Phantasy Star 0 – hands-on

Get ready to go a-lootin' and a-hollerin'

Phantasy Star%26rsquo;s more recent legacy is one built on multiplayer. Although it%26rsquo;s fair to say that most Dreamcast owners live in a perpetual state of teary-eyed nostalgia, there%26rsquo;s a particularly special glint in their eye that%26rsquo;s reserved solely for the frantic monster-gutting expeditions that were a staple of Phantasy Star Online.

And this is why Phantasy Star 0 is destined to live or die on the strength of its multiplayer experience. It%26rsquo;s all very wellhaving a standalone 15-hour single-player campaign, but if the notoriously skittish DS Wi-Fi service lives down to its usual expectations, this portable adaptation is destined to have all the entertainment value and cultural impact of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Thankfully, Nintendo%26rsquo;s servers seemed to be more than up to the task during our recent hands-on session, and numerous thoughtful additions to the interface serve to make this one of the most user-friendly online DS games so far. The most interesting innovation is the Visual Chat application, which consumes the vast majority of the touch screen and basically works as a pumped-up PictoChat. This enables party members to talk among themselves freely, although obviously it%26rsquo;s a bit cumbersome to type something along the lines of %26lsquo;Hey guys, I%26rsquo;m getting eaten whole by a giant snake, LOL! Heal me up plz?%26rsquo;. For this reason, you%26rsquo;re given the option of sketching out a few messages at the beginning of the game, which can then be called up later with a single jab of the screen.

The Visual Chat application is only available if you%26rsquo;re playing with friends %26ndash; in which case, the Friend Code system is once again in place to separate you from an army of DS-owning mass murderers. Free Play will allow you to align yourself with randoms, but communication will be restricted to a number of pre-set text messages, to avoid any impromptu biology lessons. Alternatively, if you don%26rsquo;t feel like you can be bothered with other people (and we%26rsquo;ve all had those days), you can just go online and level up on your lonesome.

Battles are deliberately simple affairs, with just two face buttons handling the attacks (and a third allowing you to dodge). But with over 350 weapons to choose from across 16 different categories, it%26rsquo;s not likely to get dull anytime soon. This is yet another one to watch in what has been a marvelous year thus far for RPGs on the DS.

Sep 23, 2009

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