Phantasy Star Online

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Phantasy Star Online
Phantasy Star Online Dreamcast boxart
North American Dreamcast cover art
Developer(s) Sonic Team
Publisher(s) Sega
Director(s) Takao Miyoshi
Producer(s) Yuji Naka
Artist(s) Satoshi Sakai
Composer(s) Hideaki Kobayashi
Fumie Kumatani
Series Phantasy Star
Platform(s) Dreamcast, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo GameCube (PSO Ep I&II), Xbox (PSO Ep I&II)
Release date(s) Sega Dreamcast
Phantasy Star Online
  • JP December 21, 2000
  • NA January 29, 2001
  • EU February 23, 2001
Phantasy Star Online Ver 2
  • JP June 7, 2001
  • NA September 24, 2001
  • EU March 1, 2002
Genre(s) Action-RPG,
Massively multiplayer online role-playing game
Mode(s) Single player, multiplayer
Distribution GD-ROM, CD-ROM, DVD, GameCube Optical Disc

Phantasy Star Online (Japanese: ファンタシースターオンライン Hepburn: Fantashī sutā Onrain ?) is a series of video games released by Sega. It is a subset of Sega's Phantasy Star series of games that began in 1987.

The PSO series began with the release of Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast in 2000, and was followed in 2001 by Phantasy Star Online ver. 2, also initially released for the Dreamcast and later ported to Microsoft Windows. In 2002, Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II was released for the Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft Xbox. Subsequently, Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution was released for the GameCube in 2003, using gameplay mechanics that were different from the preceding titles. Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst, a port of the Xbox version of Episode I & II with the addition of a new Episode IV, was released for Microsoft Windows in 2004 through digital distribution. Phantasy Star Online 2 was released in Japan for Windows in July 2012, and released for the PlayStation Vita in late 2012 and is due to be released for the iOS and Android in 2013.

With the exception of Episode III, the PSO games are hack and slash role-playing games in which the player slays monsters, levels up, buys new equipment, etc. The PSO games differ from earlier Phantasy Star titles by offering a real-time – rather than turn-based – approach to combat, seamlessly integrating this with exploration and plot developments.

Development[edit]

Development of Phantasy Star Online began after the completion of Sonic Adventure.[1] At the time, the chairman of Sega, Isao Okawa had a strong belief that internet gaming would come to be important, declaring the year 2000 as "the year of the network game." Though internet gaming had become popular through PC gaming on computers, it had not yet become popular on consoles or in Japan. In order to accomplish this goal of creating an online game, Okawa tasked Sonic Team with the creation of a game focused on network play.[2]

After the development of Sonic Adventure, Sonic Team had divided to focus on three separate projects,[2] but were brought back together in San Francisco, California,[1] in order to focus on the new online game. Developed under the name Third World, Sonic Team art director Satoshi Sakai desired to create a game with both science fiction and fantasy elements, with 3D graphics designed with a realistic theme. While creating concept art for the game, Sakai drew a dragon and showed it to Yuji Naka, the director of Sonic Team, who connected the image with the Phantasy Star series of games that had been released for the Sega Genesis. This led to the project being retitled Phantasy Star Online.[2] As there was no precedent for online gaming on console, the developers looked to Blizzard's PC role-playing game Diablo for inspiration on the game's mechanics. Design of the game was left to Sakai and his art team, who were free to design the game's artwork and style as they wished, since the game's 3D graphics were new to the series and most of the staff from the game design of Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium had already left Sega by the time of development.[2]

With a development time of two years,[1] Phantasy Star Online was released on the Dreamcast on December 21, 2000, in Japan. It was later released in North America on January 31, 2001.[3] In order to help market the game in Japan, where dial-up internet services at the time charged by the minute, Okawa packaged the Dreamcast with a free year of internet access, and paid for it out of his own pocket.[2] Phantasy Star Online was also released bundled with a demo disc for Sonic Adventure 2.[1] The PC version of the game was later released in December 2001, and was also sold in Taiwan and South Korea.[4]

Plot[edit]

Episode I[edit]

In response to destruction of the home world, the "Pioneer Project" is begun in order to search for a new planet to settle. Unmanned probes locate a suitable location, and the ship "Pioneer 1" is sent to investigate. After confirming the suitability of the discovered planet, Ragol, construction is begun on the surface, including the Central Dome. Seven years later, "Pioneer 2" arrives at Ragol with the majority of refugees aboard. However, as Pioneer 2 establishes a communications link with the Central Dome, a massive explosion shakes the planet's surface, and no sign remains of the people of Pioneer 1 on the planet.

In order to investigate, the Principal sends down a team of Hunters—the player characters—to the surface to investigate what happened. The investigation takes them through a forest, which is teeming with native animals (such as wolves), then to the base of the Central Dome. From there, the episode's levels continue through a series of caves full of altered beasts, and into mines which were utilized by Pioneer 1 for research. After playing through these levels and activating a monument in each area, access is opened to a series of "ruins", which are later revealed to be part of an ancient spaceship. During the entire course of the trip, message buoys serve to assist in providing advice to defeating monsters and insight into the events leading up to the explosion. These messages are left behind by Rico Tyrell, the daughter of the Principal of Pioneer 2 and known as "Red Ring Rico". Eventually, at the end of the ruins, it is discovered that the force behind the monsters and the explosions is Dark Falz, a being that revives every thousand years that is a consciousness without a corporeal form. The game's final boss battle is with Dark Falz, after which his defeat on the Normal difficulty will unlock the Hard difficulty and begin the story again. Defeating Dark Falz on Hard will unlock Very Hard, and in Phantasy Star Online ver. 2, Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II, and Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst, defeating Dark Falz on Very Hard will unlock Ultimate difficulty.

In addition to the main storyline, side quests are offered through the Hunter's Guild on Pioneer 2 which also expand the story of the game. Some quests, such as "Dr. Osto's Research", "Unsealed Door", and "Knowing One's Heart" reveal facts about characters from Pioneer 1, while others such as "The Retired Hunter" and "Addicting Food" seek to satisfy the needs of clients on Pioneer 2. Several quests link plotlines together, such as "Waterfall Tears" and "Black Paper", allowing the player's character to become acquainted with non-playable characters from Pioneer 2 and their stories.

Episode II[edit]

After the events of Episode I, the chief of the government "Lab" of Pioneer 2 asks the hunters to go down to Ragol and investigate a secret laboratory that had recently been discovered on Gal Da Val Island, a location south of the main continent where the Central Dome was. Before leaving on the mission, however, the player characters are required to complete a pair of examinations in a virtual reality field. The first simulates a temple maze, the second a spaceship, and both stages feature enemies based on those seen in Episode I. As a guide and source of information, message buoys appear in the levels and are a source of direct communication with Elly Person, the player's support operator back at the Lab. Once the examination is complete, the player's characters are sent to the planet's surface with the task of finding the security terminals that grant access to the facility. The search is broken up into three stages: a seaside region, a mountain region, and a jungle region, in no particular order. Along the way, the hunters come across a number of data terminals, which contain details about the new enemy creatures that they are fighting, as well as several entries by Heathcliff Flowen, a military commander from the Pioneer 1 colony who was presumed dead by the Pioneer 2 government. Having deactivated the security terminals, the hunters finally manage to get inside and begin investigating the facility, which is home to its own automated security system as well as a new set of monsters. The investigation turns up more of Heathcliff's entries, including more details on the events that led to the colony's destruction, as well as details of research conducted on Heathcliff by Dr. Osto after being infected by a parasite. Rather than warning anybody about the hazard the life form posed, Dr. Osto used samples from Heathcliff's wound to create mutant creatures and other biological weapons, eventually merging Heathcliff's body with an artificial intelligence and allowing it to be consumed by the wound. The result became Olga Flow, the final boss encountered in the game. Shortly before the final battle with Olga Flow, the hunters find communication terminals from Flowen, which are later revealed by Elly to be real-time transmissions and not recordings.

Episode IV (Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst)[edit]

Two years after the events of Episode II, a comet is deflected off of Pioneer 2, which is still in orbit above Ragol. The comet falls and crashes to the surface of the planet. After the impact, it is discovered that the comet is radiating a large amount of photon energy. Interested, the Principal sends hunters, the player's characters, down to the surface to investigate the comet and its strange effects. Episode IV features four additional new areas.

Gameplay[edit]

Players choose one of three classes - Hunter, Ranger or Force. Hunters are adept with close-range weapons such as sabers, two-handed swords, dual daggers, halberds, and are more suited for up-close and personal confrontations. Rangers are best at ranged combat and excel with weapons such as pistols, rifles, shotguns, and machine guns. Forces are the magic class of the game and are able to learn a variety of attack and support techniques.

There are three races in Phantasy Star Online: Human, Newman (bio-engineered 'elves'), and CASTs (androids). Each type of race have advantages and disadvantages, such as CASTs being physically stronger than the other two races, but unable to use techs (magic). Gender choice is also a factor, which slightly affects stats and can affect the types of techniques able to be learned.

Offline mode[edit]

In Offline mode, players fight through a number of levels spread over four distinct areas. Each area has a boss at the end. The four areas are (in order) the forest, the caves, the mines, and the ruins. Upon defeating the final boss, Dark Falz, the credits roll and in some cases, an extra feature will be unlocked.

In addition to the main story, players can also take Hunters' Guild sidequests, which explore the lives of Pioneer 2's citizens and further delve into the backstory of the game. The rewards for these sidequests include a payment of meseta for the job, the chance to explore the stories behind Pioneer 2's NPC residents, the opportunity to obtain special weapons that can't be found anywhere else (such as the Soul Eater and Akiko's Frying Pan), and whatever weapons, experience, and meseta one can get while fighting on these missions.

In Phantasy Star Online, normal mode is available to play at four different difficulty levels. Normal is available from the start, while Hard, Very Hard and Ultimate become available once Dark Falz has been defeated on the previous difficulty. Ultimate mode, however, was not included in the Version 1 release of PSO on Dreamcast.

Online mode[edit]

For online gameplay, instead of having the final boss be defeated in order to select a higher difficulty, there is a specific minimum experience level required to join or create a game. For Hard mode, it is level 20. For Very Hard mode, it is level 40. And for Ultimate, the minimum level requirement is 80.

In Blue Burst, the game's main story is broken down into separate missions, accessed via a special desk in the Principals Office or Lab. Each area of the game is divided into three or four missions that must be completed for the story to progress. Items such as weapons and techniques are awarded after certain missions are completed. Other players are able to join the mission at any time, even if the mission is in progress or finished. The final mission in each area is a standard run through the level's areas to the boss battle, essentially 'clearing' the area and unlocking the next one.

Communication system[edit]

Communication between players is achieved via a combination of direct 2-line text entry, Symbol Chat, Word Select, and/or by keyboard (optional.) As PSO servers support international co-operative play, the Symbol Chat and Word Select features encourage players to attempt communication with others regardless of language. Symbol Chat allows the player to define a collection of symbols within a speech bubble, in order to convey an emotion or simple instruction. These symbols can be used by the press of a key, or accessed via an in-game menu. Word Select acts as a limited phrasebook, allowing sentences to be constructed through a hierarchy of menus. Once complete, a sentence is automatically translated into the configured language of other nearby players, thus bridging the language gap encountered in cross-cultural multiplayer games.

Battle mode[edit]

This is a deathmatch mode. In this mode, players are permitted to attack each other. A team may play while being able to attack each other and monsters to fulfill their goals, or they may play one of several predefined sets of battle rules, including goals of meseta, points, or time limitations.

Additional features[edit]

Episode I & II features[edit]

Episode I & II features a new mode called Challenge mode. Challenge mode sets all participants to a set level with set equipment at the beginning of each mission, lasting only until the end of the mission, and requires the team to reach a predefined goal in a series of specially designed levels that are modified versions of areas seen in normal mode. The aim is to complete the missions in the shortest time possible. New level objects can include laser barriers, buttons, and so on, and sometimes strategically placed enemies/types of enemies. If anyone on the team dies, then the challenge is immediately terminated and the team is returned to the Hunter's Guild, so teamwork is essential if the levels are to be completed successfully. Everyone starts with a 'Scape Doll' revival item in their inventory, enabling them to die once without consequence (the harder the stage, the more scape dolls one receives). Once all stages have been completed, players are given a rank based on their total time, with "S rank" being the best. If they achieve this in online mode, players are awarded rare weapons which can be customized and named.

Blue Burst features[edit]

Blue Burst features a 1-Player mode that allows Blue Burst players to play the offline mode online, complete with Episode I & II's side story quests. Two official 1-player quests are available.

A number of gestures can be performed by holding down the Alt (alternate) key and pressing certain letter, number, or function keys. Holding down the Shift key at the same time allows players to perform the gestures of the opposite sex, but only while they are in any of the online lobby areas.

Releases[edit]

Phantasy Star Online ver. 2 is a video game that was released for Dreamcast and PC on July 6, 2001 in Japan, on September 24, 2001 in North America and on March 1, 2002 in Europe. This version features battle mode allowing other members to battle one another, a new difficulty titled "Ultimate Mode", a new soccer game within the lobby, and allowing Players to reach a maximum level of 200.[5] Official servers have since been taken offline.

A Nintendo GameCube and Xbox version titled Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II was released in 2002. An online role-playing video game, its focus is online gameplay with a strong offline storyline, offering diverse online and offline gameplay. Offline mode is available for single player and multiplayer. Multiplayer split-screen mode can be played with up to four players. Playing online on Xbox required an active Xbox Live account. An Xbox Live account saved onto the system was also required in order to play offline. However, it did not need to be active for offline play. Official servers have since been taken offline, as well as the original Xbox Live server, meaning one can no longer make an Xbox Live account to play the game offline.

An upgraded version of the Nintendo Gamecube version titled Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II Plus was released for the Nintendo GameCube on November 27, 2003 in Japan and on September 15, 2004 in North America. This version added various quests to Offline Mode that were originally available exclusively to Online Mode, while also fixing certain bugs and exploits that could be used in the previous release, such as being able duplicate various items from one's inventory.[6]

Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II was later ported to Microsoft Windows titled Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst and was released on July 15, 2004 in Japan, June 23, 2005 in North America and Europe. Blue Burst features a new episode titled Episode IV along with new enemies, maps, and items, in addition to those included with previous episodes. Blue Burst also features improvements in controls and graphics of the previous version.[7]

Version Platform Release Date
Phantasy Star Online Dreamcast December 21, 2000 (Japan), January 29, 2001 (North America), February 23, 2001 (Europe)
Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2 Dreamcast June 6, 2001 (Japan), September 24, 2001 (North America), March 1, 2002 (Europe)
Phantasy Star Online Microsoft Windows December 20, 2001 (Japan), 2002 (Asia)
Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II (ver 1.0) Nintendo GameCube September 12, 2002 (Japan)2
Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II (ver 1.1) Nintendo GameCube October 29, 2002 (North America), November 2002 (Japan)2, March 7, 2003 (Europe), March 14, 2003 (Sweden)
Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II Xbox Q1 2003 (Japan), April 15, 2003 (North America), May 23, 2003 (Europe)
Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II Plus Nintendo GameCube November 27, 2003 (Japan), September 15, 2004 (North America)
Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst Microsoft Windows July 15, 2004 (Japan), June 23, 2005 (North America/Europe)

Sequels[edit]

Reception[edit]

Aggregate review scores
Game GameRankings Metacritic
Phantasy Star Online 89.87%[8] 89 of 100[9]
Phantasy Star Online Ver.2 83.96%[10] 80 of 100[11]
Episode I & II 81.80%[12] 85 of 100[13]
Episode III:C.A.R.D. Revolution 74.03%[14] 71 of 100[15]

The game was number 21 on 1UP's 'The Greatest Games of Their Time' list, making it the highest ranking RPG on that list. It has an aggregrated score of 89.87% on the Gamerankings website. IGN gave it a 9.3 out of 10, Eurogamer a 9 and GameSpot an 8.2, also out of 10. In Japan, Famitsu magazine scored the original Dreamcast version of the game a 37 out of 40,[16] and gave the GameCube re-release a 35 out of 40.[17] The game's graphics were praised, with IGN stating that "This is among the best games, visually, across all platforms. There's really nothing that compares to the visual quality of PSO."[3] GameSpot stated: "The main draw of the game is the ability to get online, hook up with three other players in one of the game's many lobbies, and take on the planet Ragol as a team. Obviously, this is where the game shines." 1UP likened aspects of Phantasy Star Online to Diablo, but described Phantasy Star Online as more of "a reinvention of an established PC adventure concept into something perfectly suited for the tastes and demands of console gamers."[18]

The userbase for the game reached over 200,000 in 2001 and 600,000 in 2003.[19][20]

Legacy[edit]

Hiroshi Matsuyama, president of CyberConnect2 and developer of the .hack series, cited Phantasy Star Online as an influence for the MMORPG world of .hack.[21] 1UP.com ranked the game at #3 in its list of "15 Games Ahead of Their Time," due to its introduction of online gaming to consoles and for pushing console gamers "to dial up with the Dreamcast to play online and to experience a new style of play."[22]

1UP also included Phantasy Star Online in their list of five "Essential Newcomers" of the decade, describing it as one of "five revolutionary new games" of the past 10 years, for its impact in taking "consoles online" and defining "small-scale multiplayer RPGs." It was the first console game to bring MMO gaming to consoles on a smaller-scale, paving the way for larger-scale MMORPG efforts such as Final Fantasy XI. The small-scale template established by Phantasy Star Online was later copied by Capcom's Monster Hunter series, which in turn influenced every major Japanese RPG franchise, including Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Phantasy Star Online also gave rise to "an entire pantheon of multiplayer dungeon crawlers that continue to dominate the Japanese sales charts." More generally, the game was responsible for making "both online gaming and the concept of fee-based services a reality for consoles," paving the way for the online gaming services later provided by all three of the seventh-generation consoles.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Ahmed, Shahed. "Yuji Naka Interview". GameSpot. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 2012-08-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Anon. (16 February 2011). "Behind The Scenes: Phantasy Star Online". GamesTM. Imagine Publishing. Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Chau, Anthony (2001-01-31). "Phantasy Star Online". IGN. Retrieved 2013-11-07. 
  4. ^ "Sega begins sale of Phantasy Star Online in S. Korea, Taiwan". Japan Toy and Game Software Journal (Pacific Research Consulting, Inc.). April 10, 2002 – via HighBeam Research(subscription required). 
  5. ^ "Phantasy Star Online Version 2 unveiled". Gamespot. Retrieved 2012-10-05. 
  6. ^ "PSO Episode I&II Plus". IGN. Retrieved 2012-10-05. 
  7. ^ "Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst". IGN. Retrieved 2012-10-05. 
  8. ^ "Phantasy Star Online". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  9. ^ "Phantasy Star Online Reviews at Metacritic.com". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  10. ^ "Phantasy Star Online Ver.2". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  11. ^ "Phantasy Star Online Ver.2 Reviews at Metacritic.com". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  12. ^ "Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  13. ^ "Phantasy Star Online Episode I and II Reviews at Metacritic.com". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  14. ^ "Phantasy Star Online III:C.A.R.D. Revolution". GameRankings. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  15. ^ "Phantasy Star Online Episode III:C.A.R.D. Revolution Reviews at Metacritic.com". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  16. ^ ドリームキャスト - ファンタシースターオンライン. Weekly Famitsu. No.915 Pt.2. Pg.44. 30 June 2006.
  17. ^ ニンテンドーゲームキューブ - ファンタシースターオンライン エピソード1&2. Weekly Famitsu. No.915 Pt.2. Pg.100. 30 June 2006.
  18. ^ a b Parish, Jeremy (February 2010). "Phantasy Star Online". The Decade That Was: Essential Newcomers - We close our look back at the the [sic] past 10 years with five revolutionary new games. 1UP.com. p. 2. Retrieved 23 September 2011. 
  19. ^ Ike Sato, Yukiyoshi (6 April 2001). "Phantasy Star Online worldwide user base surpasses 200,000". GameSpot. Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  20. ^ Winkler, Chris (23 November 2003). "Phantasy Star Online Reaches Userbase of 600,000 Worldwide". RPGFan. Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  21. ^ IGNPS2 (May 16, 2003). "E3 2003: .hack Interview". IGN. Retrieved July 1, 2010. 
  22. ^ Furfari, Paul. "15 Games Ahead of Their Time". 1UP.com. p. 2. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 

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