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Phantasy Star Online:
I & II
Score: 8.1 / 10
Since its launch in November 2002, Xbox
Live has hosted a lot of quality titles in practically every genre, with
one notable exception: role-playing games. It’s not exactly like the
Xbox library is filled with a abundance of RPG’s to begin with, so the
release of the excellent sci-fi RPG Phantasy Star Online (PSO) from
Sega, even though it is a near-port of the long-gone Dreamcast versions
and carries a $8.95USD monthly subscription fee, is a welcome addition
to Xbox Live players craving an RPG.
As mentioned above, PSO is pretty much a near-straight port of the two
PSO games (PSO and PSO Version 2) that appeared late in the lifetime of
the Sega Dreamcast through the SegaNet online service. You’re getting
two games for the price of one here, but really the Episode II adventure
is nothing more than an
expansion pack to the original PSO. Still,
if you have to shell out a monthly fee to play a game, its nice to get
as much packed into the package as possible. Add the downloadable
missions that the game provides (to the single-player game), and the
monthly fee becomes a little easier to swallow.
You’re thrust onto Planet Ragol aboard the spaceship Pioneer 2, trying
to discover what
happened to the first expedition that tried to settle the planet. The
sci-fi story is very shallow, with not much purpose other than serving
as just an excuse to partake in planetary RPG adventuring. The game is
tremendously weak as a single-player excursion. There are but a few
missions to take part in, and really all they’re there for is to build
up some rudimentary experience and get you used to navigating around
with PSO’s controls before you start playing online. If PSO was a
single-player only game without any online features, this would be one
of the worst Xbox titles to buy because of its short replay value. But
Xbox Live is where PSO fulfills an Xbox RPG fan’s fantasy for quality
gameplay within an online team-based community setting.
To start playing PSO, you must first create a character, of which most
seem like a cross between a futuristic, Star Wars-universe looking being
and someone who would be perfectly suited for life in a Japanese anime.
Once you bring your PSO creation to life, you then need to obtain a
Hunter’s License that establishes your monthly subscription, the
requirement needed (in addition to an Xbox Live account) to get gaming
Definitely the biggest reason that gamers may give pause when deciding
if PSO is worth buying is the $8.95USD monthly subscription fee (for
your Hunter’s License) it costs to even play PSO. Yeah, I know you get
the first two months free before the charge starts to kick in, but
that’s not much consolation if you decide PSO isn’t your cup of RPG tea
and are stuck with a game that has no real value as an offline
single-player game. However, if you have any interest in RPG gaming as
it has been established in the latter titles in the PSOne/PS2 Final
Fantasy series, then you’ll know what to expect from PSO, and that can
make your buy/not buy decision easier. PSO and its team-based mission
gaming environment has a lot to offer Xbox Livers who are willing to pay
the monthly fee.
Those original Dreamcast PSO games retain their signature look and
gameplay in their Xbox incarnation, with a graphical upgrade. Taking
into consideration was designed with the weaker Dreamcast, it still
turns out to be a rather nice looking production. Plenty of neon and
pastel flavor colors the futuristic world of PSO.
The world of Ragol has you visiting a lot of forests and caves with
plenty of items to find and monsters to fight. As is standard for RPG’s,
your exploring and fighting becomes an expedition of collecting.
Defeating monsters increases your skills and enhances up your character
to stronger levels, a key to becoming a successful hunter.
Gathering all the weapons and money you can carry will help you too.
There are many types of weapons in abandoned storage containers and left
behind by defeated enemies. The most rare and better weaponry you will
want to keep for yourself, but a well-designed bartering system has been
established, so if you want to trade items with other PSO players, you
can. If you can find no other bartering buddies, you can sell the items
in the shops on the Pioneer 2.
Speaking of buddies, you can only have an adventuring party of no more
than four, which is kind of a letdown. I personally was hoping for the
possibility of larger groupings of adventurers, but the game does play
well with the smaller numbered excursions. Playing with others online in
PSO is what makes the game a pleasurable undertaking, but only if you
are able to maintain proximity to your other group members. If you are
separated on different environments of the game’s levels, PSO can become
very lonely indeed. Even though you can still hear on your Xbox Live
headset the chatter of your teammates, you may not be able to find them,
and there are areas of the game where doors can only be opened when each
of the players activates a switch, so if you get lost, some areas of the
game may not be easily reached.
The attack system in PSO is again modeled after many RPG’s, with a
traditional hit/miss variable. If you’re like me, a dabbler in RPG
gaming, you may not enjoy this hit/miss variable gameplay. Battle
sequences occur in a real-time setting, but with the hit/miss
unpredictability included. You could be right next to a creature and hit
him squarely with your weapon, only to be informed that you “missed” the
hit. PSO has a built-in variable calculator that decides if you (or your
enemies for that matter) have inflicted a damaging blow. I personally
don’t like this at all, but it does infuse a certain challenging unknown
into PSO that creates a higher challenge level from PSO’s artificial
In your battle against the enemy minions on Ragol, two techniques are at
your disposal. No matter what technique you use, each attack/weapon is
mapped to a specific button on your controller. You can use the weaponry
like guns and swords with either a safer regular attack, which will
provide more hits than misses, but not at the same damage rate at the
less-accurate heavy attack, which provides heavier damage to enemies.
Also, depending on which type of character you play the game with, you
can learn and utilize techniques that require learning special abilities
such as higher-damaging flame or lightning attacks that are only
available if you have the points to use them.
I should mention the inconsistencies of PSO’s A.I. now. First of all,
most of the creatures ranging from flowery giants to hulking
monstrosities to huge saber-toothed tiger-like beasts, don’t attack at a
fast pace. While they will outnumber you in their assaults, they are
slow movers, giving you time to pop off some damaging blows before they
even reach you. Many of PSO’s adversaries are more powerful than you,
but the A.I. gets dumbed down and provides you with an unfair battle
advantage especially if you are fighting ronin style. If you stay close
to doorways, you can strike out at the enemies with gunfire until they
Once they close the distance gap between them and you, simply walk back
to the doorway. Even though they could literally be at arm’s length,
they will turn around and head the other way once you have entered an
open doorway, giving you a tremendous advantage, because you can keep
throwing gunfire at their back until they turn around and again attempt
to hurt you before you can employ the same exact strategy, although it
will be more time-consuming (but definitely more safe) dispatching all
the opposing enemies.
Communicating in PSO is done through the Xbox Live headset communicator,
and if you have the patience, by typing out a message with the Xbox
controller, either conveying chat through symbol, balloon, and word
select, where you can set up hotkey phrases and symbols to appear in the
game. But the best bet for communication is using the headset. Anyone
used to traditional keyboard communication functioning, have an option
available even though there isn’t an “official” keyboard for the Xbox.
Sega has an offer for an Xbox USB keyboard adapter, which is actually
“free,” for the $6.95USD cost incurred to cover shipping and handling.
Sega was smart to recognize that many RPG gamers prefer using a keyboard
in their adventuring, and the inexpensive cost of the adapter takes some
of the sting out of having to ante up a subscription fee for PSO.
Phantasy Star Online is definitely not an Xbox Live gaming experience
for everybody, although gamers who may be more adjusted to the
traditional Final Fantasy-style RPG hit/miss combat system at the heart
of PSO will enjoy it immensely.