reviews\ Nov 9, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II - GC - Review

Let’s do some quick math here. I played the original Phantasy Star Online for Dreamcast for a total of 240 hours … that of course equals out to about 10 straight days … if that would have been the case. It’s also about 200 more hours than I have put into just about any other title out, RPG or otherwise, and rightfully so. Anyone who has played SEGA’s originator of console online RPG’s will agree with me that this is one heck of a fun, addictive title that surely won’t disappoint for the majority of players out there.


Now, let me give you a brief rundown for those of you who are new to the world of Phantasy Star on just what all the hype is about. Basically, PSO sends you and a group of hunters down to the surface of the planet Rangol to investigate the disappearance of a colony that had landed and attempted to populate. Your mission consists of moving through four areas, or the new ones found in Episode II, exterminating monsters and collecting data to bring back to the researchers to help them piece together what exactly happened. It sounds simple, but you can honestly sit and play through the levels and the game itself multiple times and never get to see everything that SEGA added in as far as weapons and armor, which is part of what has made PSO so addictive to play and get into.  


The new PSO Episode I and II for Gamecube sends you back to Rangol once more, in all four original areas, just as the first installments did. You select between the three classes … Hunter, Ranger, or Force … depending on whether or not you want to be more of a heavy weapons character, magic user, or a little of both. Once again, SEGA has implemented a plethora of weapons for each class to find, including rare ones same and similar to the ones that people fought so hard to obtain in the DC versions, and no matter how much time you sit and play this one … you’re probably not going to get a chance to see or own them all. There are also 3 new characters (one for each class) to choose from … including a male pure force and a REALLY cool looking female android hunter. The creation mode in PSO hasn’t changed much either, and part of the fun is designing everything on your hunter from face to clothes to hair to the head itself on androids.


Episode II on the GC version of PSO provides not only some different challenges and stages that you haven’t seen yet, but it also provides some neat little things in level design that weren’t found in the previous titles for DC. Some areas have a good mix of blending outdoor and indoor environments together, rather than teleporting from one to the other, which makes it a little more realistic during play. Also, some areas contain a little more of a puzzle or some a maze kind of setup, which will help to prolong gameplay or “Hey, I haven’t seen this yet” reactions. 


Control and gameplay for the Gamecube version of PSO remain similar to the original title as well, including customizable “quick button press” slots for items like health or magic restoring dimates or monofluids, attack strengths, or magic techniques. The three hit combos are still there as well, as are the mags and their special photon attacks. For those of you who may be new to the series … a mag is a little robotic buddy that you have to feed and take care of, and in return it will boost your stats or unleash powerful attacks or life restoring magic when you get hit too many times. Think of a cybernetic Tamagochi with an attitude … and you’re just about there.


Now, the big question that you are probably asking whether you’ve played it or not is “Is it worth the $50 to pick up?” My answer to this is definitely “yes!”, and I’ll tell you why. First off, PSO … while it’s about 1 / 50 the size of other PC MMORPG’s like Everquest or Dark Age of Camelot … is definitely one of the most addictive RPG titles to date that I have played. Going in and completing various missions, beating some really neat and intimidating creatures and bosses, and finding some really neat weapon or armor that not everyone else has is awesome, and it’s something that never really seems to get old … no matter how many times you sit and play the game or the same stage over and over again. The addition of new scenarios, levels, and creatures just adds to the addiction and fun of the GC version overall, and is a definite bonus to what was already there to begin with. Add in the ability to download missions to the GC and play them at your own leisure, and you’ve definitely got a good title here.


Secondly, the ability to get online and meet up with not only people around the world … but to be able to play with and communicate with folks who speak different languages than you is a really cool idea. PSO for GC still has the same language filter that will bring up what you intend to say in your language, but translates it into the other player’s language at the other end. Therefore, you never really feel like you don’t have someone to play with … and I have met some really cool and friendly people online just about every time I have logged on either in the previous titles or in this one as well. The GC version also has the ability to play with up to four players on a split screen mode, so if you have some people in your area who are big PSO fans, but don’t feel like getting online or buying a modem, you can still get together and team up to play cooperatively. This was a MAJOR bonus, and one that I really wished would have been on Dreamcast at the time that I was playing through that.


Since we are talking about online, the Challenge and Battle modes are still found once you enter into the lobby and go to create a game, which can add to the enjoyment as well. For those of you who may not have played them before, the Battle mode is a riot, and acts as more of a four person Deathmatch mode than just an RPG, and pits players against each other to set traps or score the most kills over their opponents. The challenge mode is fun as well, and will actually put you into a predetermined level and lets you and your party see how many areas that you can get through before you get killed. It adds more to the game than just your run of the mill RPG, and will definitely prolong the enjoyment.


Graphically, the game retains the same overall look and presentation that as found in the Dreamcast version, so don’t be expecting any major revolution in the looks department … aside from a much cleaner and bolder look to the environments and characters. The new skins, colors, and characters to choose from do add a little more to the experience overall, and little additions like water effects or an actual shadow under the character (rather than a fuzzy circle) were nice touches and do make it look a little more next – gen than what it was. All of the original song tracks are back for PSO on GC as well, but some new ones have been added in for the new adventures and a couple has been given a little bit of work to make them sound a little fuller. The weapons themselves sound more like laser guns and light sabers now than they did back in the day, and some little add ons like crunching leaves or hollow footsteps were added in to make it sound a little more realistic as well.


Overall, I will definitely say that SEGA has met my expectations and delivered a title that remains just as enjoyable and addictive as it did a couple of years ago. If you’re new to the whole online RPG hype, this is a good one to get and play, and will really give you a lot of gameplay hours and fun in the world of online gaming. The new areas, while not really doing anything new for the series but adding in some new areas and monsters, are a lot of fun and will give you something new to do if you get a little burnt out on the older levels. OK Hunters, I’m off to Rangol once more to look for the colony and kill some nasty creatures. Tha Wiz will catch you all on Vega block 10 … HAPPY HUNTING!!!!!!


Gameplay: 9.0
Everything from movement to customizable weapon and item slots remains the same and is easy to figure out after a couple of times of playingThe targeting color schematic for corresponding buttons is still there as well, and it seems like its a little easier to level up and hit creatures this time around. It’s still challenging, but not quite as frustrating at times as it was in the past. The addictive gameplay is still here as well, even if it is the same levels and stages over and over again at times, and new areas just means more hours sunk into sitting in front of the console.


Graphics: 8.8
While nothing really revolutionary; they do look a little cleaner and a little bolder than the Dreamcast versions did. There were some little things that were done with environmental effects and lighting this time around that just added to the realism more and made it a little more fun to look at while playing. The new environments and new makeover for the online lobby also added into the overall experience as well, and some new environments are quite large and the mix of in and outdoor areas were cool. Still some collision detection and camera issues found in the first version, but nothing that will take away from the overall experience.


Sound: 8.7
I loved the original jazzy, futuristic music from the original title, and all of the original tracks have been made a little more stand - outish and still provide a good background for the stages themselves. There were some new sound effects done in the environments themselves, which added to the realism of the game.


Difficulty: Medium
One thing that I always thought was neat about the original was how you had to start on easy, then work your way up to ultimate by beating the difficulty you were on first. This makes it a little easier to get through, and the GC version retains the same thing. Regardless, it is challenging … and the increasing difficulty will keep it that way.


Concept: 8.8
Alright! PSO on Gamecube! I loved the new characters and new levels, and I can’t wait to see what kind of cool rare weapons can be found later on. The addition of the Episode II was neat and gave me something new to do in the world I have grown so addicted to.


Multiplayer: 9.5
This is where the true enjoyment of PSO comes into play. Playing it offline is fun, but playing it online is an absolute blast. Not to mention the hundreds of people that you can meet and get to know, and the fact that there is always someone who is ready to go out journeying with you. The addition of split screen 2 – 4 players at home is a welcome and needed addition as well, and will allow people who really don’t want to or can’t get online to enjoy multi player action anyway.  


Overall: 9.0
If you have played PSO before, you know why this game is getting a high rating. That fact aside, SEGA really did a good job in preserving all of the fun and enjoyment that made this such a blast on DC and gave us enough new stuff to keep us busy for a while. Oh sure … it’s not as big or open for exploration as EverQuest (Another one of my favorites), but it does prove that it doesn’t have to be … and can be just as addictive and enjoyable for everyone. This is well worth the $50 price tag and the $8.95 monthly online fee. 


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