There are a lot of games that I hold a torch for… even when they are long dead and gone. Specifically I am looking at you Hellgate London… that I will always have a significant amount of love for. However another of those titles is Phantasy Star Online. This is ultimately what I consider to be my first MMO, or at the very least the gateway drug that opened me up to the possibilities of Everquest. The Dreamcast is a special console for me, and in large part it is due to this game. I spent many a weekend afternoon dialed into SegaNet with the 56k modem and eventually upgraded to the “broadband adapter” and running a 50 ft network cable out of my office and around the edge of the loft so I could partake of this title at my then DSL speeds. I even went so far as to purchase a weird controller adapter that among other things had a PC PS/2 port that allows me to connect a keyboard so that I could communicate more easily with other players while running group content. I played a RAcast, which was the giant robot ranger character… which is probably why I have so damned much fondness for Exo’s in Destiny. Because of just how hard the various mobs hit… I found playing a sword wielding Hunter class to be awkward and involved way too much dancing in and out of melee range just barely not getting hit. Ranger on the other hand could absolutely abuse the fact that mobs would turn back around when you encountered a gate between areas… and I would sit at the space between zones and effectively “kite” the mobs until they were dead.
For awhile I have known about unofficial community run servers for Phantasy Star Blue Burst the PC release of the game that came out in 2003. However with the one I had messed with before, the game felt not completely functional in some way. The controls were wonky, and the servers felt laggy. However I heard there was a much better experience in the form of the Ephinea Private server. I never quite know where whims come from… but suddenly this weekend I was hitting the page and downloading the client. Firstly the experience of getting into the game is much better than the version I had messed with before, that involved downloading the game via a large torrent. This instead is a fairly slim roughly 650 meg installer. From there it boots into a menu system that features its own built in patcher, so there has been a significant amount of time spent making this as good of an experience as is possible. The client also seems to support a whole slew of modern resolutions and some advanced options for a higher resolution HUD, all of which was missing from the version I played a few years back. Reading the FAQ on the website you can see that they have made a significant number of tweaks to improve overall game play experience like giving all of your characters a shared bank. What is also interesting is that there are three seperate rulesets that are supported: Normal, Hardcore and Sandbox. The second being much more difficult but having much better drop rewards, and the later being a pseudo “admin mode” that allows players to summon up items and such. For the time being however I have simply been playing on Normal mode while I get used to the game again.
It is funny just how fast the game has come back to me, and even though my Fusion Pro Controller is nothing like a Dreamcast Controller… I have managed to adjust to the differences rather rapidly. In truth there is not a lot of deep strategy going on in this game other than the rhythm of landing a triple hit attack… which I remembered pretty quickly and have been abusing since. Ultimately I probably wouldn’t suggest downloading the game unless you are in one of two camps. Firstly this is awesome for those of us who played the game back when this was literally better than anything out on the market, and want a trip down memory lane. Secondly this is awesome for anyone who completely missed the boat on Phantasy Star Online and would like to at least see what the game was like. In both of those cases it will provide some enjoyment, but for anyone expecting a modern experience… you should probably keep on moving. I’ve talked about this before, but there is an era in gaming where the ability to play online with others… especially from a console was the central feature of the game and any other details were by nature secondary. While the core gameplay loop is still enjoyable to me personally… it won’t be for many especially considering how slow paced the game is and how cludgy the targeting system can be. A good bit of my love of Destiny is likely because Phantasy Star Online was my first “looter shooter”. I ran around with a rifle wielding RACast and shot things until they dropped boxes of loot… that I then either equipped or took back to the Tekker to identify the item. Master Rahoul has nothing on the disappointment the Tekkers used to bring us when that weapon we have trudged up from the bowels of Ruins 3 turns out not to be the upgrade we were looking for. If you too want a trip down memory lane however… I suggest you check out Ephinea and their awesomely tweaked version of the PC Phantasy Online Star Blue Burst client.