Phantasy Star Portable


Review by · March 26, 2009

I have never played a Phantasy Star game before, and that is probably due in large part to the fact that I don’t play games online (and because I didn’t play the original four-part series at the time of its release over a decade ago). I enjoy local co-op quite a bit, but online (competitive or co-op) just doesn’t hold the same appeal for me. Thus, this review will serve as a follow-up/complement to John McCarroll’s in-depth review, and I will be focusing on the things that seemed notable to me as a Phantasy Star newbie.

Story-wise, this game didn’t really stand out to me as significantly better or worse than other games I’ve played before. However, I did enjoy the plotline related to your character’s sidekick. She’s a very young, experimental model CAST (android) who is trying to find her way in the world and come to grips with emotional concepts that come naturally to the non-androids around herl. It’s not necessarily original (I saw shades of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation more than once), but it’s still interesting.

Sadly, the story is sometimes hurt by the voiceover work, the quality of which varies greatly from character to character. Some of the actors do a pretty good job, and others are noticeably bad. Good lines, like good jokes, can be ruined by poor delivery, and that happens in this game. The sounds of battle are the first place where it becomes obvious that this game still feels like an online experience. Not in the weapons, although they sound just fine, but in the player’s voice. When you create your in-game avatar, you have a huge amount of control over what they sound like: even more than in Monster Hunter. The music is nice, but nothing that stuck with me.

The gameplay is where things stood out for me. I’m still not sure why, but I actually never found myself having a ton of fun with Phantasy Star Portable. Perhaps it was the very bad AI in my teammates, who generally wouldn’t attack an enemy without me swinging a sword alongside them. Regardless, I did find myself impressed over and over with the variety of weapons. In many games, one gun feels like another gun, and one sword feels like another sword. Not this one. Claws feel entirely different from fists, which are completely different from daggers, etc.

The same variety is present in ranged weapons, although I found ranged weapons’ drawbacks too large to make them useful. They don’t allow you to lock on to enemies like melee weapons do, and they use up their ammo far too quickly for the rate at which they recharge. Whether you agree with me about the guns or not, you’ll definitely find a weapon that you like among PSP’s huge selection, and since you can quickly switch between several sets of weapons, you won’t even have to keep your number of favorites down to just one. I got my hands on some fun weapons, like a pair of handguns that looked like Samba de Amigo maracas, which I hung onto just for the hilarity of shooting people with maracas (and because I loved the original Samba de Amigo).

The graphics are a mixed bag. Characters are nicely detailed, as are the environments. Speaking of the environments, I liked the variety they offered. In one mission, you’ll find yourself running through hallways, and in the next, traipsing over a desert landscape. The biggest problem, though, is that you’ll see quite a bit of popup in the outdoor levels. I play a lot of PSP games, so I understand its limitations, but in this game, it’s frequently bad enough to distract and confuse you as you try to find your way around. As long as you’re willing to be a bit patient and put up with that, you’ll be fine.

The game controls admirably, with a few exceptions. The controls are also the other area in which the game feels strongly like an online experience. During missions, you can’t pause; you can only bring up the menus while the action moves on around you. Of course, there are times when this continuation is rather nice, such as when you bring up the map and continue running toward your destination the whole time. I also really liked the way the online feel translated to the quick selection of weapons and items. You can choose a small number of each for rapid access at any time, and accessing them works really well. The number you can choose is both big enough and small enough to be useful, which is a really hard balance to strike, so kudos to the developers on that.

In the end, I’m glad I played Phantasy Star Portable. As I said, I somehow failed to have a ton of fun with it, but I appreciated the weapon selection enough that I liked the game anyway. It won’t go down as the greatest thing to hit the PSP this year, but I’d recommend it anyway, because it’s the kind of game that has something for everybody.

Overall Score 78
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John Tucker

John Tucker

John officially retired from RPGFan as Managing Editor in 2017, but he still popped in from time to time with new reviews until Retirement II in late 2021. He finds just about everything interesting and spends most of his free time these days reading fiction, listening to podcasts, and coming up with new things to 3D print.