Phantasy Star Online: Review

By: Andrew Penniman
My brother and I initially got Phantasy Star Online around Christmas time in 2002 for the GameCube. When we got home it started a love for the game that still burns as fiercely as it did fourteen years ago (shit I feel old). Even now just thinking about the fun times I had makes me want to hook up my Wii and start a new character from scratch!

PSO was developed by Sonic Team and was originally publish by Sega on the Dreamcast in 2000. PSO also holds the title of the very first console MMORPG ever made. Version 2 was released six months later and with it came a battle mode, a fourth difficulty level, and an increased maximum level to 200. The version my brother and I first got added a second episode with four more areas to explore, essentially doubling the length of the game!
When you start, you are asked to make a character, like most MMO’s. First you choose your class. You can pick a hunter, a class specializing in melee combat and the damage dealers. You can pick a ranger, long ranged masters to chip away monsters HP at a safe distance. Or you could choose a force, your mages of the game and the most variable class. After you choose your class you then have a choice of four characters from each class, making a choice of twelve total characters. Do you choose the HUcast, a hunter android with the highest HP and attack but doesn’t have access to spells but access to traps or do you choose the FOnewm, a fragile force that becomes a devastating powerhouse with no restrictions to your techs(spells)?
You then get to customize your character’s looks including size, face, and other aesthetic choices. Finally, you get to the most important part of your character: it’s name. Your name is important because it determines what your Section Id is. Each character in your name adds to an invisible number, with each character valued differently. When you confirm your name you will be given your Id. Your section Id determines what rare drops you will get, the higher the difficulty the more differences you’ll notice. There are even some drops that can only be attained by only one Section Id.
Now that you’ve created your character you are transported to the main hub of the game, Pioneer 2, where you will meet with the NPC’s. The Principal is your main source of the story and the man you talk to after activating the pillars in each area. Then there is the shop keepers, your bank where you keep your items and currency, the Item Tekker, a nurse, and a Hunters Guild (not to be confused with the class).
The Item Tekker identifies weapons you find that are question marked. These weapons have special effects such as freezing, paralyzing, and even instant death effects. Also, you can get rare weapons identified. The Hunters Guild gives optional missions for you to do, adding multiple hours to your experience.
Now we get to the meat and potatoes of the game: the gameplay. What I find brilliant in this game is its simple gameplay. For weapons you have a three-tier attack that needs to be timed. In this hack and slash game you can’t just spam an attack button, you have to press your button in a rhythm!
There are also three different attack strengths. Normal attacks are fast but weak. Strong attacks do more damage but take longer to swing and miss more often. Finally there are special attacks, these attacks are only available to most rare weapons and weapons that have a prefix to their name. These attacks are like strong attacks but instead of a stronger hit they have special effects, like I mentioned earlier.
Then there are techs and traps. Humans and Newmans (an elf like race) can use techs. There are 19 techs in the game that get stronger by finding tech disks from enemy or box drops. Casts (an android race) have access to three different traps damage, freeze, and paralysis. Their effects are very self explanatory.
For those of you who have not played/heard of PSO you’re probably thinking “This game sounds really basic.” You’re partially right, the game’s fighting is very easy to learn, but when you get to higher difficulties and enemies become more aggressive, you’ll need to switch your strategies frequently. In the ultimate difficulty you’ll be switching weapons every so often, or using different techs depending on what enemy you are facing.
The gameplay is truly the only reason I love this game so much. While I find everything about the game great, especially the beautiful song that plays after you beat Episode I, I have the best memories about playing. Playing side by side with my brother and friend, looking for that rare weapon we’ve been searching for, or just to help another character level up so we can start playing ultimate with a new Section Id.
While Sonic and the Sega Genesis was a big part of my childhood experience with video games, I would consider PSO and the GameCube the most significant part of my adolescence. It is most certainly the game I’ve spent the most time in my video game career in, investing well over 1,000 hours. With that many hours, how could I not write about it for Sci-Fi month?
If you want to play Phantasy Star Online for the GameCube, copies of the game are costly. Some copies sell for $80, a pretty expensive game. You could also find a private server for Blue Burst, which is Episode I & II along with the PC exclusive Episode IV. When I played a private server it was schtserv, but that was years ago and I don’t know how the community is now. However, the community was awesome for me when I was active, the people who ran it all had a love for the game and I wouldn’t be surprised if it still ran well.
Phantasy Star Online is an amazingly fun game with awesome areas, cool enemies, and massive amounts of replay value. Also a game that I revere more than most games I’ve played.