The original game on Dreamcast was a hidden success, a lot like the console itself. The imaginative and brightly coloured universe was full of adventure and exploration, and was one of the first games to properly take control of the uses of the internet in gaming. The game was reincarnated again on Gamecube and Xbox, and took off once again being a sleeper hit online with the die-hard fans of the series, as well as giving us access to the new Episode two versions that was so hard to find during its Dreamcast days.
The new 360 game promises to be as good a hit as the originals, the many hardcore MMORPG fans waiting with baited breath for its release onto the world. Thankfully we were given a glorious helping of what's to be expected in the form of a BETA version that was released on the Xbox Live marketplace a couple of weeks ago.
The demo has proved a lot more popular than anyone could imagine, with servers full to the brim with eager RPG fans. It took me nearly an hour to actually register on the games servers because of the mass of people all signing on at once.
Once in however, the game was as delightful as ever. The same classes from the pervious games are still present, from the Fighters armed with swords and other melee weapons, to the Rangers with Pistols, Rifles, and all manner of gadgets. As well as this is the all important spell-caster role in the form of the Forcers, with different spells at their disposal.
The character creation is awesome to mess around with, so many different combinations of clothing and parts to attach and fiddle with that it could take a good ten minutes before you finally settle on a good enough costume for your character.
The game then drops you straight into the action, after a short tutorial showing you the ins and outs of your interactive room and the different levels of the space station you are let loose on the Universe to enjoy in your own time.
This is where it all went slightly wrong. No-one seemed to know where they were going, and there were an awful lot of people standing around shouting out in speech bubbles that they "couldn't find the way out".
Thankfully with the use of a little pestering I got someone to show me the way to go, and it all suddenly became so clear. There are numerous levels to explore, from the low level space station 'dungeons' to three different planet surfaces with their own difficulty levels for the more experienced hunters.
Each is filled with tonnes of monsters just waiting to be blasted away as you pick up more mesa (money) and items to sell, as well as some cool boss battles.
The combat areas are amazingly detailed, lots of flashing lights and brightly coloured vegetation flickering and blowing in the environments. The monsters too are imaginative and quirky, however most are just the old monsters from Episode one and two with a new skin layered over the tops, and a different name attached. I was just waiting for a Booma to spring out of the grass and roar at me.
Time To Fight
The fighting itself is pretty simple, with particular attacks assigned to the different buttons and pressed in succession to wipe out the enemy. It can get a little bit boring as you press 'X' yet again at that twentieth monster that you were sure you killed an hour ago.
Thankfully the weapons are awesome and have some cool moves attached, the guns looking mightily powerful, and the swords and knives suitably nasty as well. You can even enter a first person mode with ranged weapons for an easier time when shooting, as without it you usually end up wasting a lot of your shots at the space between monsters.
The team play is the best reason to give this a go. There's nothing better than getting a few mates together and hacking your way through a combat area to fight an awesome boss and watching each others backs as you go.
You really have to work together as the mindless advance of the enemy means that you can get surrounded quite quickly. By working together you can make it through most areas unscathed, even the higher level areas as long as each monster is dealt with one by one.
Joining a party is easy too. You can send out invites to people around you whenever you want when in a town of station which is great for new people as it allows them to join in straight away and get killing.
The other way is by going to one of the mission select areas and finding a party that you want to join. You then have to catch up with them in the area they are fighting through, which can mean that you loose out on a lot of experience, but is still a excellent way of joining with others.
After your little excursion into the wilderness you can come back and spend some of that all important cash on new weapons, armour, items and even changing your costumes and the furnishings for you room as well if you feel inclined to do so.
This attention to detail is great to see in a game, even if it is a little overbearing for newcomers to the Universe. There is of course a lot of choice in what you do, and there is rarely someone who looks or fights like you in the worlds you inhabit.
If the fighting is getting you down, then there is the chance to sit around with friends and talk about what ever you want in the towns themselves. The myriad of emoticons and actions you can do is great and feels like a more in-depth instant messaging conversation than anything else. The game has really pushed the boat out where community is concerned.
Phantasy Star Universe has a lot of great things going for it. For those in love with quirky sci-fi adventure this is the game for you, but will take a lot of getting used to if your in for the long haul, it can be seriously confusing at times.
It really is as good as the original games, and has been the only game at the moment that kept me up way into the morning doing quests and runs looking for new monsters and items with my team of other hunters.
Phantasy Star looks set to be a huge hit when it gets to shelves later this year, pulling in a lot of RPG gamers even if they are just going to have a look at what all the fuss is about. It's sure to take away your life if you're not careful.