Phantasy Star Nova

Hardware: Vita
11/27/2014 (Japan)
ファンタシースター ノヴァ

Ever since the release of the original Phantasy Star Online in 2000, each Phantasy Star game has been basically cut from the original PSO template with paper thin stories just to create some purpose for player actions. After all, the real appeal of these games was the multi-player aspect from the start, so who really cared about things like story? That’s why it was so strange when Phantasy Star Nova was announced in 2013 as being a heavily story focused, primarily single-player entry in the PSO family. By this point Sega had probably forgotten that Phantasy Star had an identity before it went online, because it brought about a lot of hope from old fans of the series that this might finally be the return of the original Phantasy Star series in some way. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that those hopes were very misplaced.

Phantasy Star Nova is essentially Sega letting tri-Ace run with Phantasy Star Online 2, with the guidelines that it must be story and single-player focused. Yes, tri-Ace is the developer! They’re no strangers to action RPGs or working with Sega, and PS Nova certainly also proves that they understand the Phantasy Star Online series well. You won’t really find any of the typical tri-Ace jankiness here, mostly because the systems are largely taken right out of PSO2. Most of the classes and even the character creator are practically ported directly over from that title as well. In fact this whole game really takes place in the same world (or perhaps universe is a better way to put it), though certain plot elements make for some different restrictions and situations.

Phantasy Star Nova - Boss Monsters Phantasy Star Nova - Colorful Crew Members
As is usual for a PSO game, the boss monsters generally look pretty cool. The crew of the Delta Variant is full of all sorts of…interesting characters…

That doesn’t necessarily mean that this is PSO2 dropped directly into a single-player game though. There are completely new classes, weapons, and a whole new way of embarking on quests. And as advertised, the game is very much more story focused with a decent stable of characters that make up the crew of the Delta Variant. Most of them are the epitome of various archetypes, but they do serve the purpose of creating what amounts to be an average story with a couple of small twists and turns. Multi-player can still be achieved via local ad-hoc play, though the AI partners (of which you can have up to 3 per quest) generally do a very good job of holding their own in battle. Every AI character starts out at a specific level, and actually levels up with your character from there. So those who suffer from “I must keep all of my characters evenly leveled” OCD have very little to worry about. New story and optional quests are unlocked as the story itself progresses, along with the idea of Promise Orders. These are requests that each individual character will have for you that can be accomplished within specific quests: They may be collecting a certain amount of a specific item or completing a quest with a certain rank. There was a nearly identical system in PSO2. Your base on the Delta Variant is also very much full service, featuring a weapon shop, armor shop, item shop, food stand to up your stats (think eating before a quest in Monster Hunter), class counter (changing your class, upgrading your Gran Arts and setting skills on your skill board), and more. Quests are later introduced to upgrade all of these facilities.

Phantasy Star Nova - Cold Sleep Room Phantasy Star Nova - Gigantes (Horse With Wings)
Getting ready to pull some crew members out of cold sleep! One of the Gigantes, sort of a giant horse thing with wings?

The story revolves around the crew of the ship Delta Variant, which is a special planet investigation division of Arks. They are tasked with investigating the planet Makia. Upon approaching the planet they are mysteriously attacked, and they crash in a wasteland area of Makia. Since the Delta Variant’s resources are extremely limited due to the damage from crash landing, most of the members of the crew are put into cold sleep in order to preserve what is left. One of the game’s mechanics is the ability to wake up these various characters from cold sleep as your resources become more plentiful. Some of this will be forced via the story, but there will still be a ton of characters that can be optionally woken up, allowing you to have perhaps more than a fully staffed base by the end. Not too far along into the story you encounter mysterious giant creatures known as Gigantes. Through various plot points the Arks members are unable to use their typical Photon Arts, however the Gigantes provide a way to use something very similar called Gran Arts. The story develops from here as a tale of discovering the history of what has happened on Makia, and how the Gigantes have come to be, as well as gathering enough resources to make an escape.

Phantasy Star Nova - Octopus in the Sky Phantasy Star Nova - Another Gigantes
My exact words when I see a giant octopus flying through the sky! Yet another Gigantes…maybe this one is some sort of crustacean?

So the story is average at best, and there isn’t any real online play. It should also be mentioned that even as of the 1.2 patch, this game can have some severe slowdown and loss of frame rate during some of the later quests in particular. Given all that, why would your average PSO fan even want to bother with this? If your primary reason for playing PSO is to play online with others and you haven’t already gotten all out of PSO2 that is available at this point, then you may not actually want to bother with PS Nova. But if you don’t mind good AI partners (or local multi-player) or done everything there is to do in PSO2 but still want more, this is probably a worthwhile game for you. Also if you’re like me and had a bit of trouble absorbing everything that there was to do in PSO2 while trying to find people to play with, you’ll probably find PS Nova to be much more relaxed presentation of the same systems that you can take in at your own pace.

Phantasy Star Nova - Go Team! Phantasy Star Nova - Final Boss
This is the Delta Variant equivalent of the all hands in the circle pep talk. The major bosses never fail to impress, though this one gives off sort of a Final Fantasy vibe…

If you do choose to play PS Nova, no matter what your reason, there is a lot of content here. Not only do you have the usual assortment of classes to level up, weapons and armor units to upgrade, a base to develop, and quests to complete, but you also have friendship levels with each of the other characters that you can raise by both taking them on quests with you as well as completing their Promise Orders. And even a month after the game’s release there is already some free and paid DLC for quests, items and costumes (mostly ones from other tri-Ace/Sega games such as End of Eternity/Resonance of Fate, etc.). While playing PS Nova won’t likely be a life changing experience for anyone, it certainly does scratch the PSO itch. Completing this game even made me want to go back to PSO2 again with a fresh perspective.