Phantasy Star Portable Preview
The Jump Festa event in Tokyo last weekend wasn't loaded down with blockbuster announcements, but some of them were moderately exciting for RPG fans. One "officially unveiled" game we had heard whispers about prior to the show was Phantasy Star Portable, which is essentially what happens when Sega decides to bring the long-running multiplayer-oriented series to Sony's handheld. And despite the lateness of this announcement, it seems the game is further along in development than we thought; there are already several screenshots and early media circulating (we've got the screenies for you here). Furthermore, the game was playable at Jump Festa, which means we now have a lot more details concerning this console MMO turned portable multiplayer RPG. No, it won't be the exact same experience as Phantasy Star Universe or something like that, but do we really want the exact same experience? You have to remember; they are going after a slightly different demographic with a PSP installment in the series.
Several sources, including IGN, were on hand to sample the game at the Japanese event last weekend, and most are calling the gameplay experience both solid and surprisingly polished. They presented the game to attendees at Jump Festa, and up to four curious show-goers could step up and play cooperatively in a classic PSO-style battle environment. Obviously, a player wouldn't have time to set up and customize his very own character and start from Level 1; everyone just automatically started with an accomplished Level 25 character who already had plenty of weapons, items and abilities. Phantasy Star Portable will boast multiple weapon variations; you'll be picking up everything from standard swords and staves to modern weaponry like guns, so there will always be something new to equip and experiment with. We are wondering, however, if these items can be upgraded during the game, or if we can only increase the power by advancing our character through the adventure. "Leveling up" is always the default answer to, "I'm stuck, what do I do?!" but in this day and age, the complexity and intricacy of RPGs is ever on the rise.
PSU hasn't really been about overly complicated character progression systems, of course, but the exhibited variety is still an attractive feature for any handheld owner. And if you're questioning how they will transfer such a massive virtual world into such a tiny package, you needn't worry about that. It seems the control scheme works well on the PSP; the analog pad is easy to use for moving around the map, and the player can easily attempt and execute the basics. Pressing the square button results in a standard attack, the triangle button lets you dip into your Photon Arts, and the X button brings up the small weapon select screen so you can switch equipped firepower very quickly. You can have a melee and ranged weapon (gun) equipped at the same time, and you can choose between them at any time by pressing R. The L button is used to lock your character into a super-handy strafe mode, which is something you'll likely use frequently. Some have voiced their concerns in the past regarding the button layout of the PSP, but recently, developers have been utilizing the setup quite effectively.
So don't worry about cramping of the fingers when playing Phantasy Star Portable. We've heard zero complaints about the control, and while we realize the game has only just recently been unveiled, that's still a good sign. We are hoping the multiplayer aspect - the very heart and soul of this series - is implemented as flawlessly as humanly possible, because if it isn't, this game fails before it even gets started. Developer Alfa System should be well aware of what it takes to make a successful PSU-based title, though, so we have faith this PSP title will be well worth your time. Also, if you're looking for a title that gives you the most bang for your buck, look no further: this one is guaranteed to deliver countless hours of action/RPG entertainment. Provided this game is as chock full of content as we're anticipating, there will be no other game on the rack that has the potential for delivering more play time. Obviously, you have to be a fan of this sort of thing (if you're not, don't bother wasting your time), but if you are, there's no substitute for the quintessential multiplayer role-playing action Phantasy Star represents.
As it was just recently announced, Phantasy Star Portable doesn't have a Japanese or US release date as of yet, but we're hoping to see both within the next month or so. What was put on display at Jump Festa is enough to make us believe Alfa and Sega are rarin' to go, so let's hope for a sooner-than-expected release. ...of course, there's no guarantee of a US launch in the first place, so perhaps you should cross your fingers for that.
12/26/2007 Ben Dutka