I’ve made it no secret that I love Phantasy Star and its many sub-series, even doing a marathon of blog posts on the subject back in 2016. It’s a subject I don’t mind talking about it a lot, since it’s been a part of my life since 2003. The many iterations, spinoffs, and sequels have entertained me for countless hours. So, allow me to once again talk about what I feel is one of the greatest game series of all time. This time will be a bit different than usual, as I’m going to tackle this as sort of a mini-retrospective.
For me to properly analyze why I love this series so much, let’s flashback to 1987. Sega was doing fairly well with the “Sega Master System” and was looking to expand their catalog. That was the year they came out with “Phantasy Star”, a sci-fi JRPG that managed to be pretty unique sy the time. Enemy sprites featured in the game were more animated than that of other games, such as Final Fantasy.
On top of this, the game featured dungeons that had pseudo-3D graphics. I remember getting lost in these “3D” mazes and enjoying every second of it, due to how unique it looked compared to other games at the time. You were also able to talk to certain monsters in the game using the main character’s special power, which allowed you to avoid battles entirely on occasion. Phantasy Star proved to be a hit, and was followed up by “Phantasy Star II”.
Many people consider Phantasy Star II to be the best game in the entire series, primarily due to its story and characters. It introduced many firsts to the RPG genre, including having a massive size and an epic character-driven plot that explores the human condition, as well as featuring a game-world so extensive that it requires a strategy guide.
While Phantasy Star II ditched the amazing 3D-ish mazes, it’s well-written storyline and likable characters won over the hearts of many. Playing through it today, I can still feel the passion and enjoyment behind each facet of this well-constructed world. Phantasy Star II proved to be a success, so two more sequels were made for it. Phantasy Star III was unique in that it followed three different generations of heroes, while Phantasy Star IV acted as a well-constructed finale for the original series.
After that, the game series went quiet for a few years. This was until 1998 in Japan, when a collection of all the original games were released for the Sega Saturn. This was the crowning moment for most Phantasy Star fans, since it was the fire time you could buy all 4 games in a single package. This was also the year that Sega was looking into developing a MMORPG for the Sega Dreamcast, an online game that could truly show what their new console was capable.
Enter Yuji Naka, a man who was instrumental in the creation of the first two Phantasy Star games. He decided that Sega’s new online project should be based on Phantasy Star, and thus “Phantasy Star Online: Episode 1” was born. The game hit store shelves in the year 2000, and the rest is history. Phantasy Star Online became big in Japan, but only a moderate hit in America.
I remember the first time I was introduced to PSO, it was through the Gamecube version of the game known as “Phantasy Star Online Episode 1 & 2 Plus”. After receiving the game from my parents, I soon found myself enraptured in one of the most engrossing MMOs I had ever played!
Phantasy Star Online was a unique twist on the Phantasy Star formula. It combined the sci-fi themes of the original games, with the loot system of the popular “Diablo” series. As a result, the game became an addictive and very fun romp. Phantasy Star Online was like crack cocaine in video-game form.
You created your character using a creator tool that was more diverse than the ones found in other games, allowing more of a variety when it came to customization. There was a ton of weapons and items to collect, as well as having various side-quests spread across two episodes. I know a lot of games do this nowadays, such as Borderlands, Destiny, and Warframe.
The thing is that PSO was one of the first fully 3D games to fully utilize these concepts in a way that was both fun and interesting. You had multiple difficulties, a good gameplay loop, a stellar soundtrack, and fantastic gameplay. While previous Phantasy Star games were amazing, Online manages to innovate in a way that made it truly unique.
Sure, the story was now relegated to what was essentially journals, and there was an extreme lack of unique levels. It didn’t matter to me, because the grind was always fun. You were always discovering new weapons, or experimenting with new builds. PSO was a game that excited me each and every time I played it.
Over the years, PSO would receive many updates in the form of re-releases. That’s right, individual updates were sold to players as separate games. This was a time when most people had dial-up internet and couldn’t install large patches/update over the internet, so developers had to sell updates as essentially expansion packs. Thankfully, most of these expansions added a fair bit of new things to the game.
The biggest update that the game got (Aside from the “Episode 1 & 2 upgrade”) was “Blue Burst”. This added a fourth episode to the game, along with a ton of new quests and items. Blue Burst was the final edition of the original game released, being essentially PSO’s ultimate version. It added new story missions, some new bosses, and a bunch of new enemies. The most interesting thing about Episode 4 is that it’s story mode could only be played online, unlike the previous story-modes which only worked offline.
Now, you may be wondering something: What about Episode 3? There was actually a “Phantasy Star Online Episode 3”, but it was a separate spinoff game. I’ll wait until next time to cover this, as there are still a ton of Phantasy Star games I have yet to cover. PSO was definitely a game that entranced me, but Episode III is a game that took me off-guard. Next time, we’ll go into the “dark era” of the Phantasy Star franchise, so stay tuned!