Catching Up With Phantasy Star Zero

Phantasy Star Zero
My first exposure to Phantasy Star came during University when I stumbled out of my room from an essay filled stupor, only to be pulled in by roommates who were huddled around a GameCube. Even though we were playing after the online access had been discontinued, the game still offered a memorable co-op experience that quickly became a ritual.

The single player campaign left more to be desired, and it feels like the challenge for Phantasy Star is finding a balance between a fleshed out single-player game that also offers the co-op experience I found so addicting.

Phantasy Star Zero
Phantasy Star Zero is an attempt to move in that direction, though the initial draw of Zero was offering what Phantasy Star Universe on the PSP had failed to offer me. With the PSP title, I was very excited to be able to continue playing Phantasy Star with my roommates even after we had parted ways – then I found out after its release that the co-op was only available via ad-hoc connection. Phantasy Star Zero has the ability to build teams online, at least in theory – for the life of me I can’t get it to function. And yet it doesn’t break the experience as much as I would have imagined, inherently shifted my focus toward discovering what the solitary exploration of the game has to offer.

The game isn’t immediately inviting.

Phantasy Star Zero

Getting hands on with it is slightly awkward at first, though it doesn’t take long to find a rhythm with the controls. Magic attacks, weapon attacks, and dodging opponents is manageable despite some arguments with the camera angles along the way.

The anime-esque cut scenes in the game are beautiful, contrasted by in-game graphics that are muddy and dated. The game offers a consistent lag each time enemies materialize, giving me a warning of approaching danger. The DS has graphical limitations, but there’s plenty of room for improvement here.

Character creation pulls from three races – human, newman and CAST. The class of character you choose defines your strongest abilities in magic, as well as determining the weapons and armor you are able to equip.

After choosing your race, you then determine your gender and customize a character from head to toe according to your tastes.

Character adjustments are simple enough that I found myself changing my character’s clothes and hair to suit my mood when I turned on the game each day.

Whichever category of character you choose will determine the story line your character follows. Each story crosses the same key plot points essential to the narrative, but conversations and experiences will differ.

Following the traditional RPG format you will play in a party made up of 4 characters Sarisa, Kai, Ogi and you. Zero combines group missions which drive the plot, along with side missions that you can attempt on your own or choose party members to accompany you.

Phantasy Star Zero

An interesting and unexpected aspect of the game is how your relationships within your party are determined by the conversations you have. The game prompts the player to select a response, and it is through your response that the relationships develop.

For example, after mentioning that I felt Sarisa was cute rather than nice or a stranger, she blushed and from that point on we had a flirty relationship.

Over time I realized there was a more intimate relationship developing between the two female characters – to the point that when an Octopus attacks and takes advantage of her with its tentacles (that’s right…) her initial reaction was to turn to me and tell me to cut it out.

I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous the moment was. Not only did I get blamed for it initially, but Sarisa then complains of “being all sticky” and wanting to kick the Octopus’ ass for taking advantage of young girls. I’m happy to see Sega isn’t taking itself too seriously with this title because these little moments really feed my continued love for this style of game.

Phantasy Star Zero

Smaller elements attempt to build a fuller world.

In the streets you’ll of course find shops where you can sell, buy, and upgrade your weapons. There are citizens you are able to interact with who offer a little insight into the world you have entered.

More importantly there are also several barrels with kittens sleeping on them – you can pet them and hear their response to your affections as they either purr content or meow in irritation. Admittedly I looked forward to heading into town to check up on the cats, not that they ever moved, I just liked seeing them.

It’s worth mentioning that Sega didn’t miss an opportunity for some extended fan service. Some of my favorite discoveries were Selvaria’s Spear from Valkyria Chronicles, and Hatsune Miku’s Leek from Project Diva. Other weapons included Twin Ketchup and Twin Mustard.

The description tells you that these weapons were meant to be condiments but something went awry and they became guns which now shoot condiments instead of bullets – they actually work, I ran through the world splashing the enemies with ketchup while laughing menacingly.

Phantasy Star Zero

Sitting down with Phantasy Star Zero on my own allowed me to pick out the little details. When I played Episodes I &II with my roommates our focus was all on our teamwork and the little details, if there were any, were overlooked. The fan focused weapons in Zero seem to be in place to make up for the fact that most people wouldn’t end up enjoying this title as much through playing it alone, offering enjoyment in finding rare items to make up for the solitude.

After thinking about the game aloud I really feel that the co-op play is what has kept the Phantasy Star series afloat for more than 20 years. It certainly hasn’t been its compelling story or graphical beauty that has kept it alive in the shadow of other legacy franchises.

However I might not have ever made the personal connection with the game that I did if the co-op aspect had not failed me so completely. But it’s an experience I’m still looking for to continue my personal following of the series.

Exactly how Sega approaches the co-op conundrum with future releases is likely to play the largest role in determining whether I keep up with the series moving forward.

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  • EdEN

    Ah, Phantasy Star. I remember being there at the start of the series with my Dreamcast by my side. Makes you think about how ahead of it’s time Sega’s little white console was…

  • http://www.pioneerproject.net Michelle

    Amazing. I still regulary play PSO on the Gamecube with friends, it part of our regular weekly gaming co-operative schedule, a way to relax with a game that we know extremely well and talk about the weeks events. Glad to know that others do the same thing!

    We have waited for the DS version of Phantasy Star Zero for much the same reason, a new way to continue experiencing a game that we love with enough new detail for a new challenge. In that regard waiting for PS0 for over a year after it was originally released in Japan has been almost painful.

    And you’re completely right that the Phantasy Star Series now hinges entirely on the co-operative aspect. I do wish they’d focus on invigorating that part of the series more rather than tacking on single-player experiences which are extremely lacking compared to other RPGs.

    Thank you very much for posting :)