Released on: April 14 2020 (XBOXOne), May 27 2020 (Windows 10)
Available Platforms: XBOXOne, PC (Windows 10)
Price: Free (Has an optional subscription service, loot boxes, a battle pass, and microtransactions)
I have been waiting a long time to write this review. I initially planned to write it a few months ago when there was no mention of a North American version. With the announcement of the North American version, I decided to wait until its release to take a look at Phantasy Star Online 2. When I was in high school, I played Phantasy Star Online on the Gamecube religiously, putting in well over one-thousand hours in it. It was my first mega multiplayer online game (known colloquially as an MMO), and for the longest time, no other MMO came close to engrossing me as much. A decade later, Phantasy Star Online 2 (PSO2) was announced. A proper sequel to a game I considered a second home? It was a dream come true! I was so excited about it that I played the Japanese version in anticipation of the North American release. Sadly, the North American version was canceled at the time, but that did not stop the dedicated PSO2 English community from making an English patch for it. Until I heard that PSO2 was finally coming to North America, I was playing the patched Japanese version. Now that the game I’ve been waiting almost a decade for is finally in my grasp, I can finally place my thoughts into words regarding PSO2. Was my hype for one of Japan’s biggest MMOs worth it?
Oracle, a colony fleet, bent on the colonization of new worlds. There are numerous planets where the environment is habitable, which is good. Sadly, the planets are already inhabited by hostile life forms. What’s worse, is the fact that a mysterious dark entity known as the Falspawn are corrupting the inhabitants of the prospective planets. To deal with these hostile threats, Oracle deploys a group of specially trained operatives known as ARKS. The player, being a part of ARKS, takes on missions to help get rid of the myriad of threats that await Oracle. MMOs are not known for their storytelling, and PSO2 is not the game that will convince people otherwise. Ninety percent of the story plays out in cutscenes that tries its best at worldbuilding. Sadly, many cutscenes play out the same, making me more compelled to skip them so that I can get the associated rewards. It is a shame since PSO2’s world is fascinating.
It is worth noting that PSO2’s original Japanese release was in 2012, and it looks like it. Part of the reason the cutscenes aren’t as impressive as they could be is that the characters look like dolls. The lip-synching doesn’t even come close to matching what the characters are saying (an issue that was also present in the original Japanese version). Despite the graphics being technically weak, I do like the art style of the environments and the creatures. Each planet has its creature types, like Naverius having monsters that resemble apes and wolves and Amduskia having dragon-like animals (some of them being actual dragons). The Falspawn look appropriately creepy; they have insect-like designs, further implying that their whole deal is to corrupt other living creatures.
The main thing that makes me come back to PSO2 is the gameplay. No other MMO is as fast-paced and high octane as PSO2. Even those that claim to be action based feel slow in comparison. PSO2 begins by asking the player to create their character. During the character creation process, they need to choose what class they wish to play. Classes dictate what weapons the player can wield. Hunters and Fighters are the typical melee classes, Ranger and Gunner specialize in ranged combat, and Force and Techer are magic-based classes. Braver and bouncer are outliers, as Bravers uses katanas for melee damage, and bows for range, while Bouncers can cast techniques and fight up close. Then there’s the Summoner, who has a pet fight for them. After creating their character, the player goes through the tutorial to learn a little bit about how the game works. It’s after the tutorial where things get going, as the player is then free to take on quests. The player can learn powerful skills known as Photon Arts that are the bread and butter of a weapon’s damage most of the time. The reason PSO2’s gameplay is so gripping to me is that the feeling of clearing a room full of enemies with a single move never gets old. Boss fights are also a treat, as it gives the player a chance to go toe-to-toe with giant, formidable creatures, each with their attack patterns, strengths, and weaknesses. PSO2’s combat system is endlessly gratifying and, in my opinion, has the best gameplay in any MMORPG out there.
PSO2’s character creator is fantastic. Other MMOs offer more realism than PSO2, but PSO2 gives players a myriad of customization options. For each body part, some sliders let the player decide precisely how that part looks. If that isn’t enough, there are more clothing options the player can purchase from other players to change up their look.
Occasionally, PSO2 will have Urgent Quests that task players in slaying a colossal, god-like Lovecraftian horror of a creature bent on destroying the universe. These quests can house up to 12 players. I adore these, as they are pure chaotic fun. At higher levels, these bosses can drop some insane loot. Some of the best stuff I ever found was dropped from urgent quests, and are worth undertaking when they happen.
There is so much I love about PSO2, but I feel like I wouldn’t be fair to my readers if I left out the issues.
Let’s start with the first problem I ran into with the North American version of PSO2: installing the game. A quick Google search will instantly reveal the myriad of issues players had in merely installing the game. For transparency’s sake, I installed PSO2 from the Microsoft Store. The first issue I ran into was the download of the game glitching partway through. I had to redownload the client again after that happened. The second issue I ran into was the client being unable to update the game. I kept getting an error that simply stated that it couldn’t download the necessary files needed to patch the game. It turns out that the game installed itself with wacky permissions that kept it from installing important update files (error 104 for those curious). Troubleshooting these issues took me a full day. I got the game running just fine, until a few days later, where the game crashed. I went to restart it, only to find it not doing anything. I looked at the folder that had the game installed, and came to find there was nothing there. That’s right; the game decided to delete itself. That killed my night, so I downloaded a third-party launcher (the PSO2 Tweaker, which I highly recommend) that helped resolve my issues. I haven’t had problems since, but just getting the game to work was an ordeal.
One thing a friend of mine pointed out was that PSO2 throws a lot of things at the player at the beginning. I didn’t realize it at first, having played the Japanese version of the game since its release in 2012, but upon reflection, it is true that PSO2 can be a little overwhelming to new players. Most of the stuff the game explains to the player is superfluous or not needed until later. That said, there is a lot that the game insists that the player needs to learn right out of the gate, which can turn new players off.
Possibly my biggest issue with PSO2 is the overabundance of microtransactions. PSO2 is a free-to-play game, and the microtransactions are entirely optional. Still, no matter how much affection I have towards a game, I feel it is essential to be transparent about microtransactions, and PSO2 has A LOT of them. PSO2 has a battle pass, a subscription service, loot boxes, and two forms of premium currency with its ARKS Cash and SG gems. Does the player want more inventory space? That’ll cost them some ARKS Cash. Did they mess up their skill tree? They need to purchase a second skill tree, with ARKS Cash. Want bigger personal quarters? They are available to premium users. PSO2 has scratch tickets that act as the game’s gacha, or loot box, system. That, too, can be overwhelming to a player. I would recommend ignoring it as much as possible. Still, it is worth mentioning that since there are so many monetization systems in PSO2, failing to say it would feel hypocritical.
My last big gripe with PSO2 is with the number of different currencies it has. Off the top of my head, there are Weapon Badges, EX-Cubes, Photon Drops, Photon Crystals, ARKS Cash, SG Gems, Casino Coins, Meseta (the game’s money), etc. There is no hiding it, that is overwhelming to most players, even to myself.
Subjectively, I love Phantasy Star Online 2. It has addicting gameplay, a ton of customization options, so much to explore, and a fascinating universe (when its corny story is taken out of the equation). On an objective level, though, PSO2 has a lot of problems. The game is a chore to install, the graphics are archaic, and there is a lot of monetization. I would love to recommend the game to everyone, but with its problems, I wouldn’t blame people for being put off by it. Still, there is a fantastic game here for those as determined to play as I am.