Like most fans of PSO I & II, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the prospect of C.A.R.D. Revolution. However, after playing PSO III practically every night since I received it in January, I can attest that Sonic Team still knows how to design addictive games. There are so many options in terms of play style -- whether you like the basic combat of the Heroes or the summoning power of the Arkz or if you're looking for online tournaments or a detailed story. This game is one of the most flexible I've ever played -- and it caters to PSO fans.
However, PSO III isn't a game for everyone. Matches can last upwards of 45 minutes. Combat can be slow and at times tedious, but the end result is always rewarding. You won't fall in love with it in an hour, but the more time you spend with PSO III, the more you'll get from it. In this respect, it's very similar to Gladius -- once you get into it, you won't be able to put it down.
While the online component is very different from that of PSO I & II, playing online against other humans is addictive in its own right. There's such a rush when you finally defeat someone ranked higher than you. It's equally fun to play in a team with friends. It's not the same, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Besides, since the Hunter's License covers all PSO games, when you want to experience a dungeon crawl you can play Episodes I & II.
Phantasy Star Online Episode III is a real testament of game design. It's as open ended as a card game can be. Sonic Team incorporated many things fans wanted (story and a worthy offline mode). If you're a PSO fan, don't turn your back on Episode III simply because it's a card game -- you might be surprised (I was). If you love strategy or card games (and want another use of for your broadband adapter), I highly recommend giving PSO III a shot.
You can play as two different sides, there's a story, worthy online and offline modes, excellent tutorial mode -- all beautifully presented.
Stages are relatively static, although there are plenty of subtle touches. Not the most technically impressive, but the art style is beautiful. Manga-styled cut scenes are a special visual treat.
The music is superbly orchestrated and matches all the given environments. The only complaint is that Sonic Team had included voice acting and more varied sound effects.
Although slow paced, this is a very deep game that will actually require you to think -- very unusual for this franchise. Human competition will keep that broadband adapter in use.
9.0 Lasting Appeal
Two offline campaigns to play through, online tournaments open to all regions, and an offline multiplayer mode give you a lot to do. Investing time to understand the game is the main obstacle.
(out of 10 / not an average)