Phantom Dust is an Xbox exclusive title, originally developed by Microsoft Game Studios in Japan, Majesco acquired the rights to publish the game in America, and released the game at a budget price. The game was never released in Europe at any time, though. The game was the brainchild of Yukio Futatsugi, who is also responsible for the early Panzer Dragoon games. The premise of the game is heavily inspired by trading card games like Magic the Gathering, though it still has a heavy emphasis on action as well, as the game takes place in real time with the playing having direct control over their characters. The game was released to generally favorable reviews, citing it as one of the most original titles to be released for the Xbox, and despite not being a seller it enjoyed popularity as a cult hit.
The primary gameplay of Phantom Dust has the player taking direct control over their character, and assigning skills and aura to the face buttons to use them in battle. Every character on the map is given a location where a set number of skills will slowly spawn into the level, and pressing the corresponding face button will map that skill to it. Aura points are required to use skills, and they too must be gathered from the player’s initial spawn location, but can quickly be consumed afterward to free up space for a skill.
Some skills are single use, and disappear from the player’s selection once activated, others are permanent, and will remain mapped to the button and usable so long as the player has the proper amount of aura to use the skill.
Each aura particle the player collects increases their maximum number of aura points, which regenerate at various speeds depending on how many schools of skills the player has in their arsenal.
While skills are a close analog to cards in a trading card game, the arsenal is the close analog to a “deck.” Players are able to purchase a limited number of arsenals, which can use varying numbers of schools within them. Players can edit their arsenals as they see fit with differing skills, but may only have certain number of each skill in their arsenal. Whatever free space is left in the arsenal once the player is done editing it, will be left for aura particles.
When a battle starts, the player will be given four random skills or aura particles from their arsenal, and three spaces with a random assortment of skills on their side of the field. Players direct their skills by locking onto an enemy with a trigger press on the controller, and can also lock onto allies as well. Generally, the goal is to reduce an enemy’s health to zero in a match, with the traditional starting number of health being twenty points.
The game also features destructible environments as well, and it is possible for a player to not only fall off of a map to take damage, but they can also take damage from a walkway collapsing, or standing underneath a falling object.
In single player mode, the player mode, the player has access to a hub world, where they can look around for missions, replay old missions, buy new skills, and edit their arsenals.
The game initially contains three hundred skills of various types and schools, the five schools are as follow:
- Psycho: Skills that rely on telekinesis to move objects around the player, for both defensive and offensive purposes.
- Optical: Skills that manipulate light for the player. Mostly focuses on heavy offensive skills that work at medium to long range.
- Nature: Focuses mostly on skills that use elements to attack other players, and has defensive skills to help heal the player.
- Ki: Has a large focus on close range combat, and skills that weaken enemy players stats.
- Faith: Mostly has skills that consume the player's own aura or health, at the benefit of using attacks with high damage levels.
In addition, there are differing types of skills, which are identified as followed:
- Attack: Skills meant to directly damage opponents, they will typically have a strength value that will vary from one to ten, and a trajectory type, be it a direct attack, or an arced shot, and so on. Opponents can avoid these though, by moving away from some, taking cover, or using a defensive skill.
- Defense: These skills are generally used to shield a player from enemy attacks, though some are only useful against specific types of attack.
- Status: These skills alter the attributes of a player, such as their speed or how much damage their attacks do.
- Erase: These skills usually let a player remove a skill that an opponent has mapped to their controller, or will let a player remove skills at an enemy’s spawn location.
- Special: Skills that alter the player or world in some unique way, such as allowing a player to teleport, levitate, or alter where skills spawn into the world.
- Environment: These skills are placed somewhere in the map by a player, and have an effect on all players, be it positive or negative. This includes the person that placed the skill on the field as well. Any player that finds the skill can capture it and turn it into an aura particle though, or an environmental skill can be overridden by another one being placed on the map.
Players can acquire new skills by beating missions in single player missions, but can also purchase packs of skills. Each skill has a unique rarity to it, making collecting greater numbers of some quite difficult.
The story begins with Earth appearing to be a wasteland inhabited by strange creatures. A group of people use special powers to fight some away, to discover a location with two men locking in capsules opposite one another. One is the main protagonist, and the other is a man who finds his name to be Edgar, as it is etched on a locket he has.
They are brought underground, where they learn that the surface of the world is covered in a strange dust, and that anyone that spends more than fifteen minutes on the surface risks losing their memories forever. The leaders of this underground group are known as the Visions, and their enforcers that scout along the surface are known as Espers. The Visions explain to the two characters that they are like everyone else in the underground. That they have no memories of their own, and the only memory they do have is of some strange ruins, and that they feel compelled to find these ruins. Edgar is also haunted by a picture of a woman in his locket, and feels he must find her at any cost.
The two characters are taken in and trained to become Espers their selves, in hopes that being better prepared to deal with what is on the surface will help them find the ruins. The woman in Edgar’s locket turns out to be Freia, an independent Esper who’s goal seems is to prevent the protagonist and Edgar from finding the ruins. Edgar still senses some strong connection to her, and eventually leaves the underground to go search for her. After one particular battle with her, the protagonist is given a memory box to explain things for him.
The memory box reveals that Edgar was originally an astronaut, who was sent to travel to the event horizon of a black hole. From inside his ship, it had seemed as though only three days had passed, but when he returned to Earth, he realizes that ten thousand years have actually passed. In that time, humanity has vanished, and what is left of the earth is covered in a strange dust. Left alone to think, Edgar eventually realizes he can control the dust to an extent, and makes Freia out of it, who was his girlfriend at the time before he set off on his journey. Then he creates the protagonist, who he claimed was his best friend before he left. Through a great deal of trial and error, Edgar begins to rebuild the entire world out of the strange dust.
Upon seeing what this memory box contains, everyone in the Visions headquarters turns back into dust and vanishes. The protagonist is spared of this however, and is left to explain what has happened.
Another memory box soon explains that Edgar unwittingly embedded the memory of the ruins into all of the illusions he had created, and that he is responsible for destroying most of the world, as well as why people have forgotten everything except the memory of the ruins. The significance of the place is revealed as well, it was the last place Edgar met with Freia before he left on his journey.
After finally defeating Freia again, she reveals to the protagonist that she knows that they were both made from the dust, but is confused as to why they did not vanish once they learned the truth. She begins to feel that Edgar no longer has any use for her, and the protagonist watches as she slowly dissolves into dust.
The protagonist then sets off to the ruins for the final battle, and after defeating more of Edgar’s creations, the protagonist learns that after 3537 days after his return to Earth, (roughly ten years) Edgar’s body had begun to react badly to the dust, and he was unable to process it any longer, and his body had started to break down. Before his death, he created a copy of himself, one that was meant to restore the world in his absence. This copy turned out to be a dysfunctional shadow of the original Edgar though, and could only destroy, rather than create. After finding out the truth about himself, the copy of Edgar, like most of the other illusions, dissolves into dust.
The protagonist walks away from the wreckage of Edgar’s ship, using his powers to bury it in the sand. The game ends with a shot of footprints trailing off into the desert, but with the protagonist nowhere to be seen.
The game supports online play for up to four players, but also has options for system link and split screen play.
Matches play out in the same maps from the single player campaign, with players able to pick a player model and their own custom arsenal. There are a few differing game modes, which include elimination and tag-team elimination style modes. The host can also select a number of rule set variations to these modes as well.
Players can also buy skills from a shop in the Xbox Live menu, and set up trades with other players. In addition to the normal number of skills, two updates were released with added a greater number of rare skills that players could acquire from winning a set number of matches over Xbox Live.
As of April 2007, the game was made backwards compatible for the original Xbox. There are some issues in some of the maps though, which cause a noticeable amount of slowdown in the game.
Since April 15, 2010, the game is no longer playable on Xbox Live, as Microsoft elected to shut down service for the original iteration of Xbox Live.