Hiragana Boss

pso2-2018-03-12-06-46-26-37

pso2-website

Saturday night on the Podcast we talked a bit about the things that were announced during the recent Nintendo Direct.  This caused me to veer off topic a bit and talk about Phantasy Star Online 2 that was announced during the Japanese only segment of the show.  There is apparently a new version of the game coming to the Nintendo Switch which I guess makes sense given that the game currently runs on the PS Vita as well as PC and PS4.  Since the Switch is a region free console… it made me wonder if maybe just maybe we would finally get to play this game.  Unfortunately though there would still be the language barrier and I somehow doubt I will be learning to read and understand Japanese before the release of the game.

psobb-2017-07-30-14-50-37-51

Phantasy Star Online is an important game to me, because more or less I consider it to be my first real MMO.  I remember playing it for hours on the Dreamcast hooked in over the rather crappy dial up connection, eventually replacing it with the network adapter and a 50 ft ethernet cable run into my office.  I was serious about this game, enough so that I had a keyboard hooked up through a janky adapter to allow me to communicate with other players more easily.  If you are curious about where this screenshot comes from, there is another post on Aggronaut talking about getting the PC based Phantasy Star Online Blue Burst up and running.  That was another nonsense weekend project that I did some time ago and was able to flip back into playing a Cast Ranger almost as though no time had passed.

I have known for awhile that there was a way to play Phantasy Star Online 2 on the PC and that there was even the option of a good english patch.  However I was under the false assumption that it was complete insanity to get up and running.  It was around this point that Thalen reminded me that I did in fact go through some absolute insanity to get the Chinese exclusive Monster Hunter Online up and running on a whim, and that surely nothing else would be that amount of silliness.  I mean for that setup I had to fake a Chinese regional ID card…  so he had a point.  Probably unintentionally he started a thread in my mind that ultimately lead to me figuring out how to get PSO2 up and running yesterday morning shortly after editing the podcast.

pso2-2018-03-11-16-35-19-64

The truth is it is pretty straight forward.  You need a couple of things to get it working and I will quickly run down those and how to actually make it work.  I highly suggest using Chrome for the right click translate option on pages… which will get you part of the way but will not help at all for images.

  • Direct X 9.0c – if you do not for some reason already have this.
  • A Sega ID – will talk about this more in detail.
  • Phantasy Star Online 2 Setup – straight forward install that is unfortunately in japanese
  • PSO2 Tweaker – assists in configuration and applies english patches
  • You Need 53 GB of Space – this game is huge
  • Choose Ship 2 – this is the unofficial English community

The Hiragana Boss

hiraganaboss

The most crucial step here is setting up your Sega ID.  There are numerous resources that walk you through the process, for example I watched this video to get me started.  The truth is google translate can get you through most of this, but as the final step you are going to have to face what I call the Hiragana Boss.  The page has a captcha on it, but said captcha is not surprisingly in hiragana given that this is a Japanese market exclusive game.  They present you a sequence of handwritten characters and you need to respond in kind…  and for me at least I do not have my keyboard or windows configured to do this.  This mean’t I had to leverage a website that offered a keyboard and the ability to copy and paste characters from it.

I thought I was reasonable at pattern matching, and managed to get through the equivalent Chinese boss while doing my Monster Hunter Online nonsense.  However what makes this one so much more difficult is that people write characters slightly different than the perfect keyboard version.  Look at your own handwriting, when you create a lowercase h for example…  it is always going to be significantly different than a serif or sans-serif h on a keyboard.  It took me roughly fifteen attempts before I finally got the character sequence correct with a lot of trying to figure out where the “signpost” character was or which “L with an accent” was the one I needed to match up to the one I was seeing in handwriting.

pso2tweaker

If you can pass this test however you are essentially there.  The install itself was relatively straight forward and my only suggestion is to ignore the text on the install buttons and just pretend it is any other windows installer.  The final step is to install the PSO2 Tweaker pictured above and let it patch your game.  It runs through a long file system check and then prompts you asking if you want to install the English patch, which you likely do given that you have gotten this far in the guide.  The only thing of note is… this is a volunteer fan patch and as a result not every possible instance of Japanese is swapped to English, however from my experience the critical path seems to be allowing you to progress and even enjoy the story bits.  If you run into issues there is a fairly active Discord community where you can ask specific questions.

pso2-2018-03-12-06-47-19-87

If everything went smoothly, you will be staring at the Character creation screen in no time.  I wound up creating a Cast Ranger like I played in PSO on Dreamcast, but you have a bunch of options that did not exist back then including the Summoner class.  At some point I plan on playing other things, but for the moment I am having a lot of fun with the Ranger which has a much wider skillset than the original.  Right now I have three weapons that I can swap back and forth between… the very familiar Assault Rifle, a semi-sniper/semi-rocket-launcher “Launcher” weapon, and an energy gunblade of sorts that lets me upper cut mobs into the air… and shoot them before they land.  I believe Ashgar was going to also do this nonsense and had planned on playing a Hunter so I will be curious to hear what his experience was as well.

pso2-2018-03-11-16-46-41-28

For a game that released in 2012 it still holds up graphically pretty well.  There are scenes like the above screenshot that are just gorgeous…  and then there are scenes that absolutely feel a little dated.  In some ways I think the fact that they have tried to make the game feel so familiar to PSO1 players is what is holding the graphics back.  It is very much the same sort of game where you explore a closed circuit map that is connected to other maps by for lack of a better term zone borders.  If you played the original game it will be deeply familiar to you, and if you didn’t…  it is going to seem a bit limited.  So far there seems to be a big boss battle at the end of every “zone” which maps up pretty closely to the way the original PSO was as well.  I remember fighting some big dragon thing at the end of the forest area for example, and this time around it is a giant rock ape thing.

pso2-2018-03-11-13-38-03-04

The game seems to have a ton of systems that I do not fully understand.  For example in the above image you see a blue and a green icon hovering above the ground.  These are harvest points…  but I am not entirely certain yet what I do with the things I harvest from them.  Some appear to be materials and others just ended up being food that I could get a buff from.  All in all though I had a lot of fun yesterday and now have PSO2 installed on both my gaming rig upstairs and my laptop downstairs.  I particularly like that you can shift the ranger into over the shoulder shooter mode which seems to fit most of the weapons available for that class turning it into a corridor shooter .  The nonsense wings I am wearing are from augments that the game gave me…  and thankfully the later upgrades I found were a little more low key.

I am sure over the coming weeks I will talk more about this game because the story is interesting…  but also a little crazy in that Persona series sort of way.  This morning I largely planned on writing out how I went about getting  connected for all the folks out there that are not a big fan of digging for information in YouTube videos.  It is not as silly a process as I feared and in truth other than the Hiragana boss it really is no harder than getting signed up for any other online account.  If I had even the most rudimentary understanding of Japanese it would have been significantly easier.  I have a feeling Ashgar for example… who has actually taken some courses will be able to breeze through the part that stalled me for a bit.  So far it appears to be a really fun game that is free to play, and while I see places where I could be spending money I have not really encountered the need to (nor do I think I can even figure out how to put money on my account).

 

Burning Torch

psobb-2017-07-30-14-32-05-52

psobb-2017-07-30-14-32-05-52

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.

psobb-2017-07-30-14-50-37-51

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.

psobb-2017-07-30-13-59-03-50

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.