Japan: July 6, 2001
North America: September 24, 2001
Europe: March 1, 2002
VMU compatible (45 blocks)
Online Multiplayer (Official servers offline, unofficial alternatives available)
Phantasy Star Online is a game that has become an addiction to many people over the years. While recent titles have been hit or miss, the Dreamcast versions are still spoken of highly. However, the official servers have been offline for years and for most a broadband adaptor is incredibly cost prohibitive and out of the question. This review will take the angle that you will be unable to play the game online.
PSO's gameplay is rather bizarre. The gameplay is almost frustratingly simple; there's a button for a normal attack and a fierce attack; your attacks are difficult to combo together, and they're generally pretty slow. Somehow this isn't a deal breaker and it ends up fun in a way. In this manner, PSO channels classic hack and slash games like Blizzard's Diablo. The gameplay itself is largely unimpressive, but the atmosphere and desire to loot is what draws you in.
Where the online game used cooperation to make it through a dungeon, playing offline you'll experience the game quite differently. There will be a heavy level grind, which isn't ever too exciting. The enemies are never quite so powerful that you're completely helpless, and they never quite give you enough experience that you'll level rapidly. You'll fall into a comfortable pattern of getting a short quest from the Hunter's Guild, exploring the dungeon and looting items, teleporting out when your inventory is full, selling items and then going back to the dungeon. Rinse and repeat.
There's not much of a storyline here. Basically there's some missing people and they were pioneers and you're also pioneers to some distant alien planet and... well, you see how interesting this is. Some of the quests from the Hunter's Guild have intriguing premises which fire up the imagination about what's going on beyond the world that is presented to you. It's this sparking of the imagination that makes sci-fi great in any medium, and PSO somehow manages to have a story even though there isn't much of one given to you. Playing the game offline only, you're exploring a vacant world, attempting to find out what happened to the people before you. The atmosphere is lonely and mysterious, and the game is better for it.
Absolutely beautiful. There's nothing here that's going to give any other 6th generation console games a run for their money, but what is here is incredibly well executed. If there were a game equivalent to the Academy Awards, this game would've swept the visual categories. The game has a bright, bold color scheme which is excellent for portraying PSO's stylized world. The enemy, character and environment designs are fantastic. This being an older game, the areas are considerably smaller, but there is probably more to look at in the main area of Pioneer 2 (the hub ship) than most new games.
You'll be hard pressed to find a better soundtrack than the one in PSO. The music is heavily electronic and fits the visual style perfectly. I've been sitting here staring at this section trying to think of something not so hyperbole filled to write about it, but I can't. You're just going to have to take my word on this that it's excellent and see for yourself.
This is a hard conclusion to make. I can't truly recommend the game in good faith. The offline gameplay is going to be intriguing in its own way for some, and a bore for others. The music and visual style will probably grab most people, but that's not a good enough reason to continue playing a game. I've got to say that this is a try before you buy. Sealed copies are cheap enough on eBay, but it's probably still better to be safe. Playing the game offline, you'll probably fall into a habit of putting it in once or twice a week and doing a bit of grinding.
Wondering about the differences between Ver. 2 and the original? Check this site out.