You have lost your memory.
Found in a stasis capsule, you were brought deep underground by a group known as Visions. There's nothing left on the surface but wreckage, monsters, and dust...the dust that makes people forget, but can give a chosen few incredible powers. All you have besides the vaguely familiar face in the mirror is the memory of an ancient ruin and the longing to go there. The Visions also have this desire; this one shared dream. Only a mysterious woman who lives on the surface knows what all of it means. Pity she wants you dead.
In the struggle to regain his memory, you as Alpha must become an Esper, one of the few gifted with the ability to manipulate the dust, and gain powers from it. Three hundred and forty powers to be exact, if you manage to collect them all, used in over a hundred single player missions or countless multiplayer bouts, either split screen, system link, or over Xbox Live. If this seems overwhelming, don't panic. The Visions's head instructor Meister will lead you through the ins and outs of this brave new world.
You have four slots corresponding to the four face buttons on the controller. These can be filled with various powers, of either attack, defense, erase, status, special, or environmental. To use a power, just press the corresponding button. Simple, no? Not in the least. Say you have a Flame Sword. It's a melee attack, so in theory all you have to do is walk up to your opponent and slash them. In practice, they'll use their own skills to block it, evade it, erase it, counter it with a faster attack, paralyze you so you can't make the attack, or set up an environment skill that would prevent you from even using it in the first place. Those are only a few of the nearly countless possibilities, which get even more complicated when most matches are two on two.
At the start you'll use a random assortment of skills, but chapter three introduces your new best friend, the arsenal. The arsenal is a case that can hold thirty canisters of concentrated dust, allowing you to pick and chose what skills you bring into battle. Powers are divided into five schools, and initially there's a limit of two schools per case. You won't be able to be picky about what powers you carry in the beginning, but as you progress and earn credit to buy new powers and even new cases from Mac, you'll see your arsenal grow more flexible and deadly. You're going to need it as the missions grow progressively more challenging, especially the monstrous bosses that end each of the game's seven chapters.
Though the greatest trial awaits on Xbox Live, pitting your skills against other humans and their custom made arsenals to boost your rank, earn rare skills, or just to have a blast. While the AI of the Phantom Dust will really push you to refine your arsenal, it still can't match the cunning of a human opponent, who will utilize seemingly worthless skills to leave you dead on the pavement.
Compelling story, deeply engaging gameplay, incredible destructible environments, online play...what more could a gamer ask for? Running around the same underground lair over and over talking to everyone can sometimes be a bit of a hassle, as well as having no quick way of changing arsenals after failing a mission, but these seem too much like nit-picking in the face of everything else, especially the $20 price tag.
So what are you waiting for? The end of the world?