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Phantasy Star 0 – hands-on

Phantasy Star’s more recent legacy is one built on multiplayer. Although it’s fair to say that most Dreamcast owners live in a perpetual state of teary-eyed nostalgia, there’s a particularly special glint in their eye that’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’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’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’s a bit cumbersome to type something along the lines of ‘Hey guys, I’m getting eaten whole by a giant snake, LOL! Heal me up plz?’. For this reason, you’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’re playing with friends – 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’t feel like you can be bothered with other people (and we’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’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