Back in the day Sega used to trumpet on about getting six billion people to play online in its Dreamcast adverts. It was a lofty ambition, but a bit daft when half the world didn't even have electricity, never mind a reliable internet connection. With Phantasy Star Zero Sega has downscaled to a four-player experience, but it's produced a mighty close replica to what the Dreamcast's Phantasy Star Online offered, minus the wobbly juddermonster phone line.
In fact taking Zero online is the best way to play it, or at least with other local players. That way some of its most noticeable shortcomings can be forgotten about via the medium of pretty pictures. Zero's biggest selling point is its streamlined system of communication.
Just as with Online, which promised to overcome language barriers by providing you with symbols, the touch screen is used to either select phrases or scrawl your own, or you can draw a picture to convey your furious anger at being left to die. It's instant communication, and you can bring up a pre-doodled template, easy as.
Fighting The Same Battles
It's such a smooth system, but the problem is your imaginative messages and insults might be too numerous for the situations you'll encounter. There's also far too much repetition of basic mission types. For example, in the first of seven worlds, we battled through a series of samey areas and finally came to a point where we met a giant flying manta ray... thing. It was a tough job getting rid of it, but with help from our comrades we saw it off (lots of rude notes here).
On returning to the central marketplace to pick up another quest, we found ourselves trawling through a very similar set of pitched battles before meeting the same boss again! Alright, that wasn't the finale of that particular job, but it was a real bind having to go through the whole lot again.
Perhaps more than the communication aspect, Zero feels more like its ten-year-old cousin in the way you have to grit your teeth and get on with pounding your way through the game. It's not such a chore - this is one of the finest looking DS games we've seen for some time, and the wealth of customisation options almost provide another mode in itself - but offline, with three AI numpties gawping at you, a giant snake locked in a mortal clinch and a camera with a mind of its own to contend with, it's much less of a laugh than going online.
Online, the joy of loot collection is magnified. When you work together as a team to defeat a group of enemies and share the rewards, there's a rare feeling of having earned it. Online, the monotony of walking through randomly generated locales is lightened by being shown what your mate thinks your mum looks like. Online, you'll see the three-strike combat system working almost in rhythm, and very impressive it is too.
So you should give real consideration to buying this if you have an internet hotspot nearby. If not, this is a phans-only affair.