Over the last fortnight you would be forgiven in thinking that I have been abducted by aliens, crashed my car or had passed out in the middle of nowhere in a drunken stupor, never to be found again. If you actually know me a little you should have guessed that I had finally got around to purchasing the update disk for Phantasy Star Online, more commonly known as version 2. Unfortunately, another Gamestyle staff member has also succumbed to the fate of online living and we can guarantee that little, if any, work has been done by either of us.
Rewind back to February 2001, when Phantasy Star Online v1 was released (a few months out for EU players) to a very positive media reception, but unfortunately very little hype for such a technologically groundbreaking game. The basic plotline is simple and needs little explanation; Pioneer 1 has set out in finding a suitable planet to inhabit and the planet Ragol was chosen. Pioneer 2 then sets off for deep space and its destination, Ragol, and upon arrival and contact with Pioneer 1a massive explosion rocked the planet. Many teams of explorers and hunters battled swarms of monsters with hacked or duplicated weapons and many friends where made in the ship’s lobbys. Cue the start of ver2, when the Principle decides to continue his hunt for his daughter, landing upon Ragol as dusk set in, unaware of the new dangers that dusk brings….or something like that, its so shallow but that’s not the point.
Setting the game up to play on a UK console a few items will be required. A reset disk, to erase your PSO ver1 serial (your ok if you have the Jap version of V1), a DC Xploder disk to convert your character, a credit card for online play (approx £6.00 per quarter) and a US Planetweb disk, all easily obtainable on the internet from various sources, from shops to individual Phantasy Star Online fansites.
Once the game is all set up and ready to go, regret suddenly sets in. Why am I playing this again? Will it have the same impact as the first game? Was it actually worth the money? How far have the hackers and dupers gone to totally destroy any point in playing the game? These are questions that only the players can answer themselves and in many ways it can be answered by how true to the nature of the game you actually are. Version 2 will separate the soulless zombies from, erm, the soulless zombies with a bit of depth to their play and online persona.
First things first, if you have your level 100 character with over 300 hours under your belt you will obviously want to head straight for ultimate mode and gain a few levels so ultimate it is. The twin suns are now setting and this gives way to a seemingly massive graphical improvement in the forest and a feeling of pure atmosphere, then you open one of the many boxes scattered around the level, containing an item from version 1 that you have never found before.
At this point, you’re in some sort of gaming nirvana, because after endless hours of searching for decent armour better than Ultimate Frame (4 slot) I was faced with one of the best armour’s available from version 1. No slots? Oh well, I’ll sell it. Upon entering the first enemy strewn room you turn back in shock as none of your sword swings hit home and a angry Al Rappy pecks, hits and takes nearly all your energy. You recoil in terror as enemies about three times the size of ver1’s, moving almost twice the speed complete with a very high defence and evasion ratings swarm upon your now very green level 100 character. It will suddenly hit home how much bigger, faster and stronger everything is on Ultimate with the playing areas now feeling very cramped and restricted indeed.
Thus, prepare yourself for some of the most intense PSO experiences you will ever encounter. When Sonic Team announced Ultimate difficulty, they meant ultimate difficulty with new enemy attack patterns that leave you surrounded and beaten to death within seconds flat.
Each level has a different colour scheme from the regular game and it all looks a little darker and sinister in the Caves and Ruins. To counteract this with the comical ‘walking Armadillos’ in the Forest and the ‘camp’ robots of the Mines by Sonic Team beggars belief, but you’re supposed to be killing them so your race can gain a foothold to complete their plan in ridding the planet of all its natural resources.
Apart from Ultimate difficulty mode, nothing has really changed except for the amount of useful items available. Rare items from ver1 are now a lot more common and having transferred your character over you will need to pick up a few of the now abundant items such as State Maintenance which prevents any abnormal status and Devil or God Battle, to speed up your character. Mark my words; you will need them if you want to play legitimately. The amount of Materials has also been increased and consequently you can get a new character from level 1 to 100 in the same time as it takes a level 100 transfer get to level 115. Thus, the original four levels and three difficulty settings are a lot easier to master and levels can be gained very quickly, with a little help from your friends online, that is. Casting Jellen, Zalure (underused in ver1), Shifta and Deband are now essential and my first trek through the Ultimate Forest took about two and a half hours, luckily finding my first ver2 item (a Red Gun, increasing ATP to well above 1200) on the way through. Now, having gained a level or two to get rid of the aching sign of weakness (level 100) it is time for a bit of online play.
Logging on to Phantasy Star Online‘s servers nowadays is a sobering experience. With the lack of news regarding the EU release of version 2 and vague stories of new players getting Player or Character Kill (PK or CK) cast upon them their first time online the EU servers are now officially dead. There where days back in March and April when you could expect a couple of thousand players to be playing and it was always easy to find a group of new people to play with but now its down to the dwindling few, even fewer regarding ver2 players. The new online modes offering different game play are Vs Battle where up to four players can take each other on with a variety of game settings (pretty lame really, the Forces rule it by a long shot) and by far the best, Challenge mode. Challenge mode paves the way for respect. The mode is a trek through the game with the bare minimal of items (except what you find) starting from level 1 in the forest all the way through to the Ruins and the finale with Dark Falz. On Sonic Teams behalf, this is a brilliant idea as it wholly depends on teamplay and not who has the ‘coolest’ duplicated weapon and item sharing to reach a common goal is a must. Each level has a target time and the quicker you complete all of the sections, the higher chance you have of receiving the coveted ‘S Rank’ weapons, to which you can give your own name. The biggest disappointment is the duping/hacking problem; many v2 players already have them, but they don’t have the rating above their head in the lobbies. Go figure.
Hands up if you made level 100, with totally legitimate items, a homegrown level 200 MAG (or two) and decent percentage weapons that you actually found? Not many then, eh? How many people actually found a Spread Needle, possibly the most overused and popular item in the game? I can imagine there is a severe lack of hands showing.
For those who are waving your hands in the air, hoping for some rare items and some creative team based game play, well, it sucks to be you as the game already been destroyed; even the creator says so. Thinking about entering our games with duped items? Don’t bother; we know (almost) every trick in the book, from experience stealing right down to item hogging. Still, an excellent game, providing you meet the right people, but new music wouldn’t have gone amiss…