Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Phantasy Star Zero: longing for analogue

Phantasy Star Online is probably my favourite game, ever. I know I've said that about Populous: the Beginning before, and to be honest if I was forced to choose between them I'd have to toss a coin, but bear with me for now.

I've been looking forward to Phantasy Star Zero for ages. It was billed as a return to PSO, with new levels and quests but the same play mechanics, usable items, online gameplay and an upgraded picture chat system. The graphics looked really impressive for the DS - a bit of a drop from the Dreamcast, of course. I've tried Phantasy Star Universe and found the quests to be limiting; I've tried Phantasy Star Portable and the lack of multiplayer and linearity of the game kills it. I had big hopes pinned on PS0.

Oh dear.

The game in general is great. It's not quite like PSO - the levels are separated into discrete blocks rather than being all free-flowing. My dreams of resurrecting Xevious (my PSO character) died when I saw the limited character customisation options; there was no purple, and the main male human looked like a spoiled kid. Swords look like solid swords, rather than the lit-up sabres that I loved. Magic users are a bit too pathetically weak.

But that pales into insignificance when it comes to the controls. I've been spoilt by Zelda, maybe, but this is painful to play for any length. You have to press the buttons down for extended periods, and it's often on a diagonal. Trying to face the enemies is tricky when you can turn only in increments of 45° - and the auto-lock-on doesn't pick up large angles. So you end up battling against the camera, unable to focus on and hit enemies until they move into one of the angles you can turn to. All the time they hover over your character taking energy off of you.

It's a crushing disappointment, but it's still a great game.

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