Watching Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II’s attract mode and listening to its main theme is haunting as it reminds me just how much of an impact the game has had on me. When I began playing the GameCube rerelease of the classic Dreamcast game, I was just developing a burgeoning appreciation for video games. It was a form of escapism – it transported me into a spectacular science-fiction setting where I’d spend hours searching for better gear, rare loot, and just taking in the sights. Its action-based combat and role-playing foundations were not only appealing to me, but what I still consider to be one of the pinnacle’s of video game design. I’ll routinely return to it and I can easily get sucked back in for hours. PSO’s story was light, but I felt as though I truly was a pioneer uncovering the mysteries of a brave new world.
Sega has made plenty of sequels to PSO since its original Japanese release of late 2000, but none of them properly advanced, or even recaptured what made PSO so great. The most notable among them, 2006’s Phantasy Star Universe introduced an honest-to-goodness attempt at a narrative which, in my eyes, fell flat thanks to my low tolerance for the adolescent anime that inspired it. Yet the most incriminating blow against PSU was its decreased emphasis on dungeon-crawling and looting. However, it seems Sega’s losing streak is about to end with the release of Phantasy Star Online 2.
After entering open beta on June 21, 2012, I jumped at the chance to check out PSO2 for myself. Unfortunately for me, the beta is hard to understand because it’s completely in Japanese. Luckily, there are plenty of English-speakers who are rallying together to translate the beta and enjoy it. I have to give massive thanks to bumped.org for assembling many great guides ranging from how to download the beta to complex menu navigation.
Although my time with PSO2 has been brief and I’m usually in a state of confusion, I’ve been able to gleam many things about it thanks to my experience with PSO. Firstly, the game looks amazing. Character designs retain the non-flamboyant sci-fi anime style from PSO while, unfortunately, still housing some over-the-top designs in the vein of those from PSU. The first playable stage, the forest environment (the only I’ve played in) harkens back to PSO’s first stages while marking massive technologic advances since 2000. PSO2 looks phenomenal and it seems like it scales well, accommodating laptops up to high-end gaming PCs.
Combat is still based around rhythmically forming combos. Attacks are sequenced together by timing button presses, generally up to three times. Previously, animation preferences made combat less than fluid, although now it seems sets of three-hit combos can be started much quicker after one ends giving combat a better flow. Enemies can be locked onto ensuring accuracy with specific weapons like guns, but a new camera angle presents the game more like a third-person shooter which may be more appealing to some folks. Also brand new is a jump button which can be used to navigate environments better and reach weak spots on enemies. Loot is indeed present but I can’t provide any detail thanks to the language barrier.
Players still pick from one of three classes; a decision revolving mostly around swords, guns, or magic. However, characters are no longer locked to a class, they can be changed whenever but the character has three levels – one for each class. Character customization is accounted for and it’s as deep as it has ever been.
Spaceships representing servers are the characters’ residences and here humankind thrives. Other players wander about as though they were in a virtual mall, which they are – shops are abound. Of course communication is a major aspect and plenty of players have mastered the art of picture chat. Alone or with a posse, missions can be tackled that, with an understanding of the language, would unravel the mysteries of the game, but as is just provide another obstacle to enjoying the game.
Phantasy Star Online 2 seems very promising to me. As someone who loved PSO, but not much else past that game, I appreciate that the developer’s have that game in their mind. I hope PSO2 is as eminently replayable as PSO was – complete with multiple difficulties, loads of loot, weapon grinding, and character progression. As of now, I can’t fully experience the open beta and understand all of the changes, but the fact that they aren’t straying too far from the original formula is satisfying enough to me. After all, I spent three hundred plus hours with PSO without ever going online.