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Why Phantasy Star Online 2 Should be on your Radar

28. March, 2012Tags: MMO Blog, Phantasy Star 2

Phantasy Star 2I’m going to take a few seconds this week to rant about Phantasy Star Online 2. It might not be entirely unbiased, there may be occasional fan-girl squealing that wouldn’t be completely amiss at a Gackt concert and you should probably expect the occasional unpunctuated sentence as I type in a generally excited manner. Before today, I was mildly excited for Phantasy Star Online 2, it was going to be a game worth watching and, on top of that, the Vita release meant that I’d definitely end up playing it, even if just to check out the cross-platform play. Then I found out that it was going to be free-to-play and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was the game that had the potential of making the MMO mainstream.

 

 

We’ve been in this situation before. When the original Phantasy Star Online came out for the Dreamcast, it was completely unheard of. An MMO on a console, even the internet on a console, was something people still hadn’t entirely gotten used to. In Europe there was no subscription fee but in Japan people happily paid to take on missions with their friends and hit big monsters with flashy weaponry. It was the future, I remember reading about it for months and then realizing that, like much of what the Dreamcast offered, it was so far ahead of its time that I wouldn’t actually be able to play online for long before the internet imploded and I was left with an error message. I never did get to hook it up to the internet.

As it happens, I think the vast majority of people viewed Phantasy Star Online as the first single player MMO. It gave non-PC gamers a taste of things to come, despite not actually being able to connect and play via the internet. Accepting missions, levelling up, acquiring bigger and better weapons; all the main ingredients were there but SEGA had just pushed a little bit too far for the average person to be able to follow them all the way. What would have been a widely loved game if released five or six years later, as broadband internet became more common, instead pushed boundaries but failed to leave a mark on the mainstream market.

Phantasy Star Online 2

That’s not to say that the games weren’t successful. Of course, they were, successful enough to warrant Ver.2 for the Dreamcast, a Gamecube and Xbox port, a PC port and further expansions in the shapes of Episode 3 and 4. People were playing, although I’ve been unable to find exact numbers, and not only playing but enjoying playing. Asides from the fact that it was apparently fairly easy to modify your save (everything, even online data, was saved locally) and there were those who took advantage of that fact, it seems that generally people had a pretty good time. From what I remember of the single player, things were a little dry.

You’d be sent to levels in which you had a certain mission, say finding an item. You’d run through the level, killing everything in your path and getting through to that item. The mission would end and you’d go back to the hub. Perhaps your next mission would be finding a different item, at which point you’d be sent down to the same map and be forced to fight the same enemies in the same places, only this time you’d be able to explore a little more of the level. Repeat this multiple times and with multiple quests, sometimes with NPC characters and you have Phantasy Star Online in a nutshell.

But here’s the thing, if you go and take a look at the Let’s Play on Youtube – there’s a 66 part series on there dedicated to this game, look up MrPuck85 – you’ll feel such a wave of nostalgia rush over you. Every sound, every character, every map – it seems like it should have been a much bigger deal than it ended up being. It’s been almost 12 years since Phantasy Star Online hit stores and a proper sequel is well overdue.

So the announcement that SEGA are indeed working on a sequel is pretty big news for any Dreamcast supporter who liked the look of Phantasy Star Online at the time but never got a chance to fully see what it was capable of. We’re adults now; we have superfast fibre internet and PlayStation Vita consoles that can outperform the Dreamcast despite being a portion of the size. Why do I believe that Phantasy Star Online is going to be a big deal for gamers everywhere? Because SEGA seem to be getting everything right, every step of the way.

It’ll be free-to-play, available for absolutely no cost on PC, Vita and Smartphones. That’s probably enough reason to give it a go, but on top of that it’ll also support the ability to play with people on other platforms. While DC universe Online made the mistake of charging a subscription from the get go and missed out on enticing people from the beginning, Phantasy Star Online 2 will take advantage of people’s curiosity. It helps, of course, that it seems like it’s going to be a pretty decent game as well. With that said, it’s early days and there’s still every reason to believe that it could end up not nearly being as good as it could be.

With the PC release not a million miles away, the biggest “seller” is the Vita/PC compatibility. You probably won’t see this PC/Vita compatibility for over a year. This won’t be a problem, you can download and play at your PC for free. This will only become an issue if the PC version of the game ends up failing to capture the imagination of the masses. Where will be the allure of cross-platform play if, when the game launches on the Vita, nobody is playing on the PC? On top of that, there’s the risk that SEGA will try too hard to keep the key features of the original games alive and, in itself, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But the genre has evolved and, in some areas, become stale again. It’s important to push something new while retaining everything that made the original game good. That’s a tall order, what made the original game good is very objective and if we’ve discovered anything this generation it’s that eastern gamers and western gamers are looking for different things to keep them busy.

I’m excited for Phantasy Star Online 2, perhaps more so than I should be. Being of the generation that loved the idea of MMOs but couldn’t always get my parents to support my interest financially, this is one of those games that made my imagination run wild when I was ten or eleven, and so playing a working, updated version ready for my modern-gamer needs and without the hassle of getting into private servers is like a dream come true. Will I be disappointed? Probably, but for now what’s important is that it’s looking incredible and, should SEGA continue to hit all the right notes, we’re going to have an MMO for the ages.

What do you think?


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