox 360 and Windows releases are merely upscaled from the Playstation 2 assets, so while they are technically in high definition, neither release looks good. The soundtrack was composed by a team of five at Sega, with Hideaki Kobayashi being the overall sound director. The music in the game is quite good overall. The various songs and themes range from average to extremely good. In fact, one of the great songs, the Guardians theme, was played at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony that happened on July 23, 2021. The English dub for the game is quite bad, even for its time. It almost comes across as a last gasp nod to older, less serious dubs as the team makes use of humor in its casting and direction choices, such as a trio of sibling street thugs on the Guardians colony who are voiced as if they are the Three Stooges.

Players who were alive and gaming in this era may find that Phantasy Star Universe just feels like the most average sum of all of its parts. Its characters are not particularly outstanding or memorable outside of their generically hilarious names, basic design, and bad default fashion. If there was one game to point at from a historical standpoint that can be said to 100% be a product of its time, then Phantasy Star Universe would be that game for 2006. In this great trio of science fiction Japanese role-playing games for the Playstation 2, it could be said that Xenosaga tells the better story, Star Ocean 3 has the best gameplay, with Phantasy Star Universe only offering the online interaction. This must have been a fantastic service in its time, as online gaming was approaching a zenith. Sadly, without the online interaction, Phantasy Star Universe is only left with its single-player mode, which has characters that feel like they're trapped between Star Ocean 3 and 4. The first major story dungeon drags on for a long time and can easily last over an hour and a half, which creates a sour first impression. Thankfully, the next few feel a bit quicker as they're just naturally shorter. These long slogs become quite apparent in the later parts of the single-player campaign as well.

Phantasy Star Universe may be the most average RPG from this era when your only option is to play through the single-player story. The social aspect of chatting, partying up, doing missions, and killing bosses would have likely added the extra spark needed to make the game truly shine. Used copies for the original Phantasy Star Universe are quite affordable and can be found for around and less than $20 quite easily. There was an expansion called Ambition of the Illuminus that released in 2007, which is much harder to find than the original release. Ambition of the Illuminus has new story events to play through and missions to go along with them, and this content is available in offline play for the PS2 and PC releases while the 360 version had them locked to online. The one aspect of online games that is an enjoyable aspect of researching them is finding if an unofficial option exists to currently play the game on. Thankfully, there is an option to play Phantasy Star Universe with its online functionality restored and with other people wandering around on the Clementine private server. Phantasy Star Universe is an interesting game, but these days it's most interesting as a sort of time capsule that exists and can take a player back to the writing tropes and dubbing jokes of 2006.

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