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Game Profile
Sonic Team
PLAYERS:   1-4
April 10, 2003
Phantasy Star 0

Phantasy Star 2

Phantasy Star Portable

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

Phantasy Star II

More in this Series
 Written by Ryan Smotherman  on September 08, 2003

Full Review: A world full of annoying 10-year-olds who want you to ?give? them stuff.

Sonic Team's Phantasy Star Online series has had a short, yet prolific career within the gaming world. The very first online role-playing game to ever appear on a console debuted on the Dreamcast way back in 2001 and quickly gobbled up hundred's of thousands of player's free time, as the fairly simplistic gameplay was also some of the most addicting you'll ever come across. From then on the rest is history ? a stand-alone expansion known as Version 2 was released soon thereafter, which unfortunately received a lot of negative attention with the inclusion of a monthly fee, then the we saw Sega's third-party move go into effect as the game was ported over to the Nintendo Gamecube last year, and now, finally, after numerous delays Xbox owners have their own copy of the classic dungeon crawling romp online, but the question remains ? should you buy it?

First off, if you're the type that whines about a monthly fee, then leave now? you still here? Then go! Because, we all know that after the two months of initially signing up to play online you will be charged $8.95 for your monthly Hunter's License fee. Do I think this fee is justified? As of now, no. However, the fee will allow support for various downloadable missions (one available now), seasonal d?cor, and the addition of research to include new, rare items for you to find and use. Asides from the financial aspect of the purchase, another thing you'll want to factor in is whether or not you've played this game before, because while still fun the game is pretty much a retread for veterans of the game. Though getting to experience the game on Xbox Live is bound to spark some interest in more than a few, as well it should.

For the uninitiated, Phantasy Star Online is a spin-off of sorts from one of Sega's most classic and revered franchises that is comprised of 4 different traditional, turn-based RPG's that appeared first on the Master System and finished off on the Genesis (there are also many complications available, such as the one recently released for the GBA). Sadly, the game has very few actual tie-ins with the original four, which has had many old school Sega fans in an uproar ever since it's primary release. Instead of a slower-paced, turn-based role-playing game, PSO focuses more on strait up action rather than strategizing? yet, it will easily occupy more of your time than a traditional RPG ever could (I'm talking about hundreds of hours here).

The premise of the title is rather basic ? starting with the story. A civilization much like our own is forced to abandon their planet and search for an inhabitable one, which is found in one Ragol. Unfortunately, during the move things go awry and a massive explosion rocks Ragol's foundation. This leads to many questions as to what's exactly going on down on the planet below, so naturally you'll be sent down to investigate, all the while kicking mega-ass. Though, those who are unfamiliar with the series don't expect something akin to MMORPGs found on the PC, where thousands of people interact within the same world. Instead, PSO is broken up into a variety of maze-like, monster filled dungeons that climaxes when you reach the sections massive boss character. Included themes are the Forest, Caves, Mines, Temple, and Space Station.

Upon starting the game you'll create your own unique character from one of 12 stock characters to select from (3 new added since the DC days). The characters vary in gender, race, and class, so picking one to fit your playing style and personality is a must. The real biggie here is the class department ? this includes the Hunter, Ranger, and Force. Hunters live for up close and personal melee combat, Rangers usually stand back from a distance and blast everything in sight, while the force character does much the same, but with magic, and they tend to heal, revive, and boost their fellow character's stats with the various spells available. Adding to that, most characters are jack-of-all-trades and can do just about everything to a certain extent. For instance, my favorite the HUmar is an expert with sword-based weapons, yet can also cast various spells and use small guns. The character is also benefited with a good amount of hit points and technical points (these things vary with whichever character you pick as well). Once you've thought carefully and decided on a character to use you're able to modify your character's look in a variety of categories ? from the face, skin and hair color, costume, and body proportion.

Once you have everything situated with your character you can then begin to play the game, and you'll find that there's really 3 different ways to do this ? you can play the single player campaign, play with up to 3 additional players via split-screen, or play with up to 3 different players online. The least appealing of the bunch is no doubt the single player mode, which tends to get boring extremely quickly. This is almost wholly dedicated to completing simple missions that you get from the Hunter's Guild that usually are a bore to play through. The other two modes however are where you'll find all the fun, cause PSO was created to be enjoyed to it's fullest extent with other players to fight along side with.

Phantasy Star Online's gameplay is all about simplicity. Each character is given a standard and heavy attack, where the standard attack doesn't do as much damage as the heavy, but it has a very high percentage of making a hit. When timed correctly these attacks can be used to do a simple three-step combo that does various damage and moves depending on what type of weapon the character is equipped with. Using spells is simple enough ? just equip a spell to a set button and press it to activate. With such simple gameplay what exactly makes PSO so fun and addicting you ask? Well, three things really ? level building, item hunting, and the interaction with other gamers.

Level building and item hunting basically fall into the same ?I can't stop playing cause I want to be a supreme powerhouse? category. The game uses a straightforward experience points system to build levels and increase your stats, and the super rare items means searching for new weapons will never get old. As for social interaction, this Xbox incarnation can't be topped ? can you say voice communicator? Now, instead of taking your hands of the controller to type you can just communicate verbally with other players. This works very well all around, especially when you find yourself in a tight spot, where yelping for help like a little girl usually keeps you alive. Surprisingly the voice communication does have some problems with lag, as well as echoing, but it's not that big a deal and hopefully things will improve as it goes along.

Of course, also making a return is your fellow mag. Mags are little beings that float behind your character and do their best to protect you. When equipped they raise your stats depending on how you've feed them (various power-ups also act as food) and morph into different shapes accordingly. Basically, the better your mag the better you are. They also grant you many different in-game enhancements, such as limited invincibility and the ability to revive you when you fall, not to mention the fact that they can bust out some special attacks when certain specifications are met. Additionally, like items, rare mags are available when raised correctly.

Graphically, don't expect Xbox caliber visuals, or Gamecube ones for that matter. This is more or less just a straight port of the Dreamcast version, complete with pop-up and ugly textures. However, the good ole DC was quite a monster and the visuals still to this day have some impressive qualities to them. Additionally, PSO, with its futuristic theme, unique character design, and overall colorful look, has always been a very atmospheric game. Sound wise, not much has changed from previous versions of the game. The game has no voice acting, but the sound effects and music is top notch and more than gets the job done, all now in 5.1 surround sound no less.

Bottom Line
While veterans of the game won't really find anything too new, those who have yet to experience Phantasy Star Online and have Xbox Live are in for a real treat. The game is just as addictive and wholly enjoyable as ever, and the voice communicator makes interaction with fellow players a breeze. Visually the game is dated and the gameplay is very repetitive, but the addictive nature of the title will probably make you rethink not wanting to pay a monthly fee to play. Then again, for only $40, two months of free play is well worth it if you absolutely refuse to pay to play. In the end though, the game is started to show it's age, which is why it's going to be really interesting to see how the recently announced Episode III: Card Revolution turns out. But for now, just go out and enjoy what the current PSO experience has to offer.

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