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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

MMO

 

Publisher

Sega

 

Developer

SONICTEAM

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q2 2003

 

 

- Finally, an online RPG for the Xbox
- Game plays great online with nary a problem or glitch
- Downloadable content resuscitates lifeless single-player gaming

 

 

- $8.95 monthly subscription fee
- Very limited offline gameplay
- Hit-based real-time combat may turn off some gamers
- Only four gamers can play online at once

 

 

Review: Might & Magic VIII (PC)

Review: Deus Ex (PS2)

Review: Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (XB)

 

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Phantasy Star Online:

Episode I & II

Score: 8.1 / 10

 

phantasy star online xbox review          phantasy star online xbox review

 

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

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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

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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 online.

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.

 

phantasy star online xbox review           phantasy star online xbox review


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 intelligence.

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 get near.

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.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(June 1, 2003)

 

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