Phantasy Star Online 2 | Feature

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Logo

First released for PC in Japan in 2012, Phantasy Star Online 2 has hit the Vita, the PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch since then. When it was announced at E3 2019 that Phantasy Star Online 2 was coming to North America exclusively for the Xbox One/Xbox One X and (later announced) Windows platforms, I was more than a little skeptical- especially after it was announced to be a free-to-play title with optional microtransactions. When the free closed beta weekend for Phantasy Star Online 2 was announced, I immediately signed up for it with a burning desire to answer a pair of simple questions: 1) will a game from almost a decade ago still be relevant and have an audience in today’s gaming world, 2) will there be plenty of content to explore, and 3) what are the gameplay mechanics like- will I want to spend hours in this universe?

After playing all through the Phantasy Star Online 2 closed beta both on Saturday and Sunday (I couldn’t log in on Friday thanks to the server issues), I found that all my worries and fears are, with some reservations that I will talk about later, meaningless. Phantasy Star Online 2 is, simply put, an amazing title to play. And if the final full game is anything like this closed beta, then we are in for an absolute blast of a game. Before I talk about my beta experience, there is a bit of lore background that needs to be explained first. In Phantasy Star Online 2, you are part of ARKS, a task force that evaluates and surveys planets while fighting the Falspawn, a corrupted force that wants to engulf the universe in darkness. As you play through Phantasy Star Online 2, the ‘hub’ takes place on various ships (online servers) that are part of the Oracle fleet. At the beginning of the closed beta, you play ARKS’s newest recruit who is dropped onto Naverius, a planet described as “uncivilized, with aggressive wildlife”, to complete his or her training.

“…I loved the party system in the Phantasy Star Online 2 beta test. It was a lot of fun, and it felt like everyone in the party had something to contribute.”

When you’re creating a character, there are four races to pick from (Humans, Newmans, CAST, and Deuman) and two genders options (male or female) for each race. As soon as you make those basic selections, the entire character creation panel opens up in a way that belongs more to a triple-AAA sixty-dollar title like Skyrim than a free-to-play title. There are so many options to select from. If you want to put on two hats and sunglasses, while changing all of these items colors around, you can. If you want to change your hair color, skin color, eye color, even how thick/skinny your arms and thighs, you can do that too. There is even a cornucopia of voices that you can choose from for your character. The character selection process is insane with just how unique in appearance you can make your character. And you can, if you want, just randomize everything instead to come up with something truly ‘unique’. You can then select your class. There were six classes available, which ranged from the Distant ‘pet’ class Summoner to the up-in-your-face Brawler and everything in between. I tried out a handful of classes when I started, and I was more than pleased to see that not only do they all play differently but they all also are rather fun to play. Just for the record, I played almost exclusively as Summoner.

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Want to shape muscle mass, waist size, or virtually anything else? You can in Phantasy Star Online 2, as seen above.

Or you can just randomize at your own risk, as seen below. (Images taken by me).

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Randomized character

When you dive into the tutorial mission, you are introduced to Alfin -also a new recruit- and you go through the basic movement controls and combat attacks on dummy targets set into the ground as an NPC on the ship, Echo, guides you from task to task. Predictably, things quickly go awry as the Falspawn appear and you’re saved by a cool and well-experienced red-headed dude who sees something in you as the new recruit who can keep calm under pressure. After the mission is completed, you return to your ship and you get a brief tour around. While the closed beta storyline (keep in mind- things can change before final release) was fairly standard JRPG-plot ‘comfort food’, I found it quite enjoyable nonetheless and a perfect introduction into the Phantasy Star Online 2 world that I now inhabit.

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Plot
The NPC characters, at least in this early beta portion of the game, are fairly JRPG trope-incarnate. (Images taken by Leah McDonald).

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Plot

Phantasy Star Online 2 is, first and foremost, a real-time ARPG game. What that means is that you will kill enemies on the map in real time (no turn based combat here!) and level as you go through each quest. I got to level 15 within a couple hours, and I did almost no grinding to get there. I will say that after that point, I got from 15 to 19 over a period of three or so hours. As you level, you can equip different weapons and armor as well. And unlike in FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn, you can upgrade your weapons and armor during a raid. Leveling and expanding my pet’s abilities, which is done via an independent combination system of consuming eggs and inserting ‘sweets’ into a chart that is reminiscent of the abilities system KINGDOM HEARTS: 358/2 Days, is rather unique and a bit more complex than I would have liked. Even after I figured it out, I was still not happy with it and more than a little annoyed that my pet’s stats weren’t tied completely to my own leveling.

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Pet Leveling
Place the sweets on the chart to boost your Summoner pet’s stats. (Image taken by me).

Combat itself is a lot of fun and is incredibly fluid. You are given three different weapon palletes that you can equip weapons and abilities onto and flip between with only a couple button presses- even during combat. This is important since different enemies are weak to different elements, and you will be able to equip said elements in weapons/abilities to take advantage of this. I will say though, as Summoner, my Gunblade weapons were borderline useless as I would be quickly torn apart if I actually tried to engage in any real up-close combat without my pet. I was thus pretty much limited only to using my pet to attack from a distance and then using my pet’s abilities, which are tied to the ‘PP’ bar below my ‘HP’ bar. Even attacking from afar did not detract from my gameplay experienced whatsoever. Phantasy Star Online 2 closed beta was simply a fun game to play with a group of randomized people. We tore through enemies, died some, and then destroyed even more enemies as we traversed different biomes on Naverius as groups of four, and I found myself continually diving back in fight more enemies on a regular basis.

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There are four races and six jobs available in the Phantasy Star Online 2 beta. (Images taken by Leah McDonald).

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Pallete
You can have up to three (3) different weapon palletes per job for maximum fighting customization. (Image taken by Leah McDonald).

These quests fell into two types: 1) find the final map zone area and kill the final area boss there and 2) get ‘x’ number of points from enemy kills, with each enemy being worth 2-3 points. The first one was where I spent most of my gameplay time and I loved going through the maps and killing enemies until the final boss. There was not a whole lot of strategy beyond “spam attacks and special attacks” needed, and there wasn’t any communication in party- which turned out to be a problem that I’ll get into shortly. Regardless, the fighting went very smoothly and I found myself enjoying it quite a lot. The second type of quests, where I needed ‘x’ points, was extremely tedious to play. With each enemy only being worth two or three points, and I needing 250 points to complete one mission, I found myself going back and forth in the area in order to make sure that I didn’t miss any enemy. It was a long slog of a mission, and it didn’t help that I was doing it solo for whatever reason. I sincerely hope that SEGA either increases the point value of each mob or decreases the total points needed to clear that type of quest, since it was an absolutely ridiculous experience.

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Mission Select
You select your quests from an NPC aboard the ship. (Images taken by Author).

As I mentioned earlier, I loved the party system in the Phantasy Star Online 2 beta test. It was a lot of fun, and it felt like everyone in the party had something to contribute. The only issue with it, however, was actually finding where your party was on the quest map. If you were dropped into a quest midway through (not an uncommon occurrence), you often would end up having to hunt through the map for the other party members. The in-game map only revealed itself as you visit that part of the quest map (even if you have done this quest before) and so I would often be at a complete less of where in Naverius the rest of my party was. Along those lines, there was often no ‘direction’ in the quests of where exactly to go next to complete the area. The party and I would frequently wander around just visiting all of the areas in the map in order to determine where to go next. And due to a lack of communication between players in quests (seriously, there were no messages exchanged at all during my beta quest experience), this really did hurt the overall experience. Exploring the world is fine and dandy, but I wanted to keep the quest moving forward constantly instead of trying to not keep someone from backtracking yet again to a previously visited area due to the possibility that we overlooked a path forward.

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Ice
There are different biomes to explore, including an ice themed one as seen here. (Images taken by me).

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Ice

The highlight of the beta was easily the Urgent Quests that would temporarily appear on a fixed schedule. When an Urgent Quest was imminent, the main ship area would light up with red alert lights, a message would appear, and a limited-time event Urgent Quest would soon be available. These fell into two categories: 1) Explore the area and kill the boss at the end and 2) Just kill the big boss enemy that appears. The Urgent Missions were a ton of fun and showcase the absolute best of what Phantasy Star Online 2 can do. The explore-area-and-kill-final-boss was just like the individual quests, but with a larger number of people. The second type of quest turned into a massive boss-kill fest that was frequently over in a minute or two, especially when people were hitting levels 18-plus towards the end of the beta. It in fact culminated with the final boss Urgent Quest, Elder of the Unfathomable Abyss, being able to be spammed by parties in just two to three minutes apiece. The only real issue I had with these Urgent Quests was the queuing up process. When you decide to jump into the quest and you enter the group loading area, you have to activate a teleporter to start. When that teleporter is started, whoever is inside within thirty seconds will be entered into the Urgent Quest. It doesn’t matter if there are twelve people or only two present- those people are the ones that get dumped inside. It is a baffling decision by SEGA to not, at least for the beta, require a full alliance of people in order to start the Urgent Quest and not start the actual mission until there is that number of people present.

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Alert
When an Urgent Quest is about to begin, the entire ship lights up in alert, as seen above.. (Image taken by Author).

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The final two Urgent Events, seen above, was a massive combat zone that quickly became a farm-fest for the second-to-last event. (Images taken by Author).

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Teleporter
The teleporter you have to use before entering an Urgent Quest. (Image taken by Author).

There is one major, absolutely annoying issue that was present regardless of the type of quest I was doing though, and that was inventory management. Your character is limited to carrying fifty items at a time. That includes all your gear, your weapons, and any items that you want to use. You can also manually move items into a storage space that has around three-thousand slots in it. All good, right? Well, the problem is that enemies frequently dropped, at least in this beta, a lot of items and gear. To the point where I quickly capped my item inventory out after my third mission. What this meant was that I would frequently stop fighting and perform inventory shuffling multiple times while questing. And since you will be able to share gear across characters and you can’t tell exactly what item is what before when you pick it up, it means that you are forced to do this if you want to collect your fight drops.

Phantasy Star Online 2 | Sonic the Hedgehog trailer
In addition to playing Phantasy Star Online 2, you could watch the trailer for the upcoming live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie that was on all the screens in the ship. (Image taken by Author).

What this means is that, more than once, I saw people hanging around after the final fight in a quest in order to presumably inventory shuffle items alongside me in order to actually pick up drops. It was annoying, it was cumbersome, and it quickly made me stop picking up items entirely after a few hours into the beta so I could just actually keep playing the game. This is a completely baffling gameplay mechanic by SEGA and one that I hope is revisited and revised completely before Phantasy Star Online 2 is released in its entirety.

Check out my thoughts on the casino games and Quna’s idol performance on Page 2 —->

Quentin H.
I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it.