Sega's Phantasy Star series has a long history, tracing as far back as the 1980s. Throughout those two decades of acclaimed role-playing game goodness there has been a fair degree of evolution, the most important being when Phantasy Star changed into Phantasy Star Online in 2000, venturing forward into the wonderful wide world of internet play and substituting turn-based battles for a more real time action driven slant and an enhanced sci-fi feel. Since then it has become a burgeoning success, leading up to its latest advancement - the expansion of not just its online components, but also its single player ones as well in Phantasy Star Universe: Ambition of the Illuminus.
Stars in your eyes
As a sequel to Phantasy Star Universe, Ambition of the Illuminus enlarges the Gurhal Star System with new adventures, enemy types and locations to explore. As usual, you create your own avatar to take place within this popular setting, but this time the range of options in customising your on-screen replica is greater than ever. Facial features, hair styles, body types, vocals and clothing, as well as abilities and classes, can be adjusted with a pleasing array.
Once you've created yourself, you can take part in either online quests for up to six players or tackle the next chapters of the original story, embarking on a series of missions as a new recruit to interstellar peacekeeping force, GUARDIANS.
With the ever-present threat of hostile aliens known as the SEED and Human Fundamentalist group, the Illuminus, disrupting the peaceful Gurhal System, you're thrown into a quest that sees you battling SEED infected monsters, trailing mouthy rogues and interacting with characters old and new alike, such as GUARDIANS instructor Laia Martinez and Episode 1's protagonist, Ethan Waber.
Lost in space
Although your avatar is silent, it's the fearsome Martinez and others who help relay the story to you as things progress, also introducing you to the co-operative nature of the game. Tagging along for some missions, your associates generally act as online human partners would, offering commands, gruff encouragement and more as you journey through the various lands. This is nicely indicative of Ambition of the Illuminus on a whole - even if it's your first venture into the series, it's the perfect introduction.
There's an accommodating tutorial which takes you around the basic lobby complex and briefs you on the various nuances of the game, from shopping to combat. Once you start there are various reference points that you can go back to for memory refreshment without it being too obtrusive or spoiling the illusion of a living world.
Even within this sprawling environment, the level of customisation is extensive enough to keep you from the main quest for a substantial period of time as you tweak your glowing light-based weapons (of which you can gain swords, guns, staffs and more), shop around, play roulette and slots in the Casino Voloyal, decorate your barracks and pump up your character's levels against enemies in sub-missions. It's this scope that lends a nice variety of objectives to the game, helped by a selection of mission tasks that range from scanning for objects and defusing traps to tracking enemies and defeating impressively huge bosses in battle.
Although tough in some areas, Ambition of the Illuminus is addictive in both its Story and online Network mode, requiring teamwork, persistence and a healthy degree of thought to progress. It impresses in its excellent cutscenes and lovely in-game visuals, where the fluid animation makes battles a joy to behold and little touches such as watching autumnal leaves drift across the landscape create a convincing game world that you want to get lost in.
Fans will find pleasure in this continuation of Sega's epic sci-fi action role-playing game, and new adventurers will also enjoy the smooth introduction into Phantasy Star Universe. Give it a try and prepare yourself for a stellar adventure.