Game developers take a few shortcuts here and there. That isn’t necessarily bad; so long as players aren’t made aware, they’ll ignore the occasional repeat background or suspiciously recolored enemy. But Phantasy Star 0, ostensibly a story-based RPG, recycles almost everything, from quests down to character types, and couples those repetitive elements with one of the most complex gameplay explanations known to man. So not only is it difficult to get going, the reward is a little enjoyable slashing, a lot of head-scratching, and an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu.
Like its predecessors, Phantasy Star 0 mixes traditional fantasy elements with science fiction. Choose which character type you’d like to be; there are 14 choices in all, spread out over three races—humans, CAST (robots), and Newman (moon people). The choice doesn’t manifest in the story, which quickly plops you into Dairon City regardless. It’s quickly off to the field via teleporter, where you hack your way past enemies so quickly, even pausing the game doesn’t stop the action. The final boss of each level is disproportionately harder than every previous enemy, so you’ll likely die, transport back to the city with no hit points and an ever-depleting wad of cash, and start the fight over. Later, you head back to the same world with the same enemies under a different mission guise (at one point, you literally have to track down an herb the mayor of the town uses for his hair care); by the third time you face that annoying dragon, the entire “story mode” feels pretty much ancillary.
Instead, every element of Phantasy Star 0 feels in service of its multiplayer settings, which let you go on missions with DS-mashing pals. And what makes for a compelling multiplayer RPG? Thrilling story and lots of cooperative gameplay elements? You’d think. Phantasy Star 0 instead opts for customization over anything else. Here we run into the game’s most confusing elements: power up weapons using “grinders”; enhance them with elementals like fire, ice, and “dark”; feed your “mag,” a little floaty guy on your shoulder, various items to increase his ability to shoot “photons”; the list goes on. (Each weapon’s stats requires numerous pages to fit them all in.) The actual joint gameplay incorporates some innovative elements, like scribbling notes to other players on the stylus screen, and bosses are a lot easier to take down with powered-up human-controlled pals. But once those rehashed maps and frustratingly straightforward missions rear their repetitive heads, the limits of Phantasy Star 0 become apparent.