Phantasy Star Universe Xbox 360 Review

Before I press on with this review at full speed let me make it clear that before PSU, I had never played an MMORPG. I had no interest in the constant grinding to level up nor did I feel the need to immerse myself in a world full of whiney thirty year olds who care just a little bit too much about stuff that doesn’t really matter. The only thing that has piqued my interest with the online phenomenon is the aspect of exploring interesting fantastic places and working as a team. While I may not be partial to the MMORPG I can understand why so many people are. However after playing PSU, I’m still not interested in MMORPGs and probably won’t be for some time. The game disappoints and raises the question once again, do SEGA really deserve to keep some of their IP’s *cough* Sonic *cough*.

The debacle doesn’t end there though, not only does the game fail to be anything more than a horribly average online RPG it fails miserably in its terrible, terrible single player. It might be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic. If you want to like this game avoid the single player, the only reason you might want to play the single player is for the achievement points which get dished out in excess every couple of chapters, the achievements aren’t hard to obtain, just time consuming. A poor implementation of something that could have driven players to play the online mode in a different way altogether, or could have acted as some sort of way to show off ones own merits, you know their ACHIEVEMENTS. But that would just be silly right?

Firstly let’s break down the single player, you play as the game’s protagonist, Ethan, a detestable space age skater boy who sounds like his testicles have been pulled back and pinned to his spine. Completely lacking in any kind of character bar the archetypal “my dad’s dead so I’ll act a dick” attitude. Ethan is loathsome and while the other characters aren’t as annoying as Ethan, they still grate. This is not just down to voice acting it’s also down to poor dialogue and a complete lack of expressive animation (although to be fair, plenty of RPGs are lacking in the latter area). This puts a real downer on the whole single player experience as it means you really don’t care as to each character’s fate which leaves the player relying on gameplay to keep them interested. Not the smartest of moves. Unfortunately the gameplay is nothing more than a scavenger hunt from A to B using a sluggish and seemingly archaic control system.

I realise the game needs to run on the same engine as the online version to keep costs low and to actually get it out the door but come on, a slight modification wouldn’t have gone awry; a few shortcut keys here a decent targeting system maybe? Or maybe just designing the levels around the slow speed of the characters so we don’t have to trek across large empty areas just to reach another area? Fighting also gets rather repetitive and boring due to the fact that most enemies can be beaten by a combination of strafing while shooting and timed sword attack patterns that require little thought or skill.

Online the game is a little better, while not as good online as Phantasy Star Online (or so I’ve been told), is still pretty solid but never really goes beyond what you would expect. Each player gets to customise his or her own character and become one of four different classes each with their own strengths and weaknesses. With your character you get your own room which can be customised and visited by others irrelevant to your online status. This is a great little touch that many other online games could learn from. Other than that it’s the usual dungeon crawling affair that sees you and other party members fighting deeper into the hearts of enemy strongholds. Would it have killed to throw in some variations in the missions? Maybe even give them some sort of justification other than to obtain new items or level up? Apparently so. It’s hardly the universe that the title suggests either as it only features three areas to explore, all of which have the same missions with different scenery, very disappointing.

If you can handle the same missions over and over again then there’s enough to be done to keep you coming back for a while before you obtain everything you could want, and of course the possibility of expansions should never be ruled out. The same fighting system found in the single player is present in the online mode and in contrast to the original is a welcome addition, however in contrast to other MMOs and games in general it’s rather clunky and rigid. My other gripe with the online mode is that it seems to have been poorly put together resulting in some seemingly strange situations. The fact that the game costs £40.00 and then £6.99 a month seems a bit poor considering the extra payments should go towards rectifying these problems. Also just so you know, if you purchase the 360 version you can only play with other 360 players, however you do get to play with everyone across the globe; just not the PS2 and PC owners.

Finally we get down to visuals; I’ve kept these until this point because they apply to both the online and offline mode. The annoying thing is, even though it’s a PS2 and PC port you kind of feel cheated for paying more for the game itself and getting squat all for it. The visuals don’t look any different from the PC version both of which look smoother than the PS2 version but that’s it. The characters are decent enough but are lacking in detail and (especially online) can end up looking rather similar. The environments aren’t particularly great and can end up seeming rather samey and again lacking in detail. As for visual effects, the game seems to do pretty well in this and certain moves receive some fancy eye candy which makes them all the more satisfying.

As for the audio it’s pretty decent with some catchy tunes, but after a while they can become rather repetitive and annoying. I’ve already mentioned the extremely irritating voice acting for the single player and fortunately this doesn’t come in to the multiplayer. Other sound effects are equally satisfying and do the job nicely.

Overall it’s a pretty underwhelming package, from the name that launched MMOs into the mainstream the sequel is horrendously average. The two modes seem to have suffered due to the other’s existence; it probably would have been better to axe the single player despite the criticisms of the previous game and focused on an online only experience that once again gave online gaming a swift kick up the rear.

It neither excels or is truly dire; a bland and average game.

5 out of 10
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