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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Sega

D05-01.jpg (4586 bytes)It was in Steve’s living room, where I had my first encounter with the Phantasy Star epic. I stood there and watched him insert the cartridge into SEGA Master System as he took me through the basic premise of the game. He ran the control while images, menus, battle systems, and dungeons, from the first U.S. console RPG filled the small T.V. sitting on his mother’s coffee table.

P02-01.jpg (4537 bytes)It feels poetic that SEGA was able to produce one final Phantasy Star on its own hardware, bringing the revolution it had helped start to the next level with online game play, and making Phantasy Star Online one of the coolest games on the Dreamcast. It was the promise of this game on the horizon that prompted me to go ahead and purchase the DC when it did its mid-life price drop a few months ago.

P09-01.jpg (4666 bytes)Phantasy Star Online quickly breaks itself from the traditional storyline of the original games and follows a looser strain, appearing to take place after the last game, but this is never set in stone and is left up to ambiguity. If you’re a hard-core Phantasy Star fan then this game will have a hard time competing with your nostalgia; however, some of the elements are there from the old games: organics, technology, some teleportation to other places, hunters, and a seemingly high-tech civilization. Also, much of the items have stayed the same, so if you’re one of the fortunate few you’ll have an easier time learning the specialty names.

T02-01.jpg (4288 bytes)The story unfolds when an explosion occurs after your ship attempts to make contact with Pioneer-1, the first ship sent to the planet. Your character is asked to investigate the cause of the explosion and report back their findings. Needless to say, a pretty loose storyline.

WAKUSEIA.jpg (2727 bytes)One of the first things you’ll need to become familiar with is the completely changed battle-system. Instead of the clean line-up of your characters facing their enemies (I remember the blue-grid style), you’re in real-time combat, both in online and offline mode. As you’ve probably guessed, this can cause some problems, especially if you’re alone, being attacked, and trying to switch to a better weapon. Of course, this is also one of the major attractions. The new system puts a different and pleasant spin on classic RPG battles. Screw the turn-based system, this is an action-RPG.

MAP1_02-01.jpg (4219 bytes)Mostly, the monsters you encounter don’t prove to be too challenging if you progress steadily in your levels either online or offline—it doesn’t matter; rather, they become more redundant and, after a few hours of game play, become predictable regarding where they appear and the actions they perform. Graphically speaking, some of your enemies are stunning and immense and actually quite hard to beat, forcing you to develop a strategy or go online and join a team to complete certain portions.

MAP1_03-01.jpg (4839 bytes)Once you take that plunge into the online world, you’ll be able to team up with players from around the globe and converse with them using either an on-screen keyboard or a physical one. SEGA ensured that there would be no language barriers by building a rather unique real-time translation engine, which makes it easier to organize parties to move through each room. Due to the abundance of monsters in each area, you’re forced to play together as a team. Hopefully, you’ll find some good players, not ones hoping to steal all the treasure from the room while you and the others battle it out.

MAP1_04-01.jpg (4833 bytes)Still the game is enjoyable once you figure out the nitty-gritty of the online community, after you have made friends it is pretty cool to arrange a meeting time, via the Guild cards you’ve hopefully traded with the other players, to do some more questing. This also serves as an avenue for replayability. Instead of playing through with one character, it’s also fun to create characters with different classes to battle through the game—that’s if you can hold multiple saves on your VMU.

MAP1_05-01.jpg (4021 bytes)Much of the game is centered around Guild Quests you’re able to go on in either mode. These quests range from dealing directly with the storyline to doing some type of side-quest for a client to earn a bit of cash. In isolation mode (offline), the quests quickly become repetitive, not with what you’re tasked to do, rather in the areas through which you must perform these tasks. Granted, there are number of them available to you through the game, but this does not negate their inherent weakness when played alone. Quests are earned by completing others, gaining in level, or progressing through the story.

MAP1_06-01.jpg (4547 bytes)And, why the four stars you ask? Aside from the infinitely troublesome aspect of the game’s security, my nostalgia was too great an adversary and won out over this new style of Phantasy Star. I still yearn for the hard-core Phantasy Star story. And there’s absolutely no reason you’re going to convince me of that justifies the fact that if you enter online play with a copy of PSO, nobody else can ever use that copy to create a new online account, and you can’t play it on another DC. So whatever you do, don’t go out, pick up PSO, run over to a friend’s house all stoked to play, load it up, take it online, and then go home for dinner. If you do that, you’ve essentially just bought your friend a copy of PSO. And you can forget trading it in at your local video game store – or buying it used for that matter. It’s especially sad when you think of how PC titles like Everquest, Asheron’s Call, and Ultima, to name a few, don’t have this problem, and that has even spawned a whole industry based around selling existing characters and accounts.

One note to SEGA: don’t wait so long next time to develop another Phantasy Star, oh, and while you’re at it, now that you’re strictly a software development company, why don’t you release a Shining Force sequel(rumored to be in production)? If SEGA continues with the Phantasy Star series, hopefully returning more to its roots, then it could very well become the Final Fantasy killer. Buy this game and let’s wait to see how the next generation of RPGs plays out.

P.S. Feed your MAG often.

Mathew Baldwin

Snapshot

Ups: Online cooperative play; great visuals; good control; cool story; lots of replayability.

Downs: Online security; no re-sell value; nostalgia is pretty powerful around here.

System Reqs:
Sega Dreamcast

 

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