I loved Phantasy Star on the 8-bit Sega Master System and Phantasy Star II on the Genesis even more. I skipped the rest until Phantasy Star Online caught my eye for the original Xbox, and have been waiting for the Western release of Phantasy Star Online 2 because I never really spent a lot of time with PSO and wanted to give the treatment another go. So far it’s been vaporware where in the West; it’s been live in Southeastern Asia for some time now. Region locking meant that Westerners who’ve been anticipating the game couldn’t even jump onto Asian servers, at least until this past weekend when the lock was mysteriously dropped and folks from all over to the world could connect to the existing game.
The original PS games I played were very much classic console RPGs. PSO was more of an on-rails RPG. Your character and party would navigate hallways — be they indoors or in outdoor “canyons” — fighting monsters as they appeared ahead of you. Sometimes the length of time spent in these hallways was agonizing, as I remember it, with very few opportunities to reach a checkpoint before you had to eat dinner or take a bathroom break or go live the rest of your life or something similar. After a while, the game wore on me, being very much the same thing over and over, more so than what kids complain about in MMOs these days.
The download and patching process for PSO2 didn’t really bode well for an improved experience. It downloaded a launcher. Then downloaded 14GB of game files. Then it downloaded some unusually massive patch. Then it checked for another patch, and found a small one. Then it was ready to go. I started the mission of installing the game somewhere around noon time, returned after work to find it ready to install, and didn’t check on it until 10:30. I had just let it do it’s thing.
The character creation is pretty impressive, with a lot of options to choose for face, hair, eyes, etc. Once you have the basics set, you can tweak the elements individually using a four point graph to push and pull and stretch and squash features to the desired dimensions. Avatars are very cartoon-like, not angling for realism like Final Fantasy XIV or TERA or other Eastern MMOs.
After creating and naming yourself, you’re in for about 20 minutes of cut-scene exposition that finds you, a cadet in the ARK Corps, facing an enemy that wasn’t expected to be there. You have a sidekick who does all the talking, and are eventually joined by Cocky Asian Badass #241. Once you reach the end of the hallway system you’re beamed up to CAB 241’s ship, meet his partner, and are delivered to the social hub. That’s about as far as I got.
The combat is semi-action based. You use the left and right mouse buttons for primary and secondary attacks, and can augment at least the primary attack with the SHIFT key. There are two hotbars present, and you start out with a healing potion, a rez potion, and a “telepipe”, which is for recalling your lost ass, not for smoking from.
I’d say it’s a pretty good system if not for the fact that I’ve been playing Skyforge recently, which is a true ARPG, and the fact that PSO2‘s camera is one of the most frustrating I’ve encountered. Well, that deserves a caveat, because PSO2 is really designed to be played with a controller. Your camera is not a chase-cam, so it can move independent of the avatar. This causes issues because you can get your avatar to face in any direction, including at the camera. The problem is that when you attack, you attack forward from where your avatar is facing, so if you’re facing the camera — like when you evade backwards — you end up shooting…nothing. I learned that the “Q” key is used to lock onto a target, but in the heat of battle figuring out that your “Q” lock is over and you need to re-target sometimes gets a little wonky. As for some of the other systems and design decisions, you don’t get access to inventory or other menus until you reach the social hub, and everything about the tutorial is handled by popup panels. If you’re not in the mood to read, then this game is going to drive you nuts. Thankfully, all of the text and (hard to read) subtitles are in English, although the voice overs are in Japanese.
I guess this would be a great console game with a group of friends who just wanted to kick ass. In some ways, the UI and a few other elements reminded me of Final Fantasy XIV, specifically how the quest system translates to FFXIVs “-leve” system. Granted, I didn’t spend a lot of time with the game — most of it was cut-scenes, and then I ran around the social hub for a bit — but I am getting the feeling that PSO2 hasn’t fallen too far from it’s predecessor’s tree in terms of gameplay and repetition.
Personally, I think I’m going to keep my eggs in the natively translated Skyforge, which does action better and is easier to understand, and makes more “Western Sense” than a game that isn’t currently aimed at a Western audience. I’ll probably boot it up again to give it a fair shake, though. I spent half a day downloading it, and my fondness for the Phantasy Star of old means I owe it that much.