Phantasy Star Online
Mindless, repetitive, pointless story line...yet this action-RPG has managed to keep me enthralled for tripledigit hours’ worth of gameplay through four versions now. Am I insane? Perhaps, but PSO fills that intrinsic gamer need to level up characters and find better and rarer items. It does this particularly well because of its sick graphics and cooperative online format (as with deathmatch shooters, it’s so easy to get hooked when playing with friends). Just be warned that this addiction doesn’t come cheap: You have to pony up the bucks for the game, Xbox Live, and a monthly fee (although in true drug-dealer style, Microsoft will give you the first two months free). It’s worth it—as opposed to previous PSOs, you can voice chat here, which improves cooperative play tenfold. Once you get used to the slight lag, you’ll never want to Phantasize with one hand on the keyboard again. If you won't be going online, pass on PSO; splitscreen (with bad camera angles and an incomplete interface) and single-player don’t offer the same buzz.
After logging a ton of hours in three prior versions, you’d think I’d be sick of clearing Ragol’s picturesque forests of Rappies by now. But like the other guys, I find PSO so addictive and fun to play that I just can’t say no—and this Xbox incarnation is the best yet. Being able to use voice chat instead of stop-and-go typing improves gameplay so much that I require all future online RPGs to offer mic support. PSO is precisely the killer app Xbox Live needed. See you online!
To paraphrase Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out of PSO, it pulls me back in!' With so many ways to customize and improve your character (gain levels; find new armor, weapons, and spells; boost your Mag robot side-kick), this wildly addictive game is once again keeping me up all night—even two years after I first started playing it. Gripes? I have a few: Some graphics still pop into view, and the camera in splitscreen is atrocious. Still, voice chat makes this, by far, the best version of an already amazing experience.
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After years of searching, a new homeworld has been found. Ragol, a lush verdant world, is ripe for colonization and ready to receive the many in need of a new homeworld. Pioneer 1, a massive ship bearing 30,000 colonists, was launched to begin colonization, to be followed by Pioneer 2 shortly after the colony was established. All went according to plan and the colony thrived, establishing the central dome on one of the largest continents. Pioneer 2 arrived seven years later, with an additional 30,000 colonists, and moved into upper orbit around Ragol.
Suddenly, as Pioneer 2 opened a communications link with the Central Dome, a gigantic explosion rocked the entire planet, apparently destroying the colony. Frantic and demanding answers, the leaders of Pioneer 2 dispatched the Hunters, soldiers in the Pioneer's futuristic army, transporting them down to the planet. The Hunters form the core of Pioneer's fighting force, organized into three general groups: Hunters, Rangers, and Forces.
You take the role of one of these brave Hunters, looking for answers on a world destroyed by cataclysm. Phantasy Star Online (PSO) is a console based RPG unlike any other. As you adventure across the face of Ragol, you'll fight evil, battle monsters, and solve the mystery of the Pioneer 1, all while playing in a world with hundreds, perhaps thousands of other players. Phantasy Star Online is a fully online capable console RPG, allowing you to fight with a team of three other players, in a persistent world with a large population.
As a sequel to the original Phantasy Star series produced by Sega, Phantasy Star Online is well on its way to becoming a classic, well worth purchasing for any Dreamcast game collection.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Phantasy Star Online is a traditional RPG in most respects. You're given the choice of nine different character types to use, each a combination of the three races (Human, Newman, or Android) and the three classes (Hunter, Ranger, or Force). The HUcast is a Hunter Android, a strong and able fighter, but completely devoid of the magic potential of the other characters. The RAmar is a Human Ranger who wields powerful firearms and has a moderate amount of magical potential with plenty of room for growth. The FOnewear is a Newman Force, who wields strong magics to destroy the enemy, possessing a Force technique that no Android can ever learn.
After choosing your character type, you're given leave to change the color scheme and outfit style of your character, to better individualize it. Once you've got the character you want, even down to the style of hair and body proportions, you'll name it and be given a Section ID, a simple identification system that determines how your robotic sidekick, the Mag, evolves. The Mags are an interesting part of the game, but more on those later.
Once you've finished creating your character, you're put straight into the game, receiving orders from Principle Tyrell, the leader of Pioneer 2. Charged with the task of finding out what destroyed the central dome, you're sent to the lobby to purchase gear, receive specific mission orders, and to eventually transport down to the surface of the planet. This is where you'll spend all of your pre- and post-mission time, buying new weaponry and armor, receiving quests from the Hunter's guild, and eventually using the transporter to visit Ragol itself.
After receiving your first quest, you'll transport down and start battling the monsters of Ragol. Combat is extremely simple and easy to perform, yet difficult to master. You're able to use three of your four Dreamcast controller buttons for the different items and attacks you can use, and each button is programmable with the in-game menu, allowing you to choose between every attack, technique, or item you've got access to. As you progress through the game, you'll raise in levels, gain better equipment, and fight stronger monsters.
The only drawback to the gameplay in PSO is the lack of a detailed story. Almost as an afterthought, PSO's storyline is told through a series of talk bubbles (no voice acting in this game), that detail the different events of the game. This story is relatively weak, especially the ending, but PSO was designed more for the multiplayer experience anyway.
This is the true shining point of Phantasy Star Online, the feature for which it was designed: multiplayer online play. Using the built-in Dreamcast modem, PSO allows you to connect to Sega Net or your local internet service provider and play against hundreds of online players over the world. With eight servers currently operating in the US alone, Sega has planned well for the success of this title and, even with the recent Dreamcast announcement from Sega, the success of Sega Net should keep these servers running for a very long time.
Connecting is easy -- just attach your Dreamcast to the phone line, use your Web Browser disk to make sure the modem is setup properly and then start up Phantasy Star Online. When you're starting your character, just choose Online Play, let it connect to the server, and you're ready to go. The first thing you'll see is the lobby. Each lobby has ten different levels, where you can chat with other players, join a team of players, or create a team of your own. You're able to communicate with other players through the use of your keyboard or controller, although the keyboard is the preferred device in this instance. Also included are a series of over 200 different symbols meant to facilitate communication between the five different languages Phantasy Star Online was designed for: English, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese.
Once you've started communicating, you'll be able to start fighting in groups of up to four. With several different areas of the game to explore and a wealth of creatures, items, and bosses to encounter and collect, you've got days worth of replayability.
While not the most graphically intense game ever created for the Dreamcast, Phantasy Star Online still uses the hardware to its utmost advantage. Each portion of the game is rendered with high quality textures and graphics that are a joy to look upon.
Although it isn't as nice to look at as something like Soul Calibur, PSO uses the graphics of the Dreamcast exactly the way it needed to, providing excellent backdrops, detailed character design, and strange, unique enemies. The only thing I would've liked to see more are sweeping, expansive views of the planet, such as the view of a large valley one could expect to see while standing on a mountain.
Phantasy Star Online uses a minimal amount of sound effects and no voice acting. While normally this would be a large drawback, PSO is meant for a large, multi-lingual multiplayer audience and, in this case, designing the game to streamline communication and gameplay works well. Unfortunately, along with the sound effects, PSO also lacks a driving soundtrack. Somewhat boring and dry, there is nothing about the sound in PSO that you'd lose by muting your television. And given the long play sessions and occasional need for good listening material, you may just want to consider muting the game and putting a CD on instead.
Reading about PSO in the manual and actually playing PSO are two very different things. First of all, the manual can answer nearly any question you've got and it fully prepares you for actually playing the game. It's a good idea to read through it at least once, just for the sheer amount of information it can provide, but don't worry if you just want to skip it. I say this because Phantasy Star Online has one of the easiest learning curves I've ever seen in a RPG. Simple, direct, and easy to handle, building and customizing your character isn't difficult, and taking it into combat is even easier. That said, although PSO is easy to learn, it is difficult to master and will present a good challenge for the most hardened player.
Originality / Cool Features
When your character is created, you're automatically given this little thing called a Mag. A little floating robot, it sits over your shoulder, not doing much at first. It raises in levels much as you do, but instead of fighting, you feed it items instead. After it raises to a certain level, it will evolve, changing shape and gaining an ability called a Photon Blast. The Photon Blast is a powerful attack the Mag must charge up to use and it will charge up as you're damaged in combat. Eventually, your Mag becomes a large, weapon-like robot that continually floats above your shoulder, charging you up with spells in combat and using Photon Blasts to defend you. Also, you'll be happy to know that the designers of PSO have gone to great lengths to eliminate cheating, a rampant problem in some online RPGs. Although there have been accounts of cheats that allow certain foreign versions of PSO to have characters that can hit other characters, you aren't able to be killed in this way, rendering this cheat useless.
Although slightly weak on story, Phantasy Star Online presents an incredibly immersive, detailed multiplayer experience, one worth playing over and over again. Seemingly mimicking the same gameplay ideals that made games like Diablo so popular for online play, PSO is going to carve its way into being one of the best Dreamcast games ever made. Although its ideas are a distilled version of many games that have come before, it does its job better than any other console game I've ever played.
Long ago, in the days of the Dreamcast, there came a game to be remembered. Its graphics weren't great, it had background music with no speech, and sadly, like most RPGs, it lacked a good plot. However, what it did offer was the chance to play at home or online with up to four people in one game, running around smacking the living crap out of the bad guys. Phantasy Star Online, which was later re-released as PSO Version 2 (adding new items and fixing some bugs), gave you the chance to play a character in a multiplayer sci-fi adventure.
I'll start by saying how happy I am that this game is on the Gamecube. First, since the Gamecube is still being produced, I'm playing PSO on a system that's actually supported. I'm happy that the Dreamcast isn't dead, but it's definitely past its heyday. Second, there are loads of new items for your character to collect, and the whole game has been rebalanced for a slightly quicker, more fun gameplay experience. Third, there are three new characters to choose from, along with a whole new storyline to play through. Knowing how short the first one was, I'm glad to see new material, especially in a re-release.
Speaking from an audio/visual standpoint, the game is the same as it ever was, with a few new creatures and new items. As before, the multiplayer is awesome, and not only can you play a story, challenge, or battle mode game, and this time you can easily swap characters from memory card to memory card. The only real flaw that I saw is the tendency for lag to creep in during a four person game, as the Gamecube does get a little stressed by the amount of processing required.
All in all, PSO was a great game when I reviewed it for the Dreamcast, and with the added elements for this Gamecube release, it's a good game again.
XBOX owners have been eagerly awaiting their first online RPG. With the arrival of Sega's Phantasy Star Online I & II, we finally have it, but is it game enough to satisfy our RPG craving?
PSO I&II just grows on you. My initial experience playing was less than wonderful, but I trudged onward and began to appreciate this game that has inspired such a loyal following over the years. PSO I&II will not impress you with its graphics. While they are acceptable, they really are sub par for the XBOX. Other elements of gameplay are likely to frustrate you as well, such as:
- Auto aiming, which works well 80% of the time, but will struggle to target a box that is touching you.
- Repetitive levels and creatures.
- Seemingly unending re-spawn areas that are required to be cleared before progressing. One area re-spawned over 6 times!
- Game logic that prevents creatures from leaving their area. This leads you to a re-occurring pattern of entering an area, shooting everything moving, until the creatures are next to you, then existing before they can hit you.
In spite of these issues, there are reasons to rejoice that we finally have PSO I&II on the XBOX. The primary reason is that there is a lot of gaming wrapped up in this package. Not only are the old PSO versions 1 & 2 included as Episode I, but you also get Episode II, which contains a completely new full length game. If that wasn't enough, add on brand spanking new download content for additional missions. If quantity is your bar of measurement, then PSO I & II will have you as giddy as a compulsive eater at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
This game, unlike many RPGs, is kept simple. A brief scan of the instruction guide and you're off. You get to choose from a variety of character classes and models to personalize your character. You can opt to play offline or online'either mode is easy to set up. You can also take your offline characters and use them online after they have gained a bit of experience. While the offline experience is solid, allowing you to play with up to 4 of your friends, it all gets better online. What's not to love about using the XBOX Live communicator to coordinate attacks or just to hear your buddy scream?
There are little things that enhanced the game play, like the ability to create a portal, allowing you to warp back to town dump supplies and return to your previous location is awesome. The banking system is another great idea. Instead of littering your city with discarded weapons and items, a la Diablo, you can deposit them in the bank, along with your money for future use. Lastly, I appreciated the ease of getting online and teaming up with other adventures.
As much as this game has grown on me, there were enough issues that I can only give it a Fans Only rating. If you are into this style of online RPG and are looking for a game that can consume an abundance of free time, PSO I&II is definitely it.
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