Phantasy Star Nova – Impressions After 30 Hours

I posted about the game’s packaging here if you’re into that sort of thing.

Phantasy Star Nova was released on the PS Vita in Japan in November of 2014. To contextualize what the game “is,” think of it as a single player / local multiplayer parallel to PSO 2, in the same way the Phantasy Star Portable games were to Universe.

I’ve put about 30 hours into the game and I really like it, although some language barrier issues have prevented me from getting the most out of it.

The game feels like a cross between what you’d expect from a PSO-style dungeon crawler and Monster Hunter. You get quests in town in which you need to collect X amount of items or defeat X monsters. This is where the game feels most like the loot/progression-based Phantasy Star games post-PSO (specifically PSO2).

One way the game feels closer to MonHun is the presence of the Gigantes enemies. These are giant boss monsters with weak points that need to be targeted. As in MonHun, these creatures can be captured or killed.

Nova also feels like Monster Hunter in the way it handles upgrades and items. There is an in-game currency, but for items, weapons, armor, and upgrades you need to use crafting materials. As you may have guessed, these materials come from enemies you defeat.

Here’s where the language barrier became an issue for me. I have a rudimentary knowledge of Japanese which begins and ends with kana. This can get me pretty far in a series like Phantasy Star which uses a lot of Katakana for item names. Unfortunately, there are SO MANY items and crafting materials in Nova, that there is quite a bit of nuance in descriptions, which manifest in the form of Kanji. As a result, I have really been struggling with figuring out what materials I need to upgrade my equipment.

That said, I can still grind in missions and improve my stats with no problems. The game looks and feels pretty good on the Vita, especially considering it’s now almost six years old.

Nova was developed by tri-Ace, creators of the Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean series. Despite the developer’s history with another sci-fi JRPG franchise, Nova still feels distinctly Phantasy Star. The only time it really gave me Star Ocean vibes was the music. Composed by Motoi Sakuraba, the soundtrack is fine, but leans heavily on traditional orchestration and lacks a lot of the electronic elements I expect from the Phantasy Star series.

Before writing this, I hadn’t played my copy of Nova in years. Returning to the game was surprisingly easy and enjoyable. It’s nice to be able to play a PSO-style game on a portable, and it feels similar, but different enough from PSO2 to be casually played in tandem. Nova likely won’t become my “main” Phantasy Star game, but it’s nice to be able to grab my Vita and grind while watching TV or traveling.

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