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Taking place after the events in Phantasy Star Universe, the plot of Portable puts the player in control of a new member of the GUARDIANS, a group of protectors who venture out on missions with the ultimate goal of providing peace to the star system. The main threat is a mysterious alien force known as the SEED, which also appeared in PSU.
Along the way, the player will meet a whole cast of mostly-likable characters whose stories are told through 2D still frames that change with each sentence or paragraph of dialogue. This style works, but it would have been nice to see fully fleshed-out 3D models at least animating their dialogue. It can take some of the punch away from a particularly heated conversation when the character you're speaking to only moves twice the entire time.
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Phantasy Star Portable is an action RPG, meaning that while in combat the player always has full control of his or her character in the 3D world, yet still must use timed attacks and certain weapons to defeat foes. The combat will feel familiar to anyone who has played a PS game in the past, but gamers new to the genre may experience some trouble. Lock-ons, which are implemented to give the player more freedom of movement while still targeting a certain enemy, don't always work as they should and you will sometimes find yourself jumping from enemy to enemy while in the heat of battle. This is not the ideal way to take down your foes, but fortunately it only happens on occasion.
The main aspect of any Phantasy Star game is looting and leveling up your character and purists can breathe a sigh of relief; Phantasy Star Portable is one of the most enjoyable grinding experiences I've ever played. There is a ton of new armor and items to make your warrior the ultimate bad-ass and rarely does a difficult section fail to yield some amazing gear.
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Fans of the series' fully 3D iterations such as the Dreamcast classic Phantasy Star Online and the more recent Phantasy Star Universe will know what to expect in terms of art style. An ultra-stylized futuristic world with bright tones, bold architecture and a 70's-fashion-meets-the-future aesthetic. Weapon effects are typically well done, as are most of the other special effects you'll see during your playthrough. Some corridor sections can get repetetive, but thankfully there are usually enough enemies scattered about to make you forget about that.
The one spot where the game really flexes its robust (for a handheld) visual capabilities is in the character creation mode. At the beginning of the game you will be asked to create your character, much like any other RPG. However, the sheer number of options available at your disposal is really quite impressive. In addition to choosing a general race, you will be able to manipulate every aspect of your character's appearance from eyebrows to armor hues. This can be a serious time-sink so make sure you have at least an hour to dedicate to the game as soon as you pop it in your PSP.
This all meshes very well with the style of game that Phantasy Star has evolved to be.
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Phantasy Star Portable is one of the best RPG experiences on the PSP and, despite its flaws, it remains one of the best Phantasy Star games yet. The story could have been told a bit better and the coversations with in-game characters will sometimes leaving you feeling empty, but fans of the series know what makes these games great; leveling up your warrior and looting everything in sight.
Portable really is a full-fledged Phantasy Star title that will take up an enormous amount of your time if you let it. So while it might not be the best fit for a portable device whose primary focus is bite-sized gaming, it is still a title worth hunting down. Newbies might be overwhelmed at first, but those who invest their time will find a rich, engaging experience underneath.