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Phantasy Star Online (Dreamcast) artwork

Phantasy Star Online (Dreamcast) review

"Not only are the textures incredibly smooth and detailed, but the characters are very well animated, and their appearance changes under certain lights, such as turning a realistic orange tint under an orange light, and looking like a disco bouncer when standing under a teleport, with the strobe light effect reflecting on them."

Phantasy Star. Probably one of the greatest old-school RPG's, and one of the best on the Sega Master System, Phantasy Star helped pave the way for one of the greatest genres of video games that we, as gamers, are priveleged to play. And now, over a decade later, we have another giant innovation-- online multi-player RPG's on consoles-- in Phantasy Star Online.

Let me first state that I haven't played any of the previous Phantasy Stars, but I hope to sometime in the near future. But, that doesn't seem to affect my enjoyment of Phantasy Star Online (PSO, as I will call it from now on), as the game does not follow the original storyline, nor does it feature the same characters. In fact, you create your own character!

After one of the greatest opening cinemas I have ever seen (I love that music!), you are brought to the character select screen, where you choose one of nine classes. These classes are broken up into race, and profession. The first profession is the hunter, who specialize in blade-type weapons, such as swords (which are the coolest looking weapons in the game). The three hunters consist of HUmar, HUcast, and HUnewear. Next, are the rangers, who are best at guns. They are RAmar, RAcast, and RAcaseal. Finally, there are the force characters. These guys are pretty much only useful for magic, but at high levels, they kick butt! FOmarl, FOnewm, and FOnewear fit into this category. If you look closely at the names of the characters, you will notice their names preceded by FO, RA, or HU. Obviously, these stand for Force, Ranger, and Hunter. However, you will also notice their names written as mar, cast, or newm (or something along those lines). These represent their races, either human (mar), android (cast), or newman. Now, since there are thousands of PSO players online, it would be very boring if everyone looked the same. Thankfully, Sonic Team included the options to customize your character, choosing a name and changing its looks, costume, and hairstyle, among other things. Very cool! Basically, your character choices are varied, and add a great deal more of enjoyment to the game!

The game's story is mostly told through the traditional dungeon exploration and character interaction, but to fully understand and appreciate the (limited) storyline, you must participate in optional side-quests, where your only reward is money. But, since you learn much of the story, the quests are worth your time and effort. However, should you choose not to take part in these quests, you will most likely not be entertained by the story of PSO. It is boring, to be honest. However, the story is not the main attraction. Keep reading to find out what I mean...

While you can play the game offline, and with much enjoyment, the game is entitled, Phantasy Star Online for a reason. Playing online, communicating with people around the world, working as a team. That's what makes PSO so much fun. Imagine: you're surrounded by a group of Boomas, about to be savagely beaten to a pulp, when your high-level friend runs in to save you, by helping you teach them a lesson, and then casting his wonderful magic on you to restore your HP. Working as a team and helping eachother in times of need are what make this game so fun. I can't stress that enough, really. Also, communicating with other players, by use of typing messages, choosing pre-set messages, or making your own symbol icons. This adds a higher degree of enjoyment to PSO, and can make you laugh, allow you to make a kick-ass battle cry (if that floats your boat...), or, above all, annoy you. However, without a keyboard, this game is not as fun as it could be. I personally have had to spend a long time without a keyboard (I still don't have one, but it's my next purchase, thanks to PSO), and, honestly, it sucks. I've had to make every possible shortcut preset to such phrases as ''Hey,'' or ''LOL,'' as using the built-in ''Software Keyboard'' is pretty much impossible, as it types a super-fast speed of a whopping five words per minute! Wow! Of course, I may be exaggerating (just a little, honest), but it really does take a considerable amount of fun out of the game. More than it should, actually. All in all, the online play is unbelievably fun, and I don't think I will ever tire of it.

Offline is another story. Because to the lack of communication and teamwork, since you go at it alone, the offline mode is just... well, it's just boring, to say the least. However, it is necessary, as it gives your character precious experience points, and sometimes gives you rare items, which is a real treat. Also, in order to use certain levels online, you have to beat the levels that unlock them offline. This is a disappointment, but it makes sense. The offline mode is exactly like the online game, except you play alone, and it is generally less fun, period.

The battle system does not need much evaluation, as it is just a real-time lock-on-targeting system, where you shoot monsters. However, the crosshair comes off of your target too much, and doesn't actually lock on, making killing the beasts harder than it should be. However, this is not a big aspect of the game (well, it's actually the biggest aspect, but it doesn't feel like it), and you'll hardly notice any flaws, though they are there.

The graphics in PSO are amazing, to say the least. Not only are the textures incredibly smooth and detailed, but the characters are very well animated, and their appearance changes under certain lights, such as turning a realistic orange tint under an orange light, and looking like a disco bouncer when standing under a teleport, with the strobe light effect reflecting on them. This adds some great detail to the game, and I personally found it a very nice extra effort by Sonic Team. Overall, PSO is one of the greatest looking games on the Dreamcast, to date.

The sound is spectacular, also. Besides a great track to accompany the opening in particular, the soundtrack in the city and the dungeons adds an extra level of enjoyment to the game, and really lives up to Sonic Team's great standards. Sound effects are okay. Monsters groan when you hit them, and scream when they die. Nothing above-average, but definitely better than some things we've seen on the Dreamcast lately. Overall, some of the best music I've seen on the Dreamcast, and some decent sound effects.

And, finally, a few closing notes. PSO restricts you to one character per VMU, so don't get cocky! Also, if you lay down the $50 for PSO, be sure to lay down another $25 for a keyboard. You're gonna need it! Strangely, the box says ''Jump Pack compatible,'' but I've never even felt a slight rumble. Odd...

In conclusion, Phantasy Star Online is a great game. It deserved the 92 score I gave it. It really did! One of the best games to hit the Dreamcast, no, the whole industry, in a long time! A must-have for any self-respecting Dreamcast owner, and another reason to not miss out on the greatest system to ever hit the shelves!

Knux's avatar
Staff review by Zack M (Date unavailable)

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