This past weekend it finally became real! Having launched in 2012 in Japan, Phantasy Star Online 2 (PSO2) was supposed to come West … and then it didn’t … and then we didn’t hear anything about it when asking Sega directly. They never ruled it out, but they never made any announcements.
That changed at E3 last year when the official announcement was made: PSO2 would come West on the Xbox One and eventually the PC (and will be cross platform). Jason couldn’t believe it — hell if I am being honest, I couldn’t believe it. As much as a PSO superfan as I am, even I thought I would forever be playing on Japanese servers with English community-made translations. This past weekend though, there I was sitting on my couch, playing the PSO2 closed beta on my Xbox One X, and playing an official version dubbed in English to boot.
Today I am going to take some time to do a “mini-review,” if you will, on the closed beta. I won’t be delving too much into game mechanics, menus, systems, and other features as that will be done in our First Look video when the game goes into open beta in the future. However, I do want to give those that are interested a bit of a peek at what to expect on certain fronts and give you some of my initial thoughts. If you’d like more details on the game, check out the newly updated PSO2 site!
I feel obligated to call out that I am an unabashed PSO fan, so it wouldn’t be fair to say that I am 100% unbiased here. I will be pointing out things that I liked and things that I didn’t, but going into the game I already have a positive outlook and due to waiting so long to play an official version in the States, I may be willing to overlook certain things that you, the reader, may not. I’ll point them out as we go so you can make your own decision, but now you know where I stand.
My history with PSO
EDITOR’S NOTE: As a reader pointed out in the comments, this personal story may not be why you’re reading this so as a piece of advice, if you don’t care about a personal PSO story, you can skip this section and scroll down to the “Graphics, Performance, and Dubbing” section.
Before we dive in, allow me to sidetrack the conversation a little. PSO2 has been so long in coming here, and I can only presume that the main delay was probably a concern about the audience size outside of Japan. A fair concern to be sure — I mean, did you play PSO or any of the titles in the series back on older consoles? Some did, of course, but in comparison to other MMORPG titles, the numbers were small.
For me personally, I have both an attachment to the game for the game itself but also for personal nostalgic reasons which I have shared on Twitter, so I may as well share here.
Back in 2000/2001, my wife and I were expecting our first child. At the same time, my younger brother and his girlfriend at the time were also expecting their first child. Late one night, my wife was in bed and I had a friend over. To call him a friend doesn’t do him justice at the time — he may as well have been another brother of mine. I don’t know what he’s up to now since we don’t speak anymore (things change, I guess), but at the time we were close.
Anyway, at about 2 a.m. we were playing PSO on the Dreamcast via a dial-up modem. We used to play all the time and this night he just happened to be over and we were taking turns knocking out various missions. As we were playing, we got disconnected. We boot up again, get disconnected, and we repeated this cycle three times or so. He finally said that he thinks someone may be trying to call (remember those days?!). I say there’s no way someone is trying to call me at 2 a.m. and we try again only to get disconnected. This time we leave it off for a moment and, sure enough, the phone rings. My brother’s girlfriend is in labor.
Seeing as how I was quite broke at the time and didn’t own a car, his friends were going to come pick us up. I woke my wife and all three of us got ready. We headed to the hospital and around 6 a.m. or so she still hadn’t had the baby yet so the three of us headed back home for a bit. My friend stayed on my couch while my wife and I went to bed.
A few hours, and still no real sleep later, the phone rang. She had the baby and I have a new nephew. I had my back to my wife as she took this call. I heard her say congratulations and let them know that we’ll stop by later. She hangs up the old cordless phone (BEEP!). A few silent seconds went by and all of a sudden, my wife jumped up and went to the bathroom, advising me not to move or touch her side of the bed.
Being the good listener that I am, I reached over and find out her water broke … I woke my friend up and we headed to the hospital again. Later that day my first son was born. Yes, the cousins have the same birthday.
I tell you this not only because it’s a cool story (at least I think it is) but to also show the nostalgic part of my love for PSO. When I hear the sound of a teleport being used, the chime of clicking through the menus, and some of the music used in the series, I think of that night. I can’t help it; the chime of accepting a quest, the menus noises, all of it, just reminds me of a very happy time.
(It also helped that I loved the game itself!)
Graphics, performance, and dubbing
Right off the bat, things weren’t going well for this closed beta. Being only about a day and a half long, a five-hour delay in starting wasn’t a good look. We later found out from the game’s Twitter account that they simply were not ready for the number of players in the beta. This seems a bit odd to me, as the beta was only available on the Xbox One and you literally had to sign up for the beta, so they should have had pretty decent player counts (unless everyone just slammed their “Sign Up” button minutes before beta started, I guess).
Once the game was available though, my experience was very stable. I didn’t have performance issues and it ran smoothly on both my Xbox One X and my Xbox One. The team extended the beta to make up for it with a few extra hours on Sunday. All in all, performance-wise, the game seemed ready.
Now let’s talk graphics. This is the area you see the most comments on from people that are watching the game or haven’t played it yet, and it’s a fair comment to make. The game is eight years old, so it’s dated right off the bat. While the game’s art choices do mask this a little bit (much in the same way that World of Warcraft’s more cartoonish graphics allow it to age slower), it is certainly noticeable that it is an older title.
Having played on both systems (XB1 and XB1X) I can tell you that the Xbox One X takes advantage of every edge it has over the Xbox One. The game is enabled for 4K and has three different text/UI sizing options for the higher resolution, and it looks good — not great, but good. I like the aesthetic, so it works for me, but for those of you looking for updated visuals, this port doesn’t go that far.
What is bad, even for a fan like me, are the cut scenes. Let me be specific as there are two types of cutscenes used in PSO2. The in-game engine cutscenes are fine. If you are ok with the way the game looks, you’ll be fine with how these looks. The “cinematic” cutscenes are bad, though. They are animated just fine but dated like crazy and on the 4K view the increased resolution makes them look like they were recorded on a VHS tape. Mercifully, these aren’t used all that often and when they are, they are usually very short.
The port to English did come with more than I thought, though. In addition to the obvious text translations, there is a lot of English voice acting. Even Quna’s Concerts (an NPC that performs concerts in game) have had their songs recorded in English. While I personally am the type of player that leaves the original language on and uses subtitles in games, I did leave English on here and at no point did I want to just shut it off out of annoyance. There are some good performances and some OK performances, but I haven’t come across any so far that make me want to turn Japanese voice back on to save my ears.
On the topic of text translations though, this still needs some work. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to localize. PSO2 will have you reading, and reading, and reading … Most of the work is just fine, though some errors are still noticeable, mostly in the form of poor grammar or bad spacing. (I was really confused in one text bubble where my character “Nadellia” was referred to as “Nadelliayou” until I saw it was just a missing space between the words.) In my playtime, I never had text that I had to sit and parse what it meant; the point of the text was clear in most cases. Failing to read the text when accepting a quest, though, could lead to you abandoning that quest to pick it back up and read the dialogue again since you got lost. Make sure you pay attention.
Gameplay and loot loops
Thank the stars that the text is usually easily understood as you’ll need it to be. For those of you not familiar with PSO’s universe of gameplay, allow me to set the stage for you.
If you go into PSO2 thinking it’s an MMORPG in the same style of WoW or FFXIV then you’ll be a bit confused by some things. You may want to go into it with more of a Diablo or Path of Exile loot loop-based mentality wrapped up in MMO features. The combat is very MMO-like (action style with a lock-on feature to keep the camera in check), but the core gameplay revolves around getting loot, upgrading loot, enhancing loot, and doing it repeatedly. You have a lobby (the ship) where everything is housed and you’ll warp down to sections of the planet to complete story missions, side missions, client orders, and several other quest-based activities. You’ll do this solo or in groups of up to four players (Urgent Missions allow up to 12 players) and you’ll interact with tons of players on the ship, in your guild, and through other typical MMO interfaces. You’ll also spend a lot of time in menus — not to the extent that you did in say Final Fantasy XI back in the day, but there are a lot of menus, and this is an area I feel might be confusing for new players.
In the beta, the game does both a great job and an awful job of teaching you things. It’s great in that everything has an explanation on how it works. It’s awful, in comparison to more modern MMOs, in that you only get the explanation screens when you try to do things for the first time. There is no real straight-line quest series to get you acclimated. Yes, there are side quests to teach you all of this, but if you just open a menu for the first time, you’ll get the explanation that the quest leads you to anyway, assuming you walked around and talked to the person that gives you the Client Order at all.
There are a lot of systems in play here, too. Why? Well, PSO2 is kind of a min/maxer’s paradise. Almost everything you do has an impact on your stats. Class choice? Yep. Gender choice? Yep. Weapon choices, enhancements, Mag (your robot companion) choices, food buffs, skill tree allocation, all of it feeds your stats. So, get ready, as I warned earlier, to read quite a bit.
The combat side of things is a bit more streamlined, at first at least, with greater complexity and a myriad of options as you go deeper. Your class will have a few weapons equipped at the start and you are free to move, fire, swing, and swap weapons in combat. Think TERA action-style more than FFXIV and you’re close. Some abilities will lock you into an animation, but faster abilities can be fired while on the move to get away from, or while dodging, that big baddie in front of you.
It can be a bit overwhelming for newer players. You have multiple hotbars you can fill, multiple weapons you can swap all with different abilities you are learning, skill tress you are filling, and it’s hard to know what you should be doing. I wish the port would have done a little more for the new player besides a few basic quests to get you moving, but it certainly makes you feel great when you stumble upon something or figure out how a few systems connect, and it feels more exploratory than other MMORPGs because of this.
Final beta impressions
Personal love for the series aside, I really enjoyed my time in the beta. My Ranger is about to ding level 30, my first subclass is leveling (one character can be all classes), my Mag is on his way to helping my DEX stat, and I’ve made a good amount of cash on some of the slots in the casino. The combat feels fun, the story is presented in a manner that’s a bit unique to MMO storytelling, and I can’t wait to get to open beta.
On the cash shop front, I can’t really give you much, as it wasn’t open in this test phase. The team has said that it will be cosmetic in nature (PSO2’s cosmetics are insane and the end game does have an element of being a fashion show) and will include convenience items like boosts and inventory expansions, which you will probably end up buying first simply to make sure you get all the sweet loot that drops. Content is free and is always planned to be free. The Japanese version of the game did have an optional subscription and some text in the beta indicated that we’ll have that too, but we’ll have to wait on a full list of the perks that option will grant you to see if there’s any difference here in the west.
If you like a slightly more exploratory game, one where you may find yourself researching things outside the game to get the most out of every system, and you’re OK with graphics on the dated side, there isn’t much reason not to try PSO2, even if this is your first step into the universe. If you’ve been a PSO fan in the past … well I don’t need to tell you that you’ll love everything here. You probably already played in the closed beta alongside me.