Phantasy Star Online 2 Preview

While a definite release date for American or Europe hangs in limbo, we had a look at South East Asia’s edition of Phantasy Star Online 2 thanks to Asiasoft. PSO2 is an attempt by a Japanese developer, SEGA, to penetrate a western and Korean dominated market with it’s own spin — a sci-fi MMOJARPG based off the Phantasy Star universe.

PSO2 packs a few modern features which is gaining increasing popularity in recent MMORPGS and the ability to customize your avatar is just one feature. Character customization in PSO2 uses a mix of template designs and slider bars to create creative, unique and even weird characters.

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Dressing up the character is likely to be a major draw for most gamers who had experience the Japanese version of PSO2. There is quite a huge wardrobe to pick your fashion depending on your character Race. Unlike the Human and Newman, CASTs have the shortest end of the stick.

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There are three base classes in PSO2. The Hunter a melee class using a mixture of swords and pole arms. The Hunter also doubles up as a tank with a high amount of HP, and perks to reduce damage while blocking. Rangers are similar to archers, focusing on range damage, deploying traps to hinder mobs and escape maneuvers. Wizards are the casters in PSO2. Throwing massive damage over a wide area while reserving skills to heal fellow teammates.

Unlike many games who restrict players to playing classes they choose at the start of the game and further restricting them later in the game, PSO2 takes a different, but refreshing approach. Players still have to live with their choices made at the start of the game, but they are able to purchase additional skill trees drawn from other classes. The limitation is the amount of skill points. Only one is earned every level. However, this helps to overcome weaknesses in each class.

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At launch, players would immediately gain access to the three basic races. Humans, Newman and CASTs. Humans are jack of all trades performing well in every class but fails to perform extremely well in any specialized endeavor. However, classes like Hunters which require a mix of stats suit Humans nicely. Allowing them sufficient HP to stay in melee combat while possessing enough PP to pull off a series of skills, known as Photon Arts, to control and limit opponents movements. Sadly, they don’t perform as well as their robotic counterparts in taking damage.

The Newman are liken to elves in fantasy Role Playing Games, but since we’re in a sci-fi universe, we had to stick to these humans with pointy looking ears. They sacrifice HP and melee potential for a huge boost of PP which are used to cast spells or to use skills. Making them extremely well suited for the Wizard class. Their high dexterity also make them excellent Rangers with their generous pool of PP that allows them to deal a constant high amount of damage.

The CASTs in PSO2 are tanky robotic life forms that are dexterous and they hit really hard. But, they lack the PP requirement to pull off combos to pin and control mobs. Making them excellent cannon fodder, but pathetic controllers. They make good Hunters and Rangers who don’t rely on Photon Arts.

However, there are minor stats differences for male and female characters of each race.

The Dewman recently made it’s debuted on the Japanese edition and we don’t expect it to be on the selection list on Asiasoft’s SEA server. It will arrive sometime in the future. The Dewman, a new race, possess exceptionally high stats for melee damage, while they possess high melee damage stats and PP capacity, the Dewman’s HP and other parameters fall below that of other races. It comes the Braver, a Katana wielding class that plays to the Dewman’s strengths.

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The combat system is built around the combos skills called Photon Arts, which consume PP to execute. Photon Arts can take the form of a physical attack for Hunters and Rangers or magical attacks when activated by a Wizard. Photon Arts combination is customizable by slotting known skills obtained by purchasing from a vendor or finding them in combat. This comes in a set of three slots that are activated manually one after another. Couple with an extra function to rotate weapons, this allows players to pre-set up to two additional Photon Arts variations to complement one another or adapt to different situations. The more PP your character have, the more Photon Arts you can perform.

Every weapon have a unique secondary ability that often suits the class capable of wielding it. Swords and Partisans for Hunters have the ability to block incoming attacks. While Assault Rifles and Wands cycle change to the next set of Photon Arts on the skill palette. However, there are also weapons like the Gun-Blade available to all characters, that alternates between range and melee attacks.

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Each player also possess a MAG, a small floating droid that provides utility abilities. Every MAG in PSO2 operates differently from another. The MAG gains levels when the player feeds it with an item in the inventory and the MAG would gain stats depending on the item it receives. MAGs generates Photon used to activate it’s skills whenever players defeat mobs or take damage. MAGs generate Photon Blast, when it reach it’s maximum Photon capacity. Photon Blast take various forms, like an avatar that does massive damage to mobs around it to deploying a HP regeneration field, depending on the stat progression of the MAG. Be warned, MAGs have a battery life that needs constant replenishing for long quests!

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PSO2 plays better on the gamepad for consoles. Especially when the controls revolves around an auto-lock system to keep your character aligned to the intended target, directional double-taps to evade incoming dangers and necessity to rotate  skill sets dish out more damage or adapt to various situations. This unusual gameplay of combining basic attacks, Photon Arts with rapid switching of combo sets makes the game clumsy on keyboard and mouse.

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PSO2 develops their characters extremely well with a lot of in game conversations, mostly based off anime character archetypes. Like a stubborn but impulsive Echo and her always clueless partner Zeno. A pair of twins, Tia and Pia, who have opposite character behavior and the sadistic android Lisa. Fortunately, Asiasoft did not remove the original Japanese voice overs and only the sub-text were translated for the English. The choice of both improves the playing experience especially for those who understand Japanese. For those who don’t, the Japanese voice over sets the tone of it’s anime world that is immersive, comical and expectably annoying at times. For Anime loving fans, they would find familiarity with really big names including Youko Hikasa (Echo) and Ryoukei Kimura (Zeno). This development of characters form a close bond between gamers and NPCs.

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NPCs would give players their character cards after completing a series of “Client Request” by them. Their character cards can be used by the player to summon them before disembarking on a quest. PSO2’s party system is an innovative system for the busy gamer in mind. It is really boring and painstaking to play an online game by yourself where most bosses, are designed to be a lot more than what a single player can handle. If your friends are not online and strangers are out of the question, in most scenarios, you’re doomed. But, in PSO2, you could draw on the assistance of NPCs whom you have earned their character cards or registered friends whom you could summon to your cause. NPCs are a pre-assigned skill set by SEGA but your friends characters possess the skills they assigned. Better check out your friends builds before summoning them into the fray!

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To humor the gamer who like to personalize their characters beyond the visual aspect, PSO2 also allows the programming of various text conversation when they are in certain situations, like when you’re on the verge of death of upon being revived. There are a lot of blank fields to waiting to be field up!

PSO2 is highly anticipated by fans of the Phantasy Star series and those who have the chance to play the Japanese version when it was first released. The unusually steep experience curve might put off some players who do not have time to play the game without some help from experience boosting cards on the cash shop. Still, there are some exciting things to look forward to the game with in game events and more updates to bring the game up to scratch.

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