[Strongly Jaded Gamer] Stranger in a Strange Land

For the past few weeks I’ve been feeding my old compulsion to play anything with the words Phantasy Star attached. Seeing as the Open Beta has concluded and the game is in “Full Release,” I thought I’d weigh in on PSO2.

Since there is not an international release yet (and one even happening is still up in the air), I’m playing on the Japanese client along much of the NA community on Ship 2, though there are some pockets of English speakers on 6 and 10 as well–I’ve even run into some people from EU, who were very nice but only spoke German. Having the client in all Japanese was a bit daunting at first, but with a few guides on the basics I was  surprised how quickly I adapted. Yeah, there are still a few things I have no idea what to do with–just forget dialog with any of the NPC cast–but for what I need to know to play I’ve pretty much got it going on. Which either says how well designed the interface is OR how well I can play these types of games. Maybe both.

Look and Feel

My HuNewearl, Kao

As usual, PSO’s aesthetic is space plus swords and sorcery and that works well–for me anyway. Although I miss the classic design sensibilities from PSO, and to an extent the designs I’m used to after hours of Phantasy Star Universe and its spinoffs, the new direction is refreshing, if a bit informed by Shibuya’s High Fashion and the current trends in space anime. Next to the character models, the monsters are all solid looking and I’ve not had any particularly outstanding issues with either collisions or clipping and some of the bosses are stunning to see in action.

The tiered weapon system of old returns as well, though a bit more truncated than in previous outings. Instead of there being six entry level weapon designs, there are three distinct looking types available at the first tier and I’ve seen a few tier two evolutions of them. From there, the advanced or four star weapons really start to look extraordinary and the rares, seven stars or more, are all fairly unique looking. It really is something to be standing in a lobby and looking around at the gear people are carrying. It gives me goals, things to look for, which ultimately is what drives PSO as an Action/Adventure MMO.

Controls and Combat

The game plays with the WASD keys controlling movement and the mouse  buttons are used to attack. There are a huge number of key bindings to do things like: lock on(Q), autopilot(V), and “over the shoulder shooter mode”(Z), but I have them mapped to my Naga’s thumb buttons, so it’s not much of a hassle for me and is actually pretty intuitive. As with previous installments, you are rewarded for doing combos precisely with extra damage and more fluid animations.

The monster AI is pretty strong, especially in packs, but the bosses are sometimes soul crushingly hard–especially what I’m calling the Dark Queen, this huge beetle-like monster, whose legs can be broken to bring her down for a good solid beating. The later mobs coordinate their attacks well and I’ve found myself beaten a few times by the Cave’s denizens.

The shining gem for the combat however is the new melee system, which uses three Photon Arts (mapped to RMB) to build combos with basic attacks. Which of your PAs will get used changes on where you are in your combo. For example, my go to Sword combo is Basic Attack > Rising Edge > Gravity Break, but I could easily just go Basic Attack > Basic Attack > Gravity Break if I don’t need to launch my target, or open with with my Stunning Strike instead of a basic attack to keep a mobile enemy in place. With Five PAs currently released, I wish there was a better way for the combos to work other than a 1:1 swing count, but it’s a start and certainly is an improvement over how Universe’s system was.

Cost

Sega is going with a Free to Play model for PSO2, at least on PC–I’m curious to see if the Vita version or the smartphone app will be free downloads. That said, Sega has made the majority of the content you could care about accessible to everyone an, as a player, that makes me happy. However aside from the usual vanity things the paid content usually entails, some of the staples of an MMO, such a player shop or additional characters, have been collected into premium content that you can pay a monthly fee for. Some I’m not that upset about. After all, I can always make another account if I want to play something else. A few however really stick in my craw. One of these is trading. Now, that wouldn’t bother me if I could still drop trade, however each player gets separate loot drops and items I drop aren’t visible to anyone else–if I can drop the items at all–and that makes gearing up your lower level friends a pain. There’s also something about it that my jaded gamer senses can’t stand.

(Pardon me while I digress)While I can understand the reasoning behind making trading a premium feature, a real money gate on trading isn’t going to stop the RMT (real money trading) that has plagued PSO in the past. All it’s doing is punishing players who want to play with friends who are either just starting or smurfing. Beyond the annoyance however, this move scares me. If other F2P MMO’s pick up on this structure then they stop being F2P really quick. To me, it becomes a racket. “Hey! Come play with your friends, but unless you pay you’re really just playing a single player game where you can see them.”

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I’m loving this iteration of what may very well be Sega’s last great franchise. Despite the challenges present in playing as a stranger in a strange land, I’ll be happy if the game never releases in America. With the poor handling of Universe by Sega of America and the hours I’ve already spent on the Japanese server, I likely won’t move unless forced. Though with the release now announced, who knows?

So if you’re tired of Diablo3 or just want another Action RPG to slash through, you could do a lot worse than PSO2. Don’t let the language barrier put you off, the game is worth giving a try and every US IP address that connects to their server is one more vote for bringing the game stateside in a way that won’t suck. Feel free to add me, I’m just about done with the caves at this point. (Sega ID: d4rkrex)

Helpful Links

  • Bumped.org’s PSUBlog – This has been invaluable in playing. Ricardo is the man
  • PSO-World – The forums are full of wonderful people who love the heck out of this game and franchise
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About Trevor Gulley

Trevor Gulley is a writer, cartoonist, and gamer. He works full time in the IT industry and judges Magic most weekends.

Posted on 07/20/2012, in Strongly Jaded Gamer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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