GAMING: Japanese Pre-Beta with Sega's Phantasy Star Online 2
Sega had released the original Phantasy Star Online, in early 2000 near the end of the Dreamcast's life and introduced players to the possibilities of online console gaming, that basically turned the little Dreamcast into something of a PC hybrid -- with a mouse, keyboard, and broadband adapter.
No other online RPG, MMO or otherwise has been able to captivate my attention as much as PSO did, and that's not just nostalgia talking. The game itself was a one-of-a-kind experience, that had all the foundations of what we see in today's MMOs, but offered action RPG elements, among plenty of other things that differentiate it from your typical MMO. Certainly other online games should learn from Sega and PSO.
To name a few, PSO offered the option to raise pets (MAGS), the character creation and communication options were extensive, and the overall design style and Japanese aesthetic was pretty cool. Most of all, the game was addicting, and I had clocked many hours playing with friends.
In the time after PSO, I tried getting into playing MMOs. I played Aion for a while, dabbled in WoW, and LOTR and tried SWTOR. None of those MMOs really did it for me. They were rigid in gameplay. Vast, but lifeless. Bustling, yet I felt like a drone. You get the idea. The MMO felt bland, and kinda stale, where swords, elves and magic all melt into one big mishmash. "Go here, do that, grind, gather, craft, repeat. Dungeon this, Raid that.."
The Phantasy Star spin-offs that followed didn't have the same appeal as the original PSO either, going in an entirely different direction from what PSO was.
Given that MMOs just weren't the same, and the PS follow ups were dismal, I never thought there'd be a day where PSO would return to the masses in all its glory. To much surprise, Sega finally got their act together, and are supporting an official sequel that is very much like the original, but so much more improved.
This is something many Dreamcast fans had hoped for a long time coming. Now gamers can experience PSO without being limited to a single home console.
THE RETURN OF THE KING
PSO was/is the best online console RPG ever made, and it was a pioneer in the industry, (albeit the only one at the time of the Dreamcast). The latest installment is already proving to be pretty popular with the turnout for the Pre-Beta and soon Open Beta. PSO2 is planned to be multi-platform experience from PC, to smartphone, I'm assuming also available to EU and NA at some point. A new generation will get to experience PSO and it should will be a welcome alternative to the MMOs out there. Welcome Back PSO!!!
I had heard of the PSO pre-Beta, only a few weeks ago on PSO World.
Signing up for the Japanese Pre-Beta has probably been the easiest process, despite being entirely in Japanese. Honestly, I thought the process would be much worse and that I would be waiting in line with other desperate gamers hoping to be chosen like in a lottery, when in reality all I did was sign up, and I was in.
Well, of course the Phantasy Star Online community was extremely helpful in figuring out the step-by-step process, thanks to the PSO World. There's a wealth of information from North Americans who signed up for the Japanese PSO2 Pre-Beta. I realized I wasn't alone!
Basically, signing up for a SegaID, and indicating the service you want to be part of (PSO2 in this case) gets you added to the PSO mailing list. You download the client, patch it, and when Sega decides to have an event, they activate the servers on those days. You login with your SegaID, pick a server, create a character, and off you go. Of course like with any other password sensitive site, if you mess up while creating/logging in a SegaID, you'll get locked out for a bit. I had some trouble with the Japanese CAPTCHA but Katakana keyboard came in handy. http://www.lexilogos.com/keyboard/katakana.htm
Obviously, the Japanese Pre-Beta is entirely in Japanese, but not to worry since PSO World offers lots of forum threads to help understand what's going on. Also the Sega websites and game have areas (ie. text, chat log, tutorial popups) where you can highlight, copy/paste txt to Google Translate. In fact, Google Translate does a pretty good job!
Combat is definitely the highlight, after all this is where players spend much of their time. PSO is an action RPG and is known for having gameplay where attacks are timed in succession to create chain combos, while also being able to freely run around. PSO2 is not that different from the original but it does take combat to the next level. Unlike typical MMOs where players just click moves, and wait for cool down time, PSO is all about letting the player move fluidly and strategically with their abilities, (for the most part).
As expected there's a large array of weapons that can be found and used, each with unique animations and strengths. Attack combination chains are now more than 3 hits. There are also jumping attacks of various heights, and air juggling of enemies.
I played a HUmar, and didn't get to try any of the 'techniques'. I did pick up some discs which I think were for lightning spell, but I couldn't get it to work for some reason. Not sure how different the character races/classes are in PSO2, but I couldn't activate or add techniques to my skill bar.
The double tap to dodge is a great addition, along with the free-aim over-the-shoulder manual targeting view. If you hit "Z" on your keyboard, the camera changes into this mode, which if you've played Gears of War, GTA, etc. it's basically a way to keep your player aimed at the action, allowing for strafing, and targeting.
PSO2 works well with a keyboard and mouse. The original game on DC, I used a gamepad for moving and attacking, plus keyboard for chatting. The SHIFT key to Quick change to secondary weapon, and mouse wheel to switch to other weapons are very useful, and well... quick. The LMB is for regular attack, RMB is used for the strong attack chain (which eats up PP). The type of chain attacks can be customized. Though I did notice that some weapons, don't have strong attacks until you activate them, and then add the attack to chain menu. This I'm still tying to figure out.
Combinations of weapons like sword/gun come in handy!
Stunning! Looking back at the Dreamcast, and comparing the two, the graphics have come a long way. Looks great with my PC, and I didn't have to adjust any graphics settings.
Audio sounds great, there's many familiar sounds from the original game. Sega has a really good library of audio effects for everything in the game from menus, attacks, and more. It just sounds pleasant throughout!
The User Interface is pretty good. Even being in Japanese, the use of Iconics is the universal language.
Sega did a great job with making communication in PSO quite social, and making it fun! Back in the day they were called EMOTES. I think the Japanese term for it is 'Symbol' editing, (EMOTES is probably the translated term) are quick ways to communicate to other players your mood -- Happy, Sad, Need Help, etc. through imagery. The pre-Beta had a bunch of default images that could be used, but players can also create their own images, and save them for use. The Symbol editor comes with images, and text that you can copy, paste, scale, rotate, translate. It's like a mini in-game, photoshop.
I can see people getting very creative with their Symbols.
Is a lot of fun! There's lots of features to mess around with. It starts out with different body type templates to choose from, then you can go in and switch up the facial features, hair, body, clothes etc.
One issue I found though was I couldn't find the skin tone slider! Not sure if I missed it, or if it's been removed.
There are plenty of menus in the game. Menus, within menus. So I had to go through a lot of trial and error to figure out what exactly certain menus are.
If you hit "U" it opens your Equipment menu, where you can adjust your armor, weapons, techniques. You can also set up your attack chains combos, and put items on your keyboard bar.
If you hit "I" it goes to your Inventory menu, where you can use/trash items, organize you stuff.
If you hit "ESC" it opens your options, where you have access to settings for creating Symbols, Keyboard setup, communication, friends lists etc.
On board the ship (aka the server lobby) you have your vendors for items, and upgrades, you also have access to the Quests desk, and you also have a room. PSO2 MY ROOM. Though, I was unable to find my room! Perhaps on the Open Beta I can try to find it. I think there's also an auction, and warehouse.
When using items such as Monomate, the player cannot move while using these items. I recall in the original PSO for Dreamcast, the player had the ability to run around while using HP/TP recover items and telepipes. In PSO2, this doesn't seem to be the case. Using Monomate shows a drinking animation when using the item, which stops your player from moving. BAD in combat situations where you need to move and survive. Not sure why they changed this!
The experience was solid for the most part on both days of the Pre-Beta. I only experienced lag near the end of the second day, but that was it. The game looks and plays great. Though it is entirely in Japanese, I do feel like there is a bit of a lack of understanding with many of the menus, and communicating with those around me, but I think that's where Sega's idea for Symbols comes in handy, because then players can express so much with images.
I'm definitely looking forward to OPEN BETA - JUNE 21.
SCREENS FROM PRE-BETA