I will go ahead and admit this: I was addicted to the original for the Dreamcast. And addicted in the way people are addicted to caffeine; more like it got to the point that if my friends wanted to stop by, they would call and if they heard a busy signal they would assume I was home playing Phantasy Star Online using my dial-up, then just come over. I played it fanatically. By today’s standards it was relatively simple, but it was still shockingly addictive and nurtured an obsessive amount of fan loyalty.
So when Sega announced that it was releasing a sequel here in North America (it is already out in Japan), and that the game will be free-to-play, I was intrigued. After seeing it, I am still intrigued, but somewhat surprised as well.
Phantasy Star Online 2 is going to instantly flair the nostalgic centers of brains of gamers that played the original. It actually feels as much like an update as a sequel, but that isn’t a bad thing.
For those that didn’t sacrifice small but significant chunks of their lives at the altar of PSO, the game was a combination of MMORPG and action game. The gameplay was third-person action that leaned toward hack-n-slash. Each character fell into one of three classes: hunters, who were adept at close to mid-range combat; force characters, your mage-like magic users magic; the third were the rangers who were best suited to long range attacks. Each class had had four species to choose from for customization, and each character carried a full assortment of weapons and armor.
The gameplay mapped attacks to one series of buttons while holding down a trigger button brought up other options, including magic that you could then switch out in the menu. It was simple enough, and yet it felt deep. The sequel uses something very similar.
Playing PSO2 was not just reminiscent of PSO because it brought back memories; it was reminiscent because the games are very similar fundamentally. They even share similar music.
The gameplay ofPSO2 offers a few more options, but it is very similar. You have three tiers of weapons and magic you can scroll between with the d-pad. Each new set gives you a new weapon to use and new magic options, and it plays like the original in the way you attack and move. You have a lock on as well, but beyond that the game plays the same. The first boss on display was even the fire dragon that was in the first game as the boss of the forest.
Of course, it looks better graphically speaking and there is now a jump, which may sound like nothing major but fans of the series will appreciate it, even though it means a sacrifice of an attack key.
Oddly there is no voice chat option, which makes it feel even more like the original game as the keyboard communication is key. But that raises the most important question which is still unanswered: what is the social side going to be like for North American users? How will the team hubs work? Will their be a bizarre form of soccer?
The original game was a solid action game, but it featured four areas that could be played through in a few hours, and yet people poured dozens, even hundreds of hours into the game. People came back because of the social aspects, that is what made the game memorable. We can see all the ins and outs of PSO2’s social plans, but until it is live and populated by real players, we can’t know for certain if it comes close to recapturing what made it special. We’ll find out soon enough.
Phantasy Star Online 2, which is out on PC in Japan and coming to North America early next year, will also be released on Android, iOS, and Vita.