Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Bit of Space: Phantasy Star Online

The Phantasy Star Online series was one of my first introductions to the genre of MMORPG, and it's strange to think that it was released over a decade ago. I remember watching my boyfriend at the time play and being curious about how the whole thing worked, and then once I started playing on my own being so sucked in to the plot, world, and playing online with others that I couldn't stop. PSO was integral to my life as a gamer, and I'm sure many others. After the break you, too, can check out my musings on this awesome series, and partake in the happy remembrance yourself.

The first thing that I think was really awesome and forward thinking about Phantasy Star Online was the fact that battle was no longer turn-based, but instead real-time. While I haven't really enjoyed this in any other games (like Final Fantasy) I think that this was mainly because they weren't like that all along—Phantasy Star Online was.

The game is set in another world where a team heads out into the galaxy to find other habitable planets other than their home world, which has recently been destroyed. You, as the player are able to choose from three different races (Human, CAST and Newman) and classes (Hunter, Ranger or Force). While this is a bit more limited than the MMORPGs of now-a-days this was enough in 2000 when this game was first released. The team discovers a plant, Ragol, and secondary ship filled with refugees is sent to help populate. Upon this second ship's arrival, a large explosion takes place—shifting and helping to drive the plot for the whole series.

There are a few reasons that I think Phantasy Star Online was incredibly forward thinking for what it was, and would recommend people to play it despite there being many fancier, prettier games out nowadays:

First, the player was able to choose sexes, and this helped determine certain strengths and weaknesses in the game. While I have never been one to say that men or women are typically "better" in certain areas, I thought that this was an interesting and innovative aspect to include in a game.

Second, Sega included methods for players from all over the world to communicate as a means to help promote co-op play while in online mode. The first way was through symbols, using which players could string together simple communications with players of other nationalities and languages. The second method was through something called word choice, which allowed the player to make up a short, simple sentence that the game would then string together and translate into other players' languages. Many of the games that I play nowadays have trouble with the language barrier deterring (or putting a damper on) online play and this, while pretty basic, was a good step in the right direction.

Third, offline mode was a thing that existed. In many of the games that I play, there is no offline version  (World of Warcraft, League of Legends). While I enjoy co-op play, it would also be nice if there was an offline option that I could enjoy while say, on the plane, or traveling on the bus. While Phantasy Star Online was console-based (and hence limited travel-play anyway) you were still able to play offline. That is pretty cool.

While it wasn't the prettiest game (none from around that time really were, I do think that Phantasy Star Online deserves a place in all of our hearts. Not only did it stray from the typical MMORPG trends of magicians, ogres, and elves and give space-fans something to get pumped about, but it also included innovative features, awesome gameplay, and epic battles. For those reasons, I recommend that (if you haven't already) you play this sweet game. You can buy it here, or emulate it here.

Do you have fond memories of this game, or want to see a post about another game like it? Share them below in the comments!

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