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Preview: Phantasy Star Portable

Title: Phantasy Star Portable

Players: 1-4 players

Platform: Playstation Portable

Developer: Sonic Team/ Alfa System

Publisher: Sega

Price: $39.99

Release Date: March 3rd, 2009

Website: www.sega.com/games/phantasy-star-portable

A remake of sorts of 2006's Phantasy Star Universe. Phantasy Star Portable looks as if it could be a good time sink, especially on a console that's lacking anything new. Multiplayer will be a bit tricky to get working, but the single player game is good enough as it is.

One hundred percent full disclosure: I have never played Phantasy Star Online. Not the Dreamcast game, not the GameCube game, not the Xbox game, not the PC game. I have, however, played Phantasy Star Universe for the Xbox 360, which is probably the more important part for this preview.

Phantasy Star Portable is a reimagining of Phantasy Star Universe. Actually, the easiest way to explain Phantasy Star Portable is to say it's exactly the same as PSU with a few minor changes that actually fit the game better than the original.

The story mode in Phantasy Star Portable has absolutely nothing to do with the one from Phantasy Star Universe. Previously, you followed around Ethan Waber on an adventure encompassing his getting accepted into the Guardians, and then eventually saving the Universe from evil. It was very story driven and very dependant upon who Ethan was. There was nothing connecting the story to the multiplayer/online portion; you couldn't transfer over your progress or items to it, and the story had nothing to do with the missions. In Phantasy Star Portable, however, you make one character and use him for both the story and the online game, meaning that everything you do in one transfers over to the other.

When you first create your character you're given tons of customization options, some are only aesthetic, while some affect how you'll play the game. So far, you can choose from 3 different races that all excell in different areas, and you have the choice of 3 classes at the start. As you progress, more class options open up to you. Once you select your race, you then chose from literally thousands of different character combinations where you can mix and match facial features, height, weight, and even your clothes. You can even choose from 20 something voices and you can edit the pitch.

Combat (essentially the whole experience of the game) is a pretty standard affair. You have your choice of several weapons including two-handed swords, sabers, pistols, spears, rifles, and you can even double up on the one-handed items like swords and pistols. You can actually equip up to 5 sets of weapons at once and switch between them on the fly by holding down one button. After you have your weapon up, it's as simple as pressing square for your normal attack or pressing triangle for your special attack. As you use your various special attacks, they increase in level, which allows you to combo more than one and increases its power.

If I were to make one complaint about the original Phantasy Star Universe (even as a fan of that game, I've got plenty), I would say that my number one issue was navigating through the hub areas trying to figure out where to access your next quests. Thankfully, the PSP version has actually done away with any hub exploration. Instead, you're given a map of the area and you move your cursor around to the areas of interest (people, shops, quest givers) and you access everything that way. Not only does this help with loading times for the PSP, but it also actually streamlines the process, and I really grew to appreciate this.

At this point, the only way to play Phantasy Star Portable with another player is via an ad-hoc connection; meaning that you'll have to have a friend (or three) in your area who's willing to get together and play. In Japan, Sony has released an app for the PS3 that allows wi-fi play by connecting your PSP through ad-hoc, but as of now, there are no plans to bring this Stateside. If they do, I can promise that many more people will be interested in this game. It's pretty stupid that the theoretically more powerful PSP console can't handle online play like that, but the DS version of the upcoming Phantasy Star Zero actually has wi-fi multiplayer.

Considering that not a lot is actually coming out for the PSP over the next few months, it's good to know that at least this game looks like it has tons of content that should keep even the most hardcore loot grabber happy for hours upon hours. Stay tuned for more coverage of Phantasy Star Portable.