The Xbox went on a Live ’bonanza’ at the end of 2002, with the release of several games with Online Live support. Since then there has been a sluggish stream of offline titles. That road has been broken with the current release of the first online RPG for the Xbox Phantasy Star Online Episode 1 & 2, a port of the Gamecube version, which will be sure to impress anyone looking for an online RPG on the Xbox.
The online titles as of late have all been action shooters, or sports games. This left plenty of room for any RPG to make way and hit the online Live market. Let’s just say it’s about time someone took up on this opportunity and did a good job of it.
To start out with PSO does have an online as well as an offline mode to play on. But trust me the offline version of the game isn’t much, and basically PSO is an online-only game. What this means is you’re going to have to dish out 10 bucks a month to play the game. Not only that, but you also have to have your subscription to the Xbox Live service. Luckily you get a two months free subscription to the game, so you can see if you like it before you start doing the monthly charges. Whenever a game has an online charge, gamer’s assessment of the game’s overall value will be slightly higher than offline titles since you are going to be paying a lot of money to really get into the game. So what it comes down to is that PSO is not a cheap investment.
Like in all online RPG’s you start the game off by creating your character. This will determine your course for the rest of the game so you must choose wisely. There are three character classes to choose from: Hunter, Ranger, and Force. Choosing a character as always will decide your strengths and weaknesses as a character.
So ok, we have talked about everything riding up to the game, now for what happens when you start playing. The battle system is probably one of the most important components of the game, and thankfully it’s a favorable one. I have never been a fan of the turn-based battle systems, and luckily PSO is real time action system that works quite well. You get a total of six shortcuts and changing weapons can be done with the click of the white or black buttons, and bam! you have a different weapon. I never had played PSO before, and let’s just say there is a slight learning curve but nothing that is going to give you a headache.
So far all is going good and PSO is lining up for a top-notch score. Well not so fast although PSO is a very good game it has one major problem holding it back. The camera can be a huge annoyance throughout the game. It isn’t so much an issue when playing by yourself, but when you get into large battles with multiple players, you will find that things become quite confusing. Although the camera can be centered by pressing the left trigger, you’d be hoping for a more player-friendly camera system instead of having to correct the perspective every few times.
The one positive thing that Xbox Live brings to the table for PSO is voice communication. The voice communicating comes in quite handy when you are in fierce battles. I would find it quite difficult without the voice communicating, which makes this a nice upgrade for the game from the Cube and Dreamcast versions. The controls are pretty self-explanatory and can be learned in only a few minutes, but the game does a really nice job making good use of the Xbox controller, because you will be using every button on it.
The in-game music isn’t anything spectacular but just some nice soothing sounds for you while you continue on your journey. As you travel the lands you will notice that right when you reach a different area the music will change to match the mood of the environment. But there is only so much you can take of it before you really become sick of the sound track and wish you could listen to your own. Overall the sound effects are only decent, because for the most part they are quite unapparent.
The one thing that PSO really is hurting on is the graphics because they have become quite out dated. Originally on the Dreamcast, the graphics were quite good for the time, but now they are just struggling to be considered decent. Team Sonic has done some minor upgrades from the original, but they haven’t done a full new engine but just improving upon the original.
The environments are probably the most noticeably outdated, with only little to no true detail. The environments although quite unique, just don’t do anything that will impress many people. As you play through the game you will find the wear and tear of an aged game that’s on its last leg (graphically). Not only are the environments bland, but the character model’s are quite boring. They look quite blurry, and really remind me of the good old days of games for the Dreamcast.
All in all the graphics have definitely shown it’s age, but have been modified and tweaked just enough to not make this a totally ugly game, but just below average.
For the amount of money you will be dishing out for the game the only thing I can think of is that it better be fun. Like I mentioned earlier this is not a cheap game, but it is a game that will reward you as you get farther along in the game, and then you will find that it was worth the monthly subscription. The game is taken up a couple of notches due to the voice communication support, which brings a totally new level to the game. The graphics and camera issues are the only things that in the end are holding this game back from being a true ’must have’.
If you are looking for an Online RPG for your Xbox, you have no choice but PSO for the time being. Therefore it would automatically get my top choice. PSO isn’t perfect, but with the camera and graphical issues behind, this is a fun game that will become addicting. I would recommend it to anyone who is willing to dish in a lot of time for a game. My only hope is that Team Sonic can create the same gaming experience with the few problems fixed, with the next episodes of PSO.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.