Phantasy Star Universe: Ambition of the Illuminus proves there’s room for a faster paced, action-RPG approach to the MMO. After playing it... well, there’s still room.
This Guild Wars-esque RPG game was going to receive the concept review to end all concept reviews. We were going to blather on for 450 words in a semi-kooky fashion, never getting to the point or being entertaining in any meaningful way. And then we were going to end saying “And that’s pretty much what watching a Phantasy Star cutscene is like.”
We didn’t because we don’t want you to suffer. Suffering’s our job. And no matter how hard we tried, it wouldn’t have been accurate enough. After all, if you got tired of it, you could always skip to the end of our review, and that’s the one thing you can’t do when playing Phantasy Star.
At its best it’s like a modern descendant of the jump-in kick-ass collect-stuff joy of arcade-classic Gauntlet. There are two modes. The Offline Story mode has you and NPC chums working through a direct continuation of where the previous game left off, although you can jump in here with a new character if you want.
In the online mode (which we played on live servers), while you can play through the same story missions, far more attention is paid to the monster-packed dungeons with none of that distracting plot malarkey, and fellow players replace the computer-controlled automatons. Like Guild Wars - although Phantasy Star was doing this sort of instanced area years before - you play in your own unique area. Unlike Guild Wars, if you don’t lock your dungeon, random people can pop in to join your adventures. Also mirrored is the direct-control and arcade-style combat, admittedly with full-on RPG stat-improvement and equipment-selection.
Grand aims. Disastrous execution. Technically, it’s all over the place - you wrestle with the camera for the lack of lock-on. It plays in a window by default, and you have to quit out to change that. There’s little in-game help as to what’s going on, or for finding your way around the needlessly large bases, other than tutorials that are yet more of those interminable cutscenes. Back in story mode, the NPCs are among the least intelligent of recent times, following you meekly and not attacking anyone not in the vicinity. Even if they are the ones who take all the credit in the cutscenes, with your character a silent, personality-free void.
March 3, 2008