Sony’s PSP has proven that if there’s one thing that the Japanese love, its Monster Hunter Portable. Seeking to capitalize on the success of this absolute sensation, Sega’s finally ported a version of Phantasy Star over to the device. It’s funny, back when the PSP was announced; I felt that Phantasy Star Online, a game that at the time was dominating my free time without a shred of mercy, would have been a perfect fit for the newly conceived handheld.
Years later I get a mildly skewed version of my wish in the form of what amounts to Phantasy Star Universe on a handheld. For those keeping score, Phantasy Star Universe was a largely uninspired sequel to PSO featuring a forgettable story mode, needlessly complicated coop play, cumbersome equipment creation system, and a criminally bad theme song.
Phantasy Star Portable actually promised to remedy many of the issues that plagued its predecessor, that combined with the idea of Phantasy Star on the go were all I needed to take the plunge, no matter how limited my understanding of Japanese!
One of the major failings of PSU was the near complete lack of in-mission gear drops. Instead the game relied on an obtuse crafting system requiring players to level up a robot who would then craft equipment for them provided they had accumulated all of the items needed as well as the recipe itself.
This system is still present, and still sucks, but at least now they’ve added actual weapons and armor to the loot table, which is a godsend not only for people who simply don’t want this level of intensity in a Diablo-clone’s loot system, but for people who aren’t comfortable enough with Japanese to want to try to decipher (or at least match up) the laundry list of kanji in a recipe with the pile of obscure symbols in your inventory. I assume the “really good” equipment needs to be crafted, but when I’m slashing my way through a gaggle of monsters during my morning commute, I’m not overly concerned with how my sword stacks up with the best “phat lewts” the game has to offer, as long as it does the job.
Dealing with weapons and equipment is a breeze, a little icon indicates what sort of item it is (up to and including what specific type of weapon it is) and your stat changes are clearly indicated numerically and even change colors to indicate an increase or decrease: equip stuff that turns the numbers blue and you’re good to go!
There was a bit of trial and error with things like choosing my class and associating skills with my weapons, and even setting up missions, but it wasn’t terribly difficult to figure out. Mission setup is done via a simple, text based interface featuring 2D renditions of the various characters presumably discussing some urgent monster invasion that you’re about to go clean up. Luckily, the random and repeated slaughter of angry creatures requires no narrative in order to be enjoyable!
PSP (heh) also features Ad HOC multiplayer, which, unfortunately, I was unable to test due to a disturbing lack of PSP owning Phantasy Star fans in my immediate vicinity.
Phantasy Star Portable is suitable for fans of PSO/U who want to take the loot hunt on the road, or even Monster Hunter players who are looking for a change of scenery and want the complexity turned down a notch. The language barrier isn’t a prohibitive hurdle as long as you have some patience.