Phantasy Star Universe Reader Review
Upon it's release back in 2001, PSO's perfect mix of hack & slash combat, item collecting, and social interaction proved that the 33.6kbs modem lurking inside every Dreamcast was going to be the way of the future. Being a true classic, it not only kick started the new genre (console MMO), but pulled it off with such style and flair that for years nobody could match it.
Despite being laid to rest in 2003 with the shutdown of the original Dreamcast servers. SEGA continued milking the huge fan base with an onslaught of lazy ports and half arsed expansions, seemingly ignorant of the huge advances being made in the genre by other titles.
Being teamed up with 3 strangers was no longer that impressive a feat when compared to walking into Orgrimmer and seeing 300 Taurens dancing in their underwear. And so, PSU not only has a big reputation to live up to, but it also has a hell of a lot of catching up to do if it wishes to co-exist with the current generations MMO's.
PSU is split up into three game modes, these are Story Mode, Extra Mode and Xbox Live (aka Online Mode).
I suspect many people are going to write off the Extra and Story modes without ever playing them. Probably with the assumption that they are lazy offline variations of the Online mode, as was the case with PSO. But with the Story Mode being the default option on the main menu, clearly Sonic Team feel they've put a lot of effort into it this time around, and don't want it pushed to one side straight away.
The Story Mode by itself is pretty good if you can get past the extremely childish first hour. It starts on a very bad foot by not only introducing the lead character as an idiot nobody could enjoy playing as, but also making you run through the most bland level of the whole game for a generic 'save your little sister' task in order to set up the plot.
Thankfully once you've set foot on the first planet and begin the proper missions, things get much better. The story isn't going to win any awards for originality, but it twists and turns just enough to keep you interested. And once the back stories add a little more maturity to the game, you'll soon find yourself liking the characters you originally loathed.
(not that anybody could loathe the 18 year old 'tutor' elf girl, who gives orders in a very short skirt)
The story mode also makes the wise decision of leaving the freedom of the online mode available to the player. So if at any point you don't fancy going on the next story progressing mission. You are free to do all the other bits and bobs available to you, you can form groups with any of the characters you've already met in the game and go on 'free missions', or depending how far into the game you are, take part in shopping, changing clothes and creating items. And best of all, all the stuff you learn during the single player game will help you instantly feel at home in the online mode. so you won't end up in the lobby shouting "IM LOST WHERE DO I GO WHERE IS THE FIST MISSION!!!" with the rest of them.
Unfortunately, because the game was fundamentally designed for online play, the story mode does suffer in a few areas. The first most obvious mistake is that they haven�t included a pause option to the Story mode. So not only are you expected to play for 40 minutes at a time before you can reach the next save point, but you cannot pause the game either. So if you see a lot of trick-or-treaters with black eyes around the my area, you know why.
Also some of the save points are very poorly placed. For example, one save point is right before a big boss fight (but of course, you don�t know that at the time). Only you cannot go back to the town to get more items by this point, so if you overwrite your one save game and then discover you cannot kill the boss because you don�t have any healing items. You are screwed and will have to abort the whole mission and start again (2 hours at least). So please, always alternate between the four available save slots to prevent yourself getting stuck like I did.
Extra Mode is only unlocked once you get to chapter 5 of the Story Mode, and offers players the ability to play the online version of the game without the internet, either by yourself, or with any of the characters you've already met in the Story Mode.
As the two are linked together, you'll only be able to fully explore the 'Extra' mode world once you've finished the Story mode. Otherwise any locations you have yet to visit will remain closed off. A stupid decision, but as the Story mode is pretty good and that this is technically an 'unlockable extra'. It's not a killer.
Last but not least is the Online Mode. It�s really difficult to review and online game, because a lot of what makes it enjoyable is not derived from the game itself, but from the people you are playing with.
I�m going to keep this short and sweet as people who have played PSO pretty much know what to expect, it adds a lot of welcome depth to PSO, and still manages to keep the pick up and play game play. So anybody who loved PSO really has no excuse not to pick this up and get addicted again.
For people who might not know what to expect, PSU isn�t an epic MMORPG along the lines of World of Warcraft or Everquest II. it�s an online game for the rest of us, for people who don�t want to spend a whole evening forming a 60 man raid party because there is a 2% chance that the �Hood of the River Otter Prince� might drop from the boss. You can just log on, form a party very quickly and hack and slash some monsters for an hour or two and get that warm fuzzy feeling when you see all yours statistics and levels go up a notch. It strikes a fine balance between enjoyment and complexity which makes it ideal for a console based MMO.
My only complaint would be the subscription fee (£8 per month) cannot really be justified in comparison to other games on the market.
World of Warcraft and Everquest offer far more content for around the same price, and other (similar titles) such as Guild Wars have no monthly charge at all. Not to mention they are charging full xbox360 next-gen prices for a PS2 port. If it wasn�t for SEGA getting greedy this would easily get a 9/10.
8 / 10