Fans waited for it and many have questioned if it would ever release for a western audience, but Phantasy Star Online 2 has just completed their first XBOX One Closed Beta Test. With a release schedule still pending, and a possible open beta on the horizon, I explore whether Phantasy Star Online 2 was worth the 8 year wait or if this online game is nothing but phantasy.
The Phantasy Star Online franchise is one that has a special place in my heart. I recall playing the first rendition of Phantasy Star Online on the Sega Dreamcast, and nearly every other iteration that came after it. Despite being a fan of the series, playing on the Japanese servers of Phantasy Star Online 2 was a fleeting thought that I never felt the need to act on. Eight years later, the most recent version of Phantasy Star Online, that has been ported to just about every single platform, finally rears its head out of Japan, and I was more than happy to try it. My experience of the Xbox Insider Closed Beta Test could best be described as a mixed bag of fun, confusion, and frustration.
First Impressions First
After choosing a ship (server) and hopping into the character creation screen, the most noticeably striking feature is how dated the graphics look, not just during character creation, but throughout the gameplay. While I would love to wholly regard the dated graphics on such an old game, I can’t rule out the possibility that Phantasy Star Online 2, running on a first-generation Xbox One, with no enhanced features, could be the culprit.
Bounding through the tutorial, fans of the series should feel at home with the combat style. Not too much has changed with how combat is presented, with the exception that the speed of the action-combat feels as though it has increased. I happened to be one of the first participants to log into the game, so my experience in the tutorial was short lived as the servers began to run poorly and eventually, they were brought down for several hours.
When I logged back in, I was able to pick up where I left off, which was actually the last mission of the introductory tutorial. Once I headed to the ship, I expected a few quick explanation quests, as most MMO’s do, and then I’d be off and running on my next set. Unfortunately, this wasn’t entirely the case. Phantasy Star Online 2 is rife with so many systems, quests, menus, and more, that it may take unfamiliar players an hour or longer before they find their way through all of the different beginner’s quests. The most frustrating portions of the game, revolved around quests where the resolution was ill-defined or the waypoints were misleading.
Phantasy Star Online 2 has now been voiced for the main quests, but there are many that still aren’t voiced, and reading through every bit of quest text is necessary to complete some quests. If you miss something, or don’t understand something, you essentially have to drop the quest and take it again, paying more attention the second time around. Out of everything that happened during my play sessions, the way some quests were presented were by far the worst of my experience.
EMERGENCY! – There’s Still a Lot of Fun Here!
Getting through the first couple of hours can be overwhelming. Eight years of Phantasy Star Online 2 has passed, and ten years since Phantasy Star Universe closed for good, so there is a lot that new players are going to have to take in. Sticking out some initial confusion as you make your way through the menus is definitely worth it, especially if you are a fan of ARPGs, or boss monster battlers. As I made my way through the levels, I picked up tons of loot, faced down angry dragons and dangerous canines. I had to dodge my way out of traps, and learn boss mechanics to ensure I wouldn’t get bombarded by dozens of heat-seeking rockets.
The fun was compounded by the fact that, I often times found myself in areas with a half dozen other players. I opted to support my fellow players with healing and defensive buffs whenever I had the chance. Many times, my support was instrumental in keeping players alive, especially when dealing with harder difficulties and Urgent Missions, which were time-gated, exclusive missions. As teams banded together to take on urgent emergencies, the battles really hammered home how much Phantasy Star Online has grown.
As my character grew, and I obtained a Mag pet, which I was tasked with feeding to help it grow, each new mission and explosion of loot became an addiction. I pushed myself to take on tougher missions, even if the greater population hadn’t caught up with me yet. I ended up in battles where I was woefully outmatched, and I gained skills that were far ahead of what was even usable to me. I was put in situations where, not paying attention to my surroundings would require me to fail a mission and I’d be forced to start all over again. I can only really describe this feeling as one of excitement. Excitement to test myself, along with others in an MMO environment. Excitement to be in a world where you never know what loot you’ll get, or what skills you may find. Excitement, to return to the Phantasy Star Online universe.