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Phantasy Star Online Episodes I & II Package Art
 GENRE
  Online Action-RPG
 DEVELOPER
  Sonic Team
 PUBLISHER
  Sega
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1-4
 CONNECTIVITY
  yes
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Phantasy Star Online Episodes I & II

Last year, Sega was sure to hook Nintendo up, in both the literal and figurative sense. In addition to several key titles that helped expand their library in various business quarters, Sega won the uphill battle that indirectly forced Nintendo to release its network adapters. Phantasy Star Online: Episode I&II is Nintendo’s first and only online compatible title. Thus, simple default has permanently rendered the game a milestone of sorts. Of course, there is also much game to be had.

visuals

No game is truly perfect. If such were true, there would probably be no need for sequels. Likewise, every game has its weaker points, whether the flaw be miniscule or gaping. With that said, it is wise to remain relatively undeterred by the following visual critique.

While still a massive upgrade to its predecessors, PSO is and always will be a port. As Sega’s Dreamcast never did quite make it into this generation, the graphics of this Cube version aren’t representative of the system’s inherent capabilities. The engine’s polygons are managed fairly well, despite the muddled, monotonous environments. If one fails to utilize the map, it is easy to get lost in the this typical dungeon-crawling fare. Furthermore, there is no form of shadow casting or special lighting effects. However, the second episode offers a bit more scenic variety, as well as some slightly clearer textures. Nonetheless, motion is fluid, and although a tad sticky, I’ve never experienced true slowdown or anything of that sort. While this is certainly the bare minimum for a game of the current generation, PSO’s other highlights have most players overlook this lacking aspect. You’ll also enjoy watching the FMV’s played while idle on the title screen.

audio

Fairly lacking in its own right, Sega made more of a concerted effort to develop the sounds of their original product than the graphics. Jingles, footsteps, weapon usage, weapon contact, an enemy grunt, an enemy demise, and a musical score represent the noticeable effects. Relatively static, your character doesn’t make any noise of his or her own. There is also no spoken dialogue, although the credits and the opening FMV include lyrical background music.

Speaking of music, the track is theme-fitting for the general mood and overall atmosphere present. You won’t be humming the tunes as you would a Mario or Zelda game, but there are a couple instances when the music changes to produce emotional highs and lows. I enjoyed traversing through the ruins of Episode I as much as I did because of the music playing in the background, which is decisively more catchy and epic than that of the previous levels. Next time around I would like more variety though, since you are stuck in each level for considerable periods of time.

gameplay

Indeed, we’ve reached the most important facet of any game. Does it play well? Does it in fact have game, so to speak? In the case of PSO, the forthcoming “yes” is so resounding that it generally makes up for the software’s other shortcomings.

As a live action RPG, PSO is reminiscent of a Diablo brought into the third dimension. It follows a different path though, in lieu of the shared dungeon-crawling elements. Where as the main game is a quest in Diablo, PSO allows you to skip the quests entirely should you so choose. For starters, here is the heavily condensed version of the situation you are faced with:

Two space stations, Pioneer I and II, stranded amongst the stars, have discovered a new planet on which to settle. Ragol, a rich world teeming with life and resources seems the perfect candidate. Pioneer I is given the go-ahead to proceed and investigate the planet below them. However, some time later Pioneer II receives a distress signal of sorts, which is followed by what appears to be a massive explosion at the location where Pioneer I lay on the surface of Ragol. The military, the government, and mercenary hunters like yourself are all thrust into the mystery. Your various quests reveal new twists and turns, leaving you unsure of whom to trust, yearning to discover the truths behind the disappearance of the Pioneer I colonists. Pioneer II orbits the planet oblivious to the situation beneath them, in a visibly nervous atmosphere of tension and uncertainty.

Basically, through the aforementioned quests (jobs assigned to you by the hunter’s guild) and free roaming through the main game, you learn of new plot hooks, level up your character, build up meseta (money), and collect new items or spells. Though there are specialized rare items, these items are divided into 3 main categories; armor, weapons, and “tools”. Tool items are basically spells, healing items, and items that remedy adverse effects. There are others that enhance the statistics of your character or weapon, too. All of these drop-boxes are left by defeated enemies, found in crates, or purchased at the store.

With a progressive string attack you can get up to a maximum of 3 rounds of hits in at once, although certain items contact the enemy more than once per round. As is the case with any standard RPG, you operate on a system of HP, MP, hit points, luck, and in this instance, accuracy and evasion. Most characters (especially forces) can also cast spells that range from attacks to healing, which may eventually render certain items obsolete. Since you are extremely weak to begin with, the game is incredibly tough at first glance. You’ll have to devise your own “in and out” tactics, so as to never be surrounded and slowly whittle away at enemies until you are strong enough to dive right into the fray. Actions are set to A, B, and X, as are secondary actions, which can be accessed by holding down the ‘R’ button. You live to battle, and you battle to live, and that my friends, is the name of the game in Phantasy Star Online.

multiplayer

Offline multiplayer is limited to the main game, in which you simply go through the available levels. You cannot interact with the environment as you would alone, only able to talk to the medics, bank, and shops. Unfortunately, you cannot engage in quests together either. While still entertaining, you and your partners will have to cooperate in choosing what path to follow and in toggling the map (which appears dead center on the screen) on and off. This multiplayer feature is particularly useful for higher-level players to rush newbies, gaining them experience points and advancing their inventory in swift fashion.

As is the landmark established by the game (and its namesake), the potential to play online is perhaps PSO’s most exciting feature. Players from around the world can cooperatively move about the levels freely, or engage in new quests that are constantly being updated by Sega. For example, Sega added a special Valentine’s Day quest as a treat to the players enrolled on their server. This primarily feeds the addiction of collecting rare items and leveling up one’s character. Sample scenario -- a particular group of level 120+’s may rush a (group of) newbies in exchange for rare items and their following allegiance.

While lacking the same breadth and ambition of MMORPG’s like Everquest, you may actually prefer the routine format established by PSO. Best yet, you can transfer your character from single player and vice versa, making it so that not a moment of play was wasted – that is, unless you forgot to save your game thereafter.

overall

While not quite as easy on the eyes as your average Cube game, Phantasy Star Online abandons exterior features and special effects to deliver an addicting Action/RPG with an intriguing story and noticeable Japanese influences. With so much game printed to this one disc, you truly do get a lot of bang for your buck. Furthermore, since its sequel hits the GameCube this fall, any available copies will shortly be found at affordable budget prices. This lends itself well for people just jumping into the series. PSO also supports both Dolby Pro Logic II and Progressive Scan Mode. You can even download and play unique Sega mini-games while online, such as Chu Chu Rocket and the Saturn classic Nights. So, no matter what genre classification you fall under, this is definitely a recommended purchase.

final score 8.7/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar William Jacques
Staff Profile | Email
"Oh oblivious, naïve Humanity... How ignorant we really are - safe only in our blind "superior" view of the world."


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