Monday, March 18, 2013

Top 10 Most Shocking Games in a Series - #7: Phantasy Star Online

In 1988 the video game company SEGA released a brand new console RPG for their SEGA Master System, and changed the world of gaming. You see, this new console RPG was a little game called "Phantasy Star," and it was one of the first story driven games to ever be released in the West! Gamers who picked up Phantasy Star found themselves in a sci-fi fantasy world, exploring towns and dungeons, fighting monsters, and building a party of unique characters to help them on their adventure.

For the time that it came out, Phantasy Star was a pretty advanced game. It has bright and colorful graphics (with some very detailed character sprites), the game was massive in both game world size and content, and it was one of the few games out there that really let players do whatever they wanted. Back in 1988 this sort of game was seen as a revolution of sorts, and it shocked many gamers across the world.

After the success of the original Phantasy Star, SEGA actually went on to make quite a few sequels. Although each sequel was a game of its own (new story, characters, worlds, etc), each game did keep the basics the same. They were all still sprite based JRPGs, you explored towns, traveled from area to area from a world map, the battle system was turn based with different moves for you to pick from (such as standard attack moves or magic attacks), and they were all story driven games. This type of game is what gamers soon came to expect from the Phantasy Star series, and there were no signs of it changing anytime soon; that is until the SEGA Dreamcast came out.

The SEGA Dreamcast was released in 1998 (1999 in the US), and one of its core features was it's online connection. Gamers would be able to use the Dreamcast as a sort of computer to browse the web, get in contact with friends, and play games with them online; however for the most part these features were limited. That's when SEGA got the bright idea to make full use of it, and release a game that NO ONE would have ever seen coming.

In the year 2000 (2001 for the US) a brand new game by SEGA was released on the Dreamcast, and it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen on a console. The game was a part of the Phantasy Star series, but it was NOT the Phantasy Star fans once knew. The new game was called "Phantasy Star Online," and it was the world's first Console MMORPG! It was a game unlike any other, and before they knew it, players everywhere were being drawn in by this completely brand new experience!

Unlike in past games, when you first turn on Phantasy Star Online players are asked to create their own character, which would then serve as "you" for the rest of the game. You could change your hair style, pick your race, and even customize some other appearance options as well. Although the customization was quite limited by today's standards, for its time it was actually pretty advanced! Once you finished picking and naming your character, you could then enter the world of PSO.

Although Phantasy Star Online does in fact have an offline mode with a smaller story, its main focus is in fact on the online. PSO is a fully 3D game, ALL of the action takes place in real time (making the game more based on skill), there is a verity of different weapons for you to use, and just about everyone you saw around you was in fact REAL people and not just NPCs. Players could talk to one another using the Dreamcast keyboard, they could travel to different areas and complete quests together, and they could even fight each other in the battle arena as well! PSO basically threw out everything Phantasy Star was known for, turned the series into a real time action RPG, and made it into a massive multiplayer game unlike the world had ever seen before. Still, this change did come with a price.

Phantasy Star Online was not a free game to play, and that alone turned quite a few Phantasy Star fans off from it. Just like with all games you did have to buy it in stores, but if you wanted to play online you also had to pay a monthly fee! Although it was a small fee, players would have to either pay for a single month of gameplay, or they would have to pay a slightly higher fee for three months worth of gameplay. Although players weren't required to play the game offline, their gameplay experience would have been extremely limited.

As the years went on PSO began to evolve, expansion packs were released, and the game was also ported over to other consoles as well. The game became one of the world's biggest online games, and it continued to thrive up until it was finally taken down completely in the year 2008. Even so, during that time the game had already left behind quite the legacy, and since then it has continued to influence game developers worldwide (.hack was just one of the games PSO influenced).

Although PSO is now no more, the game continues to live on in other forms today. The game was later replaced by Phantasy Star Universe, a spiritual sequel was released on the DS called Phantasy Star Zero, Phantasy Star Portable 2 was released for the PSP, and finally a true sequel called Phantasy Star Online 2 was released in Japan for the PC and PlayStation Vita in 2012 (with a US release in 2013). Even though the whole action RPG/online set up is now a series standard for Phantasy Star, back when it came out in the early 2000s it was completely unexpected, and it has also caused a split in the fan base because of it. Even today some fans are still waiting for another old fashion turn based RPG, but by the looks of it, we won't be getting one anytime soon.

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