My first experience with the Phantasy Star series was Phantasy Star Online for the Sega Dreamcast. It was my first time playing a game over the internet and I was blown away. Since then, I’ve considered myself a fan of the series. That was back around the year 2000, when I was still in high school. There were various re-releases of the game as time went on, and I didn’t play all of them. The game, as good as it was, got old.
It wasn’t until October 24th, 2006 at the very end of the PlayStation 2’s life cycle that I finally got a new Phantasy Star game in the form of Phantasy Star Universe. The game, while it had its good points, turned out to be a disappointment. Because Sega chose not to use the attachable hard drive for the PS2, they were limited to the 8MB of storage on the PS2’s memory card. In order to draw out the game’s life, they restricted access to content on the disc and slowly unlocked it as time went on. This turned off players both old and new, though the game did manage to attain a small fan-base, it did not achieve the level of success fans were hoping for.
With that history in mind, when I first heard about Phantasy Star Online 2, I withheld my excitement in order to avoid the same disappointment I dealt with when PSU came out. It didn’t help when it was revealed the game would be a free-to-play RPG for the PC, nor did it seem a good sign that the game would be coming out the day immediately after the beta ended.
On July 4th, 2012, Sega officially released the anime-style action-RPG Phantasy Star Online 2 in Japan, and up until this point there had been no talk of an international release. So, with some helpful forum posts on a Phantasy Star fan site, I signed up for a Japanese Sega ID and downloaded the client.
Unfortunately, I can’t say exactly how long the download took. A bad storm came through my area and caused a power outage that interrupted the download. Fortunately, the downloader was smart enough to recognize which files it already had an I didn’t have to start all over, but there was a one or two day gap between when it was started, and when it finished.
After getting the game installed, and accepting the ToS on Sega’s Japanese website, I was finally able to pick a Ship (server) and create my character.
Since the first PSO, the series has been known for its wide array of character creation options. These options were expanded upon in PSU, and so to have they been expanded again in PSO2.
You can customize everything. Not just hair and eye color, but the size and position of the eyes, face, nose, ears, arms, legs, and yes, there is now a specific slider for boobs. Perky torpedoes or saggy DDs? You can have either, or anything in between.
All of these sliders used to be one character proportion editor, and while that still exists, it no longer adjusts everything.
You even have the option to choose your underwear, and whether or not you want your character to wear stockings.
There are a crazy number of options to choose from and the character creator itself could fill its own review, so in the interest of time I’ll move on.
To start this section, I should mention that my computer is a three year old custom build running Windows 7 Pro with a Geforce GTX 460, Intel Core 2 Duo @ 3GHz with 4GB of ram.
The default settings have you in windowed mode at 1280×720 resolution. I am running the game at 1920×1200 in full screen. Beyond that I have not touched the graphic settings of the game.
Like its predecessor, PSO2 starts in a lush green forest with winding paths, open areas, and even a stream. In addition, there are some scattered ponds and the weather can vary between bright & sunny and raining. Similar to the transition from Forest 1 to Forest 2 in the first PSO, however, the weather conditions change quickly in PSO2.
I’m fairly pleased with the size of the maps so far. This forest is definitely larger than the original Forest area, but not too large to be overwhelming. One huge difference between the two however, is the large mountain towering in the background of PSO2’s forest. It’s very pretty, and very easy to miss if you don’t stop to look around for a minute.
User Interface (UI)
The UI is very nice and fairly simple. Your Hit Points (HP) and Photon Points (PP) are displayed at the bottom left. The hotbar is in the middle of the screen and is split in two by your currently equipped weapon and attacks. The map is on the top right of the screen and directly underneath it is your current mission’s progress. Finally, on the bottom right is the chatbox. This also displays system messages and stat progression when you level up.
When monsters are around, the one you can lock on to at the moment has an orange reticule over it. If you lock on, three yellow-orange lines will appear around the reticule and your camera will follow the mob.
Much like the first PSO, the music is dynamic and changes from soothing atmospheric melodies to amped up battle themes when monsters literally jump in and attack. This is a very welcome return as PSU did away with dynamic music in favor of a constant soundtrack.
Overall however the music hasn’t made a huge impression on me yet. I do like what I hear but I don’t know if I’ll ever find myself hunting for a soundtrack.
I’ve saved the best for second to last – the gameplay is ultimately what blew me away right out of the gate.
The Just Attack system from PSU Ambition of the Illuminus is back, but in a far superior form. Just Attacks are no longer limited to melee attacks, nor are you limited to a string of 3-6 attacks. Pay attention to the visual and audio cues and you can Just Attack infinitely with melee weapons, guns, or techniques. Yes, techniques can finally benefit from the Just Attack system, and can now be charged for even greater effects in battle.
Don’t feel like timing your hits? No problem! Holding the attack button on a Melee or Gun attack will constantly cycle through either a three-hit combo for melee attacks or a constant barrage of photon bullets for guns.
This improved Just Attack system makes the combat fluid, and extremely fun.
Back in PSU, flying enemies were a huge annoyance because they were often out of reach if you didn’t have a gun. PSO2 solves that with the inclusion of jumping. Now you don’t have to wait for a flying enemy to attack to hit it, just jump and attack. Jumping also solves the frustration of getting past small obstacles. The Forest wasn’t designed with any odd artificial/invisible barriers or chest high walls that it seems like your character should be able to hop right over. Instead you’re surrounded by high walls that box you in and keep you within the map.
So far I’ve used three weapon types: a long cane/staff, a saber with a gun mode, and cards. Attacking with the staff and gunsword are pretty much what you imagine. Though the gun sword is pretty cool, normally holding shift gives you a couple other technique options, but when using the gunsword it changes weapon modes. Sword mode is much like a saber from previous games and gun mode is similar to a rifle.
The cards are the most interesting though. The normal attack throws the cards like projectiles. What makes them really cool is that after you throw one, you can stop it at any time by firing or charging a technique. When you set the technique off, it will activate at the location of the card instead of being fired off from you. This can be used to set up some nasty traps or to use a technique that normally you’d have to get in close for.
Photon Arts are also back and in an interesting way. In PSU, you bought a photon art, and at levels 11 & 21 a new part of a 3 part combo was added. In PSO2, you can either combine different PAs to make your own combos, or set the same PA to all three PA slots on your weapon palette. What’s more interesting, is that if you set three different PAs, you can change which PA is used first in the combo by varying between normal attacks and PAs.
Basically, starting off with a PA will use the first PA in the slot. However, if you do a normal attack first, then do a PA, the PA in the second slot will be used instead. Do two normal attacks then a PA, and the PA in the third slot will be used. After three attacks, the combo resets back to the first slot.
NA > NA > NA > PA1 > PA2 > PA3
NA > PA2 > NA > PA1 > NA > PA3
PA1 > PA2 > PA3
PA1 > NA > PA3
Using Techniques or Photon Arts will drain your PP bar. This will recharge on its own, but using physical attacks will refill your PP bar faster. Mixing melee attacks and Techniques may seem odd at first, but once you get used to it, it’s great fun.
The controls are great. Movement, attacking, accessing your weapon palette or hotbar all work and react as you’d expect. I am using a Logitech RumblePad 2 USB controller and so far I have had no problems with the default controls. Everything is accessible with the controller: up and down on the d-pad let you access your weapon palette while left and right select a hot bar option, which can be activated at any time using what would be LT on a 360 controller and L2 on a PlayStation controller. This is nice, as PSO: Blue Burst did not have this option, and when using a controller, you’d still have to use the keyboard to activate a hot bar item.
Clicking the right thumb stick in puts you into a third-person shooter mode, adding a circular orange reticule to the center of your screen. This is something that was in high demand for Rangers on PSU and it’s a very welcome addition to PSO2.
Here are the less interesting controls:
LB/L1 – Locks onto enemies in battle, outside of battle it brings the camera to your character’s back.
RB/R1 – Is the same as shift, switching gunsword modes or giving you alternate technique options
RT/R2 – Dodges
Select/Back – Brings up the quick menu
Start – Brings up the regular menu (WARNING: THIS DOES NOT PAUSE THE GAME)
B/O – Confirm/Pick up item
A/X – Jump
X/[ ] – Normal Attack
Y/∆ – Photon Art/Technique
So far, I really love this game. It is definitely a worthy successor to PSO at first glance, and it certainly has the potential to be more.
Unfortunately, according to a translated interview from 4gamer.net, it sounds like Sega will bet segregating the community like the did with PSU, giving the US and EU their own servers separate from the Japanese. Later in the interview it was also said that content will not be the same for all regions. This is the same mistake they made with PSU, where the Japanese got events and content not seen on the US/EU servers for six months to a year later, or even not at all. This lead many to believe that Sega of Japan didn’t care about them because they weren’t getting the same experience as their Japanese counterparts.
Regardless of whether or not this is true, SoJ has yet to do anything about the current population of foreign players on the Japanese servers. If you are fortunate enough to know how to read Japanese or clever enough to get by on translations, you can still freely download the client and create a Japanese Sega ID to play the game – and your first character is free.
If you’re up for it, I definitely recommend giving Phantasy Star Online 2 a try.