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Phantasy Star Online (Dreamcast) artwork

Phantasy Star Online (Dreamcast) review


"Striking with all the ferocity of a bolt of lightening from the right palm of God, Phantasy Star Online begs the question: ''What the hell happened to Sega?'' "



Striking with all the ferocity of a bolt of lightening from the right palm of God, Phantasy Star Online begs the question: ''What the hell happened to Sega?''

How can the Dreamcast, a system that plays host to Soul Calibur, Shenmue, Grandia II, Skies of Arcadia, Jet Grind Radio, and now PSO as exlcusives, fail?

Shipping days after Sega's announcments, PSO quickly puts to rest the doubts of Sega's viability in the hardware or online gaming fields. Yuji Naka and Sonic Team make a game beyond the comprehension of normal console folk. PSO successfully brings the some 8 million Dreamcast owners worldwide together in the sleek, silver, and stylish Pioneer 2, a self-contained world in the void of space.

PSO's story concerns the establishment of Pioneer 1, a colony on the backwater planet of Ragol. The inhabitants have disappeared, leaving no trace of what happened to them. They leave behind everything- computers, domes, and equippment. The Government says it was because of an explosion, an obvious fallacy, and calls on Hunters everywhere to investigate.

PSO is setup up much like Diablo. The game is in real-time and concerns much tramping about levels, killing enemies, collecting meseta (the currency of the long-running franchise), and leveling up. The game features three class: Hunter, Ranger, and Force, which are then divided into further subsets: Human, Android, and Newman. Male humans can be any of the three classes, but female characters, if you choose to be one, can only be a Hunter or a Force. Newman are limited to only Force, and Androids can only Hunters or Rangers, except for a female Force. Each class of course, as may be expected in an RPG of this kind, has differences. Hunters can use handguns and techniques but are better equipped for hand to hand combat involving daggers, sabers, or swords. Rangers can use techniques and some close combat weapons, but are better geared toward long-ranged weapons; they're the only class that can use rifles and shotguns. Force are, of course, best in techniques, learned through the collections of Disks. They can also uses staffs, clubs, and halberts. Adding to all of this is the ever-intriguing MAG, a little cute--it can be cute--companion that has to be fed. Anitparalyses, Antidotes, Monomate, Monofluid, Moon Atomizers, Star Atomizers, and Soul Atomizers are fed to the MAG with each one increasing Def., Pow., Dex., and Mind. There is an almost inconcievable number of Mags out there, and they're all different in many ways. Feeding your MAG depends on what items you have and what class you are. If you are an Android Ranger or Hunter, for instance, it's best to focus on Def. Pow and Dex. since you are unable to use any sort of technique. If you're a Force it's best to concentrate on Mind. It's not nearly as complex as I paint it to be, and there is a good tutorial that helps. MAGs will evolve to other forms as you go along and depending on what you feed it. MAGs also sport an ability known as a photon blast. Photon Blasts can be used once your MAG's sustains a certain amount of damage. It'll max out at 100 and unload a devastating attack once cued. Blasts also depend on the evolution of your MAG and you retain past attacks when you move up a couple of notches.

PSO is divided into 2 types of modes: offline and online. They both play integral parts in the entire PSO experience.

While it lacks the scope, vision, or strong character types synonomous with the series, the offline mode still provides a lot of gameplay. There are 2 ways to play offline. You can simply progress through the levels: Forest, Cave, Mine, and Ruin, and battle the boss of each collecting items and leveling up, but you can also play out tons of missions provided by the Hunter's Guild in game. Missions consist of tutorials of the game: in-game hunters help you learn the basics of combat or MAGs. Later missions consist of helping the inhabitants of Pioneer 2 find out what happened to their loved ones or helping guide a reporter through the remains of Domes that made up Pioneer 1. Offline missions also allow for access of weapons or MAGs not found online. Gaining the much-talked-about Frying Pan consists of taking on certain missions in a certain order as a Hunter. It's not Grandia II or Skies of Arcadia, but PSO's single player mode is nonetheless enjoyable when compared to Timestalkers and Evolution.

The real meat of the game, the real reason to buy PSO, is the online play. PSO is not an online RPG in the Everquest or Ultima Online vein. It's much more Diablo-ish. Once you pick a character and a server you enter a lobby were there are many other players (or very few depending on the time of day). You can either join a current game or form one with other players. Levels don't randomly generate in PSO. They do, however, change depending on how many players are in the game. This also affects the number of items and enemies in a level. Games have 4 players max, and can be played on three difficulties. PKing has been taken out of PSO, but players can still get their stuff stolen from by others. While PC titles of this style suffer from heavy lag, PSO doesn't seem to have many problems. The game did slow down when the screen gets very busy, but for the most PSO is very stable. A big part of PSO's fun is that, unlike EQ, UO, or Diablo 2, you can play with people the world over. The game sports a fine, though bit clunky, translator that takes preset phrases and translates them into English, French, German, Japanese, or Spanish. It helps when playing with cohorts of mine like MAX (Japanese) or St. Ives (French). Gamers may not run into a lot of problems with foreign players though: the game also features symbol chats and many players I've hacked away with know a bit of English. It's more the experience of playing with other Dreamcast owners online in an involved world than the actual scope of the game, which is rather diminutive, that makes Phantasy Star Online the achievement that it is. On the control side PSO is very easy to pick up and play. X,Y,B, and A buttons are designated to different actions, and you pull down the right trigger and customize further if you have losts of techniques or different items that need to be used.

Visually PSO is the best looking game out right now. Period. The environments are literally amazing and complex and intricate. The game really does put to shame anything on the supposedly bigger and badder PS2 and hints and what could be in store for other platforms once Sega goes 3rd party.

PSO is the latest in a growing number of online titles for a system that does everything other companies only talk about. If Phantasy Star Online is any indication of were Sega is heading and were console gaming will be soon, the future looks bright. It is a game as innovative and complex as it is simple and enjoyable. It's one of those games that single-handedly dignifies the purchase of a Dreamcast. Highly recomended.

Rating: 10/10

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