Phantasy Star Online - Sega Dreamcast
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Description: DailyRadar.com The arrival of one of the most anticipated titles of the past few years seems to be something akin to a gaming epiphany, so to speak. Amid rumor, bad news and confusion, Sega's strange week in the videogame industry spotlight reveals nothing except that this is one company that knows games and gamers, even if everythin DailyRadar.com
The arrival of one of the most anticipated titles of the past few years seems to be something akin to a gaming epiphany, so to speak. Amid rumor, bad news and confusion, Sega's strange week in the videogame industry spotlight reveals nothing except that this is one company that knows games and gamers, even if everything else is up in the air.
What game are we talking about? Phantasy Star Online, of course. With its ambitious goal of taking console gamers to places that only PC players had been previously (online), developer Sonic Team has gloriously succeeded in full 3D -- with vibrant, colorful textures to boot. Taking an obvious page from the premier dungeon-crawling, multiplayer antics of Blizzard's Diablo series, Phantasy Star Online, in fact, more refines a formula than redefines a genre.
While countless previews have hit the web and print magazines outlining its general mechanics and gameplay, for the uninitiated, PSO is a role-playing game that can either be played online or offline. At the outset, you'll choose one character from nine different choices, then customize their costumes, hair, etc. to suit your liking.
Class Wars: The different characters all hail from three different "classes:" Rangers, Forces and Hunters. Each class has its weaknesses and strengths that range from power to weaponry. Forces are magic users with a good ability to gain TP (the term for the usual Magic Points in most RPGs), but are slower to gain hit points with every successive level. Rangers, on the other hand, can be equipped with the heavy artillery and pack much more power than the spell casters. Hunters have a slightly balanced compromise between the other two classes, and can be used for hand-to-hand combat as well as magic.
The balance between the different classes gives players a good choice to suit their preferred fighting style. Though there's definitely room for complexity and variety in character selection that hasn't been fully explored in PSO, the bases are adequately covered. There's just enough disparity in gameplay and strategy between the types to keep you wondering what exactly it would be like to play as a Ranger if you've been using a Force all along.
Alien Resurrection: For those who've read every story about PSO since its announcement, the concern for fans has been whether or not the game remains true to its Phantasy StarAlgol System roots. The answer is mixed, to say the least. Because of its online functions, the chances for a strong, coherent storyline are strained. Because of the number of players and the non-linear structure that is the focus of online gaming, the difference between PSO and, say, Skies of Arcadia is a rather large gap filled with plenty of monster-killing and the odd offhand reference to PS series staples like Dark Falz and Monomates.
At the start, your character is chosen as a hunter to chase down the cause of a giant explosion on Ragol, a planet that your civilization is hoping to inhabit. An earlier crew that had previously been inhabiting the surface of Ragol has now strangely vanished, along with all communication from your ship to theirs. A cool premise, but the actual thread of story within the game is almost pushed off to the side in favor of actual gameplay.
Phantastic Voyage: Prepare for an overload the minute you plunge into an online room filled with PSO-obsessed folk speaking every language (including the long-lost international tongue of "smut") and eager to level up their characters just like you. Navigation and signing up for game is amazingly easy for first-timers, but you'll have to contend with some strangely delayed character rendering and the annoying habit of speech "bubbles" clogging up your screen if there are tons of people in the lobby.
Once you enter a game with as many as three other characters, the fun really begins. The structure of the game is this: Clear a dungeon and gain access to the next one. The more characters you have in your party, the more monsters will inhabit each room of every dungeon. Therefore, the more people in your party, the better chance you have of scoring large amounts of experience points in order to level up your character (which is the basis of any good online RPG). Having more players in your party can also be a brilliant way to swap items and take down big, bad bosses more easily. There's always someone to revive you if you die, as well.
But there's a downside to every group experience, virtual or physical. The distribution of items gained from killing monsters, boss fights or treasure chests are always a source of tension in a low-level group of explorers. Grabbing items to sell or equip sometimes boils down to who gets to them the fastest, but this is also part of the strategy in PSO.
So, what does the offline game mean in any of this? Answer: a few different things. Your offline game is played alone, with you going solo against the exact same monsters in the exact same dungeons as online. But, once you clear a dungeon in the offline game (you'll start the offline game on Normal difficulty), you'll be able to bypass it in an online game of the same difficulty level if you are the leader. Therefore, if you clear the Forest on Normal offline, when you sign on and start a Normal online game, you'll automatically be given access to the next dungeon, the Caves. Also, besides the fun hijinks of online, the real point of PSO is to beef up your character enough to take on all three difficulty levels of the offline quests (Normal, Hard and Very Hard) to receive the game's "real" ending. Not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination.
But the camaraderie of the online quests is plenty good enough to keep gamers enthralled for the long run, if simply for the "Diablo factor" of wanting to get your character to the next level or to find that ridiculously rare item. Plus, you get to dish dirt with all your friends online in different ways.
Chat Boom: Sonic Team has done a commendable job giving gamers all sorts of ways to communicate with one another, be it simple mail, guild cards or universal "translators." While the universal bit doesn't work as smoothly as we'd hoped (it makes gamers scroll through a clumsy network of preset phrases), the effort is definitely there and makes asking someone who doesn't speak English "Where are you from?" easier than breaking out a foreign-language dictionary.
Players are also able to swap Guild Cards, which work like ICQ numbers or business cards. Once you have someone's Guild Card, you can seek them out online, no matter which server they're gaming on. As creepy as it might sound, if you use discretion in who you hand your card to, the feature is a blessing if the server is crowded and you can't seem to find your friend no matter how hard you look.
There's also the inclusion of "simple mail," which allows you to send limited email to a friend online, granted you have their Guild Card on you. The entire chat and communication system in PSO is geared to make each player's online life much, much easier, and even enhances the entire experience. Kudos to Sonic Team.
The Minus Points: Though Sega has pulled off the unthinkable feat of placing a high-quality online RPG on Dreamcast, the project doesn't come off without a few hitches. Yes, PSO does have a lot of slowdown that occurs during big brawls in rooms with loads of beasties and players running around. Yes, there is lag that will really confuse players who see their friends appearing and reappearing at odd locations on the screen. Yes, there are instances of hard crashes and soft crashes that will boot you off the server so you'll have reconnect. Yes, broadband compatibility is officially "unsupported" by Sega. Yes, the game could use more diversity in its dungeon designs and more brain-work in its overly simplistic "step on this switch and have a friend step on the other" puzzles. And finally, yes, this is a dungeon crawler with the emphasis on killing things rather than exploring themes of love, death and loyalty alongside a salty lead character who has more angst and anguish than a typical Final Fantasyhero.
BUT (and it's a big "but") this is a game that's so expertly constructed in its pick up 'n' play controls, mechanics, simple but well-plotted systems and painfully gorgeous graphics (Sonic Team clearly gets something out of the DC that loads of other third parties can't seem to figure out) that it's best to keep your opinions to yourself until you've kicked much alien butt online. Then, make up your mind whether you want to trash the game (probably not) or keep playing so you can test out that Dragon Slayer sword and get your character to level 62. For most gamers, the answer is the latter. With a high addiction factor and groundbreaking console design, this isn't a game that any DC owner should pass up. And it stands as a testament, flaws and all, that Sega, no matter what it decides to do in the future or how it's gonna do it, is delivering the content that will dictate what most gamers will see on other systems for years to come. The Bottom Line: Brilliant. --DailyRadar.com
Phantasy Star Online continues in the tradition of the popular series and is the first world-wide, online role-playing game for a console. The story revolves around the "Pioneer Project", a plan conceived in response to the imminent destruction of the home worlds. Seven years prior, Pioneer 1 was sent to establish a colony on Planet Ragol, including the construction of the Central Dome. As Pioneer 2 is soon to arrive with the main wave of refugees, a gigantic explosion shakes the entire planet, cutting off all communication with the members of Pioneer 1. Players from around the world must now unite via SegaNet to unravel the mystery.
To form parties, the game's People Finder option allows players to locate each other on giant servers. Once inside the Virtual Lobby, players can choose up to three other team members. Language barriers between players are broken down by a communication system featuring universal icon system, pre-set phrases and keyword translations. Players can create their own character by modifying their physical appearance and personality traits. Real-time combat features many of the original weapons and enemies from previous Phantasy Star games. Gamers can play completely online, completely offline or a combination of the two.... (more) (less)
Manufacturer : Sega
Release date : 22 February 2001
Number of discs : 1
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