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Phantom Dust

Review By:  Nick Arvites

Developer:  Microsoft Studios
Publisher:  Majesco
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Action/Strategy
ESRB:  Teen
Online Play:  Yes
Accessories:  Xbox Live (online play), Memory Unit, Custom Soundtracks, In-game Dolby Digital, HDTV 480p, System Link
Date Posted: 

6-13-05

Phantom Dust was originally developed by Microsoft Studios Japan and was released in Japan late in 2004. Microsoft had no plans to bring this title to other markets, but Majesco stepped in and acquired the publishing rights for North America. Released at the $20 dollar price point, Phantom Dust is one of 2005ís budget titles that should be in every gamerís collection.

Phantom Dust possesses an addictive and enjoyable core gaming experience that masterfully blends strategy elements with action. Essentially, Phantom Dust is a card battle game (think Magic: The Gathering or something similar) set in an action environment. To many, including myself, the card games that Phantom Dust draws from are boring or dumb, but this game manages to put all of the reservations in the back of your mind and allows you to enjoy the title. The basic gameplay is combat in a post-apocalyptic world. Players create an arsenal from skills they obtain and drop into a world with an arsenal. Skills appear in the form of orbs that the player must pick up to gain that particular skill. You only have access to four skills in your inventory at a time, as well as three orbs on the map at any given time. Arsenals have 25 slots in them, and these slots must be split between attack, defensive, ability, and aura particles. Aura particles may seem useless at first, but these are required to build up your aura (magic points), which is needed to cast spells. Arsenal building is limited by school requirements. There are five schools of spells, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Arsenals can only possess a certain number of schools, so players must figure out which combination works in certain situations.

The game looks great, especially during the battles. The battle stages are filled with destructible environments that cause damage to players, and this adds to the strategic element to the game. Thereís nothing better than blowing the floor from underneath your opponent, or causing the roof to collapse on him. The environments also allow you to dodge attacks without using a defense skill. The graphical style used is fairly standard post-apocalyptic, but it looks amazing. There is an extensive amount of detail to the world and the character models, not to mention the flashy spells being thrown across the map. The music in the game is strange, and tends to be remixed classical arrangements. Itís interesting, and I actually liked it. It adds an almost eerie environmental feel to the game.

The single player mode is mediocre at best. Here, you face a traditional anime, post-apocalyptic plot filled with the typical moping, betrayal, and lies thrown around by the non-player characters. While this may not necessarily be a bad thing by any means, the application is. Between missions, you have to walk around your base and talk to about 12 characters that mostly spout out fairly useless information. The reason you have to do this is to actually find missions. There was many times where I spent 20 minutes circling around the base looking for the next mission. This is really distracting and only serves to frustrate players who just want a quick battle fix. It takes too long to actually get to tinker with arsenals, and even then, the game almost drops you into the arsenal building process. For gamers with a lot of time on their hands, this isnít a problem, but the developers should have included an ďautomatically build an arsenalĒ option for casual players.

My main gripe is with the main character in the story mode. Heís a silent, generic, unnamed character that simply acts as a drone for the NPCs. He has no personality, and that is directly due to the fact that he has no dialog. While this may have worked in games like Chrono Trigger, it doesnít work today, especially in a game where characters are having full-blown conversations with someone who doesnít answer back. Lack of custom options for the characters seems out of place for this title, especially for the direction that it takes the main character. If a game is going to treat the main character as a quiet observer, at least give gamers the ability to change his appearance as well as his name. The game does allow you to choose a name, but the choices are ultimately bad and it really fails to make a difference since I donít think anyone mentions your name outside of the text boxes. Would it have been so hard to allow people to type their own name into the game? It surely would have been better than some of the idiotic suggestions they gave and forced on me. If that was too much, at LEAST give me the option to use my Xbox Live gamertag as my name.

Furthermore, the dialog in general feels like its something Iíd see on an 8-bit or 16-bit RPG title. Sporadic voice use combined with text boxes seems really dated on a modern system in 2005. In all honesty, there isnít much to even make me care about the story mode, as I can tinker with my arsenals and buy skills in the online mode.

The online mode is excellent, although the number of people who go online tends to change almost daily. Some days I found numerous games, while others I only found two other people playing this game. Online modes include team battles, battle royals, and one-on-ones. There are different rule presets that can limit or expand schools and health. One mode allows you to bet a random skill on the outcome of the match. Another excellent feature of the online mode is the trade/sell screen. Here, gamers can sell or trade their unneeded skills for skills they may not have or require more of. There are also Xbox Live exclusive skills that are only gained when a player wins 30 matches.

The one thing that drives me completely insane about this game is the menu setup. This game is Xbox Live Aware, so your friends can see you online and invite you to other games. However, there is one major problem. In order to access your Friends list, you need to completely exit out of the entire game and go to the main menu. This is disturbing, and I canít think of any other title that forces you to do this. Considering this is a late-generation title seemingly built for Xbox Live, I find no reason why I shouldnít be able to access my Friends list in the middle of a game.

Highs:

  • Strategic action based title

  • Addictive, especially when trying to create a perfect arsenal

  • Music is great

  • Multiplayer is fun

Lows:

  • Single player mode in general
  • Canít access Friends list in-game
  • Lack of voice/customization
  • Learning curve with arsenal building may be too high for casual gamers

Final Verdict: 

This game is an interesting take on the card-battle games. I enjoyed the near flawless blend of strategy and action, and as a result, this game is really fun when in the battles themselves. That being said, the single player mode is horrendously tedious and only works on the patience of players. If it were simply just straightforward when assigning missions or even just acted as a tournament-style training mode for online, it would have been much better. Even with its flaws, Phantom Dust is one of those games that people should take the $20 dollar risk and play.

Overall Score: 8.5

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