By Mohammad Abubakr
Phantasy Star Online 2 or PSO2 is a free to play MMORPG published by SEGA. Based upon the original Phantasy Star Online, PSO2 delivers an action-driven combat system similar to that seen in other MMORPGS such as TERA and Vindictus. However, unlike many MMORPGs we have all come to know and love, PSO2 takes place in a sci-fi fantasy environment with many futuristic elements such as traveling throughout the known galaxy.
The OnRPG forums had a phase where PSO2 was massively hyped and there was great anticipation for the English release. JamesBl0nde and DizzyPW went as far as to label it the second most anticipated MMO of 2013. Gamers were looking forward to this release, which was supposed to be right around the corner, but were disappointed by the indefinite delays. Now we can never be sure as to when PSO2 will hit the western market to offer us even more choice for action MMORPGs.
But do fans of the Phantasy Star Online series really need to sit around twiddling their thumbs while waiting for the English release? Of course not! Due to the great fan base and support of English players, there are many massive patches available to allow everyone to get into the game without being hit by the language barrier. There is even an unofficial server where all the English players flock to meaning that others that speak English will surround you.
I have only played the original Phantasy Star Online for a couple of hours so I came into PSO2 without any prior knowledge except that it was a third person action combat MMORPG. By the end of this review we’ll have answered the question whether these English patches are sufficient to guide a new player through PSO2.
Cinematic cut scenes improve story telling during instances.
The only problem with having servers located in Japan is the incredibly slow update times. It took me at least 24 hours to download the game which is extracted to 16GB. While I do live in Canada, I do not have slow internet speeds so it definitely should not have taken this long. Similar to the great work done by the community to come up with an English patch, a great program named the PSO2 Tweaker is also available.
Aside from allowing easy installation of English patches and other modifications such as removal of opening logos, this program lets you download the game alongside all the patches without having to monitor the download. The default downloader has issues where it crashes at times most likely due to server issues but the tweaker ensures that downloads restart if there was any error. I simply left the tweaker on overnight and came back the next day with the game ready to play.
After loading up the game and logging in, I was presented with many options when creating my character. There are three races to choose between: the intrepid Humans, the biologically engineered Newmans, and the robotic CAST. As with most other games, race choices are usually up to the player depending on whichever race seems most appealing.
PSO2's class system is in stark contrast to most other games on the market. While you do select a class at the character creation screen, you can easily swap to other classes without having to create a new character. Simply talk to the appropriate NPC located in the central hub and select which class you would like to play. There is not just one level attached to your character, every class has its own level.
Every class has its own level.
Further customization can be made by having multiple skills and weapons (one weapon at a time) equipped for each class which can be changed even during instances. For example, you might use larger swords for AoE damage to rapidly dispatch a group of weaker enemies before switching to faster single target swords ideal for cutting down a single imposing boss. PSO2 gives players a lot of choice when it comes to fighting according to your own play-style.
As mentioned previously, PSO2 uses a revolutionary action combat system, as claimed by SEGA. I can see this system being an action combat system due to the similarities it shares with others offering the same system, however, I fail to see what is revolutionary about it. Once again, this term is used as a marketing trick to lure more players into the game.
Beyond the use of the term revolutionary, the action combat system in PSO2 is very well done. You feel no delay in response, which is surprising considering I’m playing from Canada on the Japanese servers, and it is easy to get used to. Whenever a game is deciding to implement an action combat system, the most important factor deciding whether it is well done or not is its responsiveness. In this sense, SEGA does not disappoint for PSO2.
As we come to expect from such a combat system, the fights are displayed through the use of the third person perspective with the keyboard for movement and the mouse for aiming and attacking. Additional skills can be used to increase fighting power, but to truly increase your damage output, players must employ combo and counter attacks while also aiming for enemy weak spots. Timing is also important as an archer clicking to attack at the optimal time will output higher damage per second than an archer simply holding down the mouse button.
I personally prefer fast attacks for action combat games.
In the beginning I was really bored with the combat in PSO2, which was not surprising as low level battles tend to be bland for all games. I would simply sit in one spot while holding down the mouse button until the enemies died. This habit quickly had to be dropped as I progressed through the game. At the higher levels, even if you’re fighting lower level monsters, it is essential that you block or dodge enemy attacks. If the enemy is weaker than you, taking some hits won’t be fatal but will lower your damage per second due to impact causing downtime on your attacks. When taking on powerful enemies though, even a single blow can cripple your chances of completing a mission; it is mandatory to block or dodge. Eventually you won't even be surprised to be killed in one hit after failing to dodge an attack as the end-game is incredibly unforgiving.
Being a free to play game, SEGA earns revenue by offering completely optional micro transactions. The cash shop is nothing to be worried about which is a relief as many great F2P games have been ruined due to imbalanced cash shop. You do not need to use the cash shop to do anything in the game but it definitely helps to make things easier. Just not to the extent that paying users are instantly better than free users.
Phantasy Star Online 2 is definitely the type of game which needs to be played to be understood. The action combat system is similar to other games but to truly determine whether a player will enjoy it or not requires the player to experience the combat. There is a lot more behind the game than simply running instances to defeat bosses. You'll find yourself sinking countless hours into optimizing the skill tree and taking care of and evolving a your mag (pet).
Some skills look amazing.
For any serious fans of Phantasy Star Online, there is little reason to wait for an official English release which will most likely be behind on patches. Many friends who are experienced PSO2 players have even said that they will continue to play the Japanese version even if there is an official English release. Keep in mind, these are not players that understand Japanese. However, due to the well done community patches, even foreign players can get past the language barrier.
There may be times when some tasks may not be as intuitive but once again, there are fan pages which guide you through every aspect of the game. Having trouble purchasing cash shop points? Simply head on over to a fan website and receive clear instructions in well written guides.
However, for those that are not serious fans of the series, there isn’t anything calling them towards the Japanese version of PSO2. For this reason, the English version is still highly anticipated and will still expect it to be one of our most anticipated titles of 2014... if it comes to the west at all.