Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II
- Platforms: Sega Dreamcast (Episode I only), Nintendo Gamecube, Xbox, PC
- Suggested Platform: Gamecube, Xbox, or PC
- Developer: Sonic Team
- Genre: Action MMORPG
- Release Date: 01/29/01 (Original Dreamcast NA Release)
- Why Play It?: The first console-based MMORPG. A lot of fun, and plenty to do.
- Why Skip It?: It takes a while before you start getting the really cool weapons. Sometimes clunky camera. Requires patience and perseverance in the beginning.
Phantasy Star Online was a huge part of my childhood. I was introduced to it back in middle school when a few friends and I used to go to my friend’s basement to play video games, card games, board games, and a lesser version of Dungeons and Dragons. Anyway, one Friday after school, the 4 of us made differing characters and dropped into the world of PSO. And it was SO FUN. Even for us middle school newbies, patrolling around the Forest for an hour or so was immensely fun and I was immediately hooked. I traded in a bunch of my Gamecube games and bought it with my store credit. Little did I know that I would play this game on and off for the next decade and then some.
Phantasy Star Online Episode I’s story is thus: The people of the planet Coral have to leave their home because their planet is dying. They send out a search probe that finds a seemingly habitable planet, Ragol.
So they send the first wave of refugees aboard the space craft Pioneer 1 to begin to settle on Ragol. Seven years later, the main wave of refugees aboard a new spacecraft, Pioneer 2, arrive at Ragol and establish a transmission link with the settlement of Pioneer 1. In this moment, an explosion occurs on Ragol and wipes out everyone from Pioneer 1. With Ragol being deemed unsafe and Pioneer 2 unable to land with the main wave of refugees, Pioneer 2 remains in an orbit around Ragol as you, the player, try to find out what happened to Pioneer 1. The story is told mainly through message capsules as you explore Ragol, so it is kind of non-linear. You could essentially not look at the capsules and be missing out on the story. There are also a plethora of side quests that you can take to help flesh out the overlying story and some character’s backstories. A few characters make a reappearance in Episode II, and each quest has it’s own little story, so they are all worth playing and checking out.
Phantasy Star Online is an action RPG at heart. You’ll hack and slash, run and gun or wield spells (depending on which character you choose and freely customize) through legions of enemies as you level up, get stronger, and find new and better equipment. The combat is almost turn based. You get a three hit combo (sometimes more, depending on the weapon, but you’ll only use your attack button thrice in each combo) that you can make up of your own combination of weak but accurate attacks, strong but inaccurate attacks that push enemies back, or special attacks, which are very inaccurate but often have unique qualities.
After your combo, you’ll have a brief moment before you can continue attacking. Therefore, if you can keep an enemy out of reach, you can often finish them off before they can even damage you. Because of this, the battle system is not exactly pick-up-and-play; You can’t just mash your way to victory.
In Phantasy Star Online Episode I, you’ll work your way through 4 unique (and somewhat randomly generated) areas and face 4 bosses. Episode I also has the majority of the quests, so you’ll spend a lot of your time in Episode I. Episode II has more areas than Episode I, and is considerably harder, so don’t bother starting at Episode II unless you want to have a really tough time. I have not yet played Episode IV on PC yet (more info on that below), so I can’t really speak too much about that, but from what I understand, you don’t want to start there either. After you complete Episode I, you can start playing on the harder difficulties, amping up the challenge, and also the drops.
There is a lot to do in PSO. There are plenty of RARE armor and weapons to find and quests to complete. Some quests you may want to play through several times to receive special weapons or armor. There is even an almost mini game-like (but very necessary) Tamagotchi creature that you can feed and will actually boost your stats and let you execute powerful Photon Blasts (which are kind of like Limit Breaks). The music is typically orchestra style, so it’s very pretty. One playthrough will not give you everything there is to experience in PSO. The amount of replayability here is crazy.
The main gripes I hear about PSO are: the combo system, the camera, and the length of time it takes to fully enjoy it. You can’t really enjoy PSO without getting a hang for the combo system, which is why I addressed it briefly above. The camera is only movable by centering it behind you; you can’t move it freely. While I’ve never really had a problem with it, playing the first boss battle with splitscreen can certainly be annoying. Lastly, it’s an MMO. You often need to play a long time and get lucky with the RNG (Random Number Generator) to really get some cool weapons and armor. That’s just the way things are.
Like I stated in the quick facts above, Phantasy Star Online was the first console-based MMORPG (that’s Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game for the initiated) on the Dreamcast. It’s popularity spawned a release on both Gamecube and Xbox that added a whole second story (Episode II) and eventually a PC release consisting of Episodes I, II and a new one, IV (Episode III ended up being a Gamecube-only strategy card game. Fun for fans, but I wouldn’t suggest it as your jumping in point to PSO).
Phantasy Star Universe came afterwards on the Xbox 360, but seemed to be ultimately over-looked (and not really liked by fans). Lastly, and most recently, Phantasy Star Online 2 came out, but that’s only in Japan; although there are workarounds and some translation patches and whatnot.
The best way to play PSO is debatable. There are a number of free servers that are still active and much more easily accessible to PC players. PC is the only version with Episode IV, has the option of the highest quality graphics, and many servers run events, extra quests, and whatnot, much to the interest to both veteran and newbie players. The Gamecube and Xbox version are nearly identical, except the Xbox has quicker load times and sharper graphics. That being said, even though Xbox Live on the original Xbox is no longer “live”, you must have an Xbox Live account to even play offline. If you have your old Gamertag saved on your Xbox, this is no issue, however. The advantage to playing on one of the consoles instead of the PC? Splitscreen multiplayer. There is one more important note. When PSO was released on the Xbox and Gamecube, the Gamecube got more sales than the Xbox. This resulted in Phantasy Star Online Episodes I and II Plus to come out only on Gamecube. This fixed some bugs (like item duplication) and included some of the quests that could only be accessed by downloading them from the internet. Lastly, either Gamecube version had a special Chao Garden Mini-Game that you could unlock and download if you have a Gameboy Advance (or SP) and the associated link cable. You could then transfer your Chao over to your Chao Garden in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. Therefore, depending on your wants and needs, your favorite platform for PSO may vary.
Phantasy Star Online holds a very special place in my heart, and although it’s kind of a cult classic and definitely has its flaws, I’ll probably be playing this game until I can no longer hold a controller.