Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II - GameCube

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Also for: PC, Xbox
Viewed: 3D Third-person, floating camera Genre:
Adventure: Role Playing
Arcade origin:No
Developer: Sonic Team Soft. Co.: SEGA
Publishers: SEGA (GB)
Released: 7 Mar 2003 (GB)
Ratings: 11+
Accessories: Memory Card


When Phantasy Star Online was finally made available for the internet-ready Dreamcast in 2000, droves of role-playing gamers jumped on board with their modems or new-found broadband connections to experience one of the earliest online game worlds for a console. It was awesome, and a second pseudo-sequel soon followed, bearing the imaginative subtitle Version 2. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to keep the Dreamcast afloat, but the series is far from dead. With Nintendo readying its online capabilities for GameCube, Sega has launched Phantasy Star Online Episodes 1 and 2.

The Phantasy Star Online plot involves a mysterious explosion that happens on Ragol, a planet recently terraformed by your native homeworld. Pioneer 1 set up colonies seven years ago and just as Pioneer 2 was due to arrive with you on board, something strange happened. The initial settlers have disappeared and the explosion seems to have affected the resident wildlife, rendering them hostile and dangerous. Your task is to find out what happened and fix things.

Beginning the game by creating a character from scratch, you can customise dozens of physical features, from hair colour to height and weight. You can select what class you would like your character to be and define them as close-combat warriors, magic users or long-range fighters. It's your decision, but the choices you make will have an adverse affect on the game's difficulty level.

Then, once ready, you must visit the Hunter's Guild on Pioneer 2, acquire a hunter's license and embark on any of dozens of missions and side-quests as you strive to uncover the truth down on the planet's surface. The game world itself, which covers dense areas of forests, steaming caverns and sewers is rendered in full 3D and looks undeniably gorgeous. The camera generally follows behind the player, so manually targeting hostile beasts and machinery shouldn't be too much of a chore.

Although technically two games in one, even the most ardent Phantasy Star fan will struggle to uncover the enhancements Version 2 offers. For the first several hours of the game, Version 2 remains identical to its predecessor. But given time, the changes and additions become increasingly apparent. It surprises even today, how mere expansions on older games can still be so addictive. There's a driving force throughout Version 2 that ignites the player's curiosity. You'll be drawn into hours of gameplay just because you'll want to know what new features lie around the next corner.

If Phantasy Star Online wasn't already a big enough challenge, Version 2 has been developed to include several new enemies that are noticeably more powerful than the originals, and generally reside in Version 2's completely new levels. In the previous version, players were able to grow, statistically speaking, to a level of 100 - a common barrier amongst many RPGs. But Version 2 breaks that tradition and allows players to progress as far as level 200! Given the experience gained from defeating enemies, this would normally take an excessive amount of time. Sega has also given this factor careful thought and has included a new Ultimate difficulty setting. As if completing the game a single time wasn't hard enough, finishing the same game with new levels on Easy, Normal, Hard and Ultimate settings is a phenomenal task. But it's a challenge that most role-players will relish.

The game hasn't changed much since its Dreamcast days, but it doesn't need to, and Nintendo fans starved of a little Sega magic can finally indulge themselves in a heavy and challenging role-playing experience from one of the most respected software houses in the world.