XBLA’s Most Wanted: Phantom Dust
The days of Xbox Live on the original Xbox were nothing like they are now on the Xbox 360. Far fewer games came with Live functionality, forcing players to choose from a much more modest selection. One such game that still managed to fly under many a radar despite the selection is Phantom Dust. One part Magic the Gathering, one part traditional RPG adventure, Phantom Dust was a budget title without much press or hype. The bulk of the game consists of doing quests to solve a massive mystery surrounding Edgar and the nameless protagonist.
Underground Town, home to the dwellers, is the last bastion of humankind after what is essentially an apocalypse. Massive dust storms took the surface world, and now most of humanity has been forced underground, but there’s a catch! The dust took some, scared others, and granted special powers to a select few. Those with powers are known as ESPers, one of which you are, and are tasked with accomplishing missions on the surface world.
During missions to the surface world, players will use different skills in combat to defeat their enemies. This is where the whole third person magic the gathering bit comes into play. Instead of drawing cards from a deck, however, each character on the field has a starting position where three orbs will spawn. These different colored orbs represent offensive, defensive, erase, support and mobility skills. You can have four skills equipped at any time, and use Aura orbs to increase your aura, which is required to cast all skills.
What should change:
Direct me to… where? – Much of the narrative surrounding Phantom Dust is about uncovering mysteries, as such there’s a heavy focus on character development through constant interaction. Unfortunately, it’s not always made clear as to who the next person to talk to is. Some better post-mission direction would be very helpful.
Buff up the multiplayer – Since Xbox Live has been buffed since Phantom Dust‘s time, upgrades will have to be made for it to meet those improvements. On top of that, the two versus two and some of the other online-only elements should be added to the splitscreen. Given the better hardware, surely four players could easily play on one console, though at least there’s system link as well.
I can’t heeear youuu – The story to Phantom Dust is rather interesting, unfortunately that nobody ever tells you why. That is, not with their voice. The entire game aside from the cutscenes is text only, which is unfortunate as the voiced parts in the cutscenes really aren’t bad. Let’s call this a quality of life adjustment.
What should stay the same:
The story – While it’s unfortunate the story is told entirely via text, the quality of it is top shelf! The mystery surrounding the dust and your partner Edgar, the constant ebb and flow of NPC characters in UG Town, and the ramp up from beginning to the climax are all well done. On top of that, once the game really gets under way, most of the missions contribute to the story in some fashion, either strengthening a relationship with a fellow dweller or pushing the plot forward.
The mechanics – The core meat of this game is the action and strategy combo. And rather meat, it’s more like an ice cream sandwich, because the delicious bits of this game are equal parts action and strategy. There are many, many abilities to be found throughout the game and billions of ways to combine them into a deck, much like the cards of Magic the Gathering. Finding that marriage between the skills and their implementation is an everlasting engagement, and finally constructing the perfect series of decks is absolutely fantastic.
Stepping out of the single player into the multiplayer adds even more game time and enjoyment to Phantom Dust. The series of decks the game provides are mostly well put together, allowing you and a buddy to go at it with ease. To go further, you can use what you’ve earned in the single player to create decks for use in the multiplayer, allowing the deck-building mechanic to be enjoyed by all.
The… graphics? – Phantom Dust is a strange looking game–not a bad looking game, but it is indeed strange. Hyper-human features and very stylized faces and garments make this game stand out even farther from the typical post-apocalypse premise. Simply give Phantom Dust the HD treatment and let it keep its peculiar fashion sense.
Why it would succeed:
Phantom Dust is an amazing game from head to toe, though at times its budget shows through. The rare blend of action and strategy and the implementation of a “deck” mechanic give this game an original feel to it which has not since been replicated. The story is a great ride, and well worth it (even without the voice over). On top of the solid mechanics and story, there’s multiplayer! Yay multiplayer! XBLA loves multiplayer, and if it gets the chance, it’ll love Phantom Dust.