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Phantasy Star Online Episodes 1 & 2 - Review

The Neverending Shortstory

By: Zachary Lewis


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 5
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 3
   Plot 2
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 4
   Difficulty Variable
   Time to Complete

10-30 hours

 
Overall
5
Criteria

Title Screen

   The Nintendo 64 was a flop as far as RPGs are concerned, and until recently it was open to speculation as to whether the GameCube might not meet the same dire fate. Lost Kingdoms came and went with little notice. And still RPGamers yearned to use the latest Nintendo console for something beyond Smash Bros. Melee. Now, 5 months later, Sega's 4-controller support version of Phantasy Star Online has arrived to fill the empty gulf. But will this one single game bring the GameCube into the light? Probably not.

   As fun as action oriented RPGs tend to be in their mad collage of running, swinging, and swirling magical lights, Phantasy Star Online Episodes 1 & 2 has a few minor flaws in its try at the genre. The targeting system is extremely touchy and it is very easy to simply fire at nothing even if careful effort is taken in facing your character directly at your enemies. Although this problem is resolved as you get closer to your foes, this also nearly defeats the purpose of playing as long-range or magical styled characters at all. While it would seem then that choosing a warrior and carrying a photonic saber might be the answer to all your prayers, this is simply not so. Blocking with any weapon is extremely complicated and involves precise timing that is not always foolproof. Equipping armor and enhancing your personal-digital-assitant-like MAG have little visible effect on your characters performance in combat and can quickly become a bothersome chore considering the overwhelming expense required to purchase the necessary items.

   On the flipside of all the dreary and monotonous single-player toil is the true value of the game; multi-player. Either through using several controllers or playing online via the modem or broadband adapters garners you the ability to see the game from an entirely different perspective. With several team mates to watch your back and to help you solve the button pressing puzzles that often present themselves, the flaws in the interface are all but forgotten in the effort required to complete some of the later stages. Although it is true that the detail in the graphics is somewhat lessened as you add each new player, there is virtually nothing in the way of slowdown either during multi-controller or modem play.


Apparantly Even The GameCube Can't Withstand The Nothing
Apparantly Even The GameCube Can't Withstand The Nothing 

   After the great interaction of multi-player, perhaps the greatest shortfall of the single-player game is the story. While in multi-player mode it isn't very important, the single-player plot can hardly be called epic. Your colony ship, the Pioneer 2, has arrived several years behind the advance team of scientists on Pioneer 1, whose job it was to set up facilities and such on your new home planet, Ragol. A mysterious explosion on the planet below prompts you to be sent to investigate. From there the saga takes a turn toward the movie version of Lost In Space as you explore and destroy the creatures on the planet that rose up to rid their world of the Pioneer 1 team.

   The game interfaces, such as being able to set up to six separate items, attacks, or spells to the buttons and the easy to navigate system menu are superbly designed. Perhaps the one addition to the system that might have done something to help the single-player mode would have been to add a pause feature. However, as the game is literally in real time, regardless of the mode of play, its exclusion is understandable.

   Meanwhile, the small number of background music tracks are great in their own right, but become very repetitive after a short time. Conversely, the sound effects, from the lightsaber-like sounds of the saber weapons, to the crackle of a glacier, to the chirping of birds are all extremely realistic and well sampled. Unfortunately, the graphics really don't suffer from the same realistic quality. Granted many of them are directly ported to the GameCube from the middle days of the Dreamcast but even the area added to this version of the game shows no stunning enhancement to the already somewhat dated visuals. Of course, with virtually no other RPGs to speak of on the GameCube to date, the graphics achieve their goals, if little else.


That Doesn't Look Like The Ivory Tower, Atreyu...
That Doesn't Look Like The Ivory Tower, Atreyu... 

   With the added bonus of having been translated already twice before, many of the smaller flaws in the localization have been hammered out to present us with a smoothly flowing transcript. However, when talking to friends online, the irritating function of replacing coarse language with $%#* has again been instituted. Your experience with the replay value of the game will depend largely on how much you enjoy the game when playing with other people. Having a nicely customized group of characters and depending on how often you're willing to get together to play, you may find yourself playing the game for years to come. The single-player mode is worth playing once, although giving it a second go is for those people who hold their free time in disregard.

   Although Phantasy Star Online is a great multi-player experience, it leaves a lot to be desired as a typical RPG goes. With enough more ports of this game under their belt, maybe Sonic Team and Sega will be willing to take us back to the old days when Phantasy Star meant direct sequels, extremely hard gameplay, and hours of tireless exploring in the face of great evil. Afterall, this is the descendant of the first console RPG, it should act like it has heritage.





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