Do you remember Phantom Dust?
I have to be really honest with you: I was a massive Xbox fan back in its glory days, and owned dozens upon dozens of games for it, but I had never heard of this game until the announcement of its remaster for the Xbox One. The game, brought to this world by the father of Panzer Dragoon, Yukio Futatsugi, was a wacky mixture of third-person arena shooting and, weirdly enough, card battles, as you were supposed to assemble a deck containing your attacks and pick them up during the real time fights. Sounds quite nonsensical on paper, but hey, that’s the magic of Japanese gaming. Microsoft has finally released a “remaster” of this game for the Xbox One and Windows 10, but sadly enough, results were actually pretty bad.
This might surprise you, given the nature of this article, but Phantom Dust isn’t a bad game. It’s not magnificent like the half dozen people who played it back in the day will try to convince you, but it’s a somewhat decent title, with bits of originality and some interesting gameplay concepts. For 2004 standards, that is…
The game suffered from typical issues you would normally expect from a game of that era, like wonky camera, weird physics, button responses, weird input configuration, lack of text speed customization, and so on. All of those problems are still present in this remaster. You know why? The answer is pretty simple: this game, while being marketed as a remaster, ain’t exactly what I would call one.
To put in simple terms, the Xbox One version of Phantom Dust isn’t a remaster, like Microsoft is trying to convince you in the Xbox Live store. This version is nothing more than a direct port, with no visual improvements other than its new resolution during normal gameplay, as the FMVs are still in the original resolution, looking quite ugly in the process. No new lighting effects, no improved texturing, no new shadow effects, not a single framerate improvement. Gameplay-wise, the game still maintains everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Everything that was wrong with the game 13 years ago is still here, and given how far we’ve come in terms of gaming, some of those issues are even more apparent this time around.
Did the developers add anything to this new version? Yes they did. They added, ugh, microtransactions. Excuse me for a second, I need to use the toilet…
Microtransactions for a game from 2004? Who the hell thought that was a good idea? Sure, we are getting the game for free, but adding paid DLC for a game that was complete content-wise back when it was first released is, for lack of a better word, insulting. Granted, you can get abilities as good as those being sold during the single-player campaign, but for crying out loud, this just feels wrong. Very wrong.
Yes, we all know the story behind the failed attempt to actually remake Phantom Dust. It was originally planned as a full-fledged remake/reboot of the franchise, a way to bring back this older franchise from the glorious OG Xbox into the current generation of gaming, as well as using its multiplayer component as a way to take advantage of the growing eSports scene. Microsoft eventually decided to cancel the project, a decision that resulted in the closure of the developer working on the game. As it seemed, Microsoft kept asking for more and more features to be added to the reboot, while maintaining the original budget, not adding a single cent, which made the game development nearly impossible.
Microsoft didn’t give up on trying to bring Phantom Dust back from the dead, though, and decided to announce a remaster of the game, instead of a remake, after the original cancellation. And that was yet another problem: the remaster was announced without the developers being able to actually access the game’s original source code, therefore they had to hack it and reverse engineer it, just like people do with illegal ROMs in emulation websites, in order to be able to take a look at the assets and data files. Given this complete mess, the developers weren’t able to do much besides upscaling the game’s resolution and, well, adding god damn microtransactions to it (I still can’t believe they actually did this).
Before you rush to the comment section and slam yours truly for unfairly bashing the poor developers, I know it’s not their fault. If there’s anyone to blame here, it’s Microsoft. After cancelling the original Phantom Dust remake due to excessive corporate interference, they gave poor Code Mystics the ungrateful task of delivering an already promised remaster without giving them the necessary assets to actually do so. The Cream of the Crap doesn’t simply bash bad games in a technical level, it bashes bad corporate decisions (the biggest evil in the gaming industry) just as much.
So this is the “new” Phantom Dust. A lot of hyping, a lot of promises, a lot of misleading, and all we got was a piss poor emulation-looking port that had microtransactions as its only new feature. It’s an incredibly disappointing final product that leaves an even bigger stain on the Xbox One’s pretty lackluster exclusive library in the first semester of 2017.
This article wasn’t meant to criticize Phantom Dust per se. It is much more original than most AAA games from nowadays, and the game was okay for its time, but it didn’t age as well as some would have thought. The game itself isn’t the main offender in this mess. Microsoft’s promises and lackluster delivery, on the other hand, oh boy, those definitely deserve the blame.
Developer Code Mystics has recently asked fans which OG Xbox game they should “remaster” (their words) next. Boys, let’s just leave those Xbox games alone, please.
Also available on: PC