I remember playing Phantasy Star Online on my brother’s Dreamcast when I was a wee youngun’. The Dreamcast was pretty much the first ever experience I had with online gaming. My three brothers and I would play Chu Chu Rocket online against other players for hours on end. What joyful bliss that was.
When Phantasy Star Online came along I did have any experience with online MMORPGs. I had played countless hours of various RPGs in my youth; however, a world you could experience with other people miles away in a different country was quiet unknown to me. I had heard whispering of EverQuest, however I didn’t really know at it was. You must bear in mind that these were the days of dial-up and “pay-as-you-go” internet (yes, such a thing did exist).
Phantasy Star Online, for those not in the know, was an action MMORPG. You could lock onto enemies however you had to move around and dodge their attacks whilst perfectly timing your own movement and moves. PSO may sound like a thrilling, action-per-minute experience; however in reality it was slow. This slowness didn’t take any fun away from the game though, and in fact it added to the thrill of gameplay as you could only run so far away from a monster.
I’d watch my brother team up with other players from the world over to defeat giant bosses. I didn’t get to play the game much until we purchased the Gamecube version, and I was incredibly amazed by it all.
PSO was split into four episodes, with episode one being on the Dreamcast; episodes two and three on Nintendo’s Gamecube; and episode four, an expansion pack for episode one and two, was released on PC only. Whilst a next-gen game released in the “online” series, Phantasy Star Universe, it never really caught people’s imaginations like the original games did.
Phantasy Star Online was a major leap forward for console gamers and console MMOs, giving those gamers access to content and a genre which they had never experienced. The recently released Phantasy Star Online 2 (PSO2) has the chance to be yet another game which further pushed forward the online genre. Note that I mentioned recently released, but it was launched in Japan in 2012, so what I really meant was that it was the most recent game in the series.
Phantasy Star Online 2 is a now free-to-play, action MMORPG for the PC. The game follows on from its predecessors of players starting on a ship and then beaming down to the world below to participate instanced missions with a variety of other players.
PSO2 has been a huge success in Japan, doing better than anyone could have possibly ever expected. It’s captivated its audience and ascended to MMO history as one of the first free-to-play MMORPGs built from the ground up and being successful from both a critic and financial point of view.
No wonder European and American players want the game so badly. In fact, the game being Japanese hasn’t stopped a lot of players from enjoying PSO2. Indeed the Japanese language barrier is merely a small stop gap for players wanting to experience this fresh MMO. Fans have come together to produce guides telling Western players how to create their characters as well as general game guides.
What’s even more amazing is that fans have come together to translate the game into English from Japanese, just because they want to play the game together. These fans update their translation every patch the game releases, just to help out their fellow fans.
Some Western gamers have become annoyed at the lack of a Western release, hacking into the game and messing up NPCs, as well as other things. This prompted Sega to “ban” Western IPs from playing the game. Of course, Western players are still playing the game and enjoying it, especially with the English translation, however you better not let anyone else know that you’re a Westerner, because you might get the ban hammer.
Of course, once upon a time Sega America had every intention of bringing PSO2 overseas. In fact, they even showed off an English language version at PAX 2012 to huge success. If you’d also visit the game’s official Facebook page, then you’d see Sega bragging about the huge lines they had as eager players waited to get in on the action.
Unfortunately, the company has gone mute about it since then. Sega has had heavy financial problems, more than once since that PAX unveiling. Although that hasn’t stopped the Japanese company from buying Relic (developers of the Company of Heroes series) and Atlus (creators of the Persona series). Of course these are large scale investments, however it does raise the question of why fans are being required to wait so long for a game which, I believe, will make Sega a huge amount of cash. In fact I believe that if released over here, PSO2 would be the company’s most profitable video game.
Western audiences are craving a free-to-play MMORPG built from the ground up and taking place in a fantastically realized world. PSO2 will scratch that itch. League of Legends, Lord of the Rings Online, and Rift prove that there is a huge audience for PC, free-to-play gaming. Sega seems content to ignore it.
Of course what burns more is that Sega have translated the game into English for South Asian audiences (unfortunately Western players are IP blocked from playing it), however they still won’t bring the game over to Europe and America. Once more, Sega are refusing to tell players about what exactly is going on. Your biggest fans want to know what’s going on Sega, and yet all you do is ignore them. Haven’t you learned from the Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 failure that a lack of communication and disrespect to your audience is more damaging than saying something, anything?
Fret not though, I have heard mutterings from the darkest places of the internet that employees at Sega America and Europe are working hard to bring PSO2 to us. They are, rumor has it, fighting against a stubborn Sega Japan, however they are trying their hardest to get the title released over here. Of course, these are merely from sources found on the internet. Whether or not they can be trusted is up to you. However, I’ll take unknown sources that give me hope any day over whatever Sega is putting us through.Related: Everquest, Phantasy Star Online 2, Release, SEGA