My good friends and listeners to the show will know that I have a soft-spot in my heart for the Phantasy Star series. As a Japanese-friendly gamer who owned a Genesis long before a SNES, it’s not hard to see how Sega’s flagship RPG series has made a favorable impression on me over the years. Of particular note were Sega’s first internet-capable (or should I say internet-primed) entries, Phantasy Star Online, and Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II.
Truly phantastic games.
For the uninitiated, the Phantasy Star Online games were a true treat for those of us unwilling to let go of our Dreamcasts. Released at the beginning of 2001 on US shores, the game played like a third-person, 3D Diablo — a gateway drug to the loot-fest genre for those of us accustomed to controllers, doe-eyed characters and hours of mandatory grind sessions. Gorgeous character art from Akikazu Mizuno and soothing sound design from Fumitaka Shibata combined to be the icing on the cake for what could be described as the first truly great online co-op console game ever made. Trust me when I say that it was an incredibly easy way to kill a few Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks home from school.
The first time I learned the meaning of the term “Co-op.”
Fast forward a few years and things have changed pretty dramatically — Sega’s no longer in the hardware biz, Sonic Team’s games have been less than amazing (to put it nicely), and internet functionality in consoles in an absolutely necessity. So what happened to the PSO series? Thanks to the incredibly underwhelming console follow-up Phantasy Star Universe and the success of Capcom’s Monster Hunter franchise, Phantasy Star has made its way to handhelds. And with three portable entries debuting in less than two years, I’ve been left scratching my head as to the best way to rekindle my love for the classic grind-fest. Should I play a little of each, or devote myself (and soul) to that super-leveled, ultra rare loot-toting character?
It took little more than a demo for me to make a choice about the first of the portable entries, the PSP’s aptly named Phantasy Star Portable. Although selling well in Japan on Monster Hunter’s coattails, Sega’s reliance on a local adhoc co-op feature single-handedly killed any chance of the game selling well overseas. Throw in some absolutely abysmal English-dubbing and very uninspired, computer-generated character art, and it didn’t take long for me to see that this was an entry worth skipping, much to my disappointment.
MATCH OF THE MILLENIUM 2009!
Adding to that decision was the announcement of the Nintendo DS entry in the series, Phantasy Star Ã˜. Sporting true-online play for up to four players, a return of several of PSO’s play mechanics and display systems, and advertised by Sega as the “true successor” to the PSO series, it was very easy to see that PSÃ˜ was going to try to cash-in on the nostalgia that myself and other Dreamcast die-hards were itching to relive. With the announcement of the DS title shortly before the PSP entry hit the US, my decision was pretty clear: DS all the way.
Or so I thought…
(To be continued)