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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

PSO Retrospective

Guild Wars keeps bringing me to mind of Sega's masterpiece on the Dreamcast, Phantasy Star Online. Yeah, the game has been ported over to other formats ... but I don't believe any of them will ever capture the magic of the first release. PSO was a child of it's time, when the Dreamcast was capturing the idea of consoles playing online before anyone else. Sega tried to make everything take advantage of the net, even if just meant tracking high scores. Now that seems almost banal, with Microsoft having juggernaughted XBox Live into the forefront of living room multiplayer ... but back then ... then it was inspired.

To illustrate the point - my brother and I used to connect just to chat because it was cheaper than a phone call and far more entertaining. Despite being lifetime geeks, PSO was really the first time we'd considered doing that.

So it was neat to discover this old Edge Review of PSO on (via Acid For Blood):

Connect and the combat dynamic falls into place. Those with guns generate cover for those using blade weapons, the casters provide healing and attacking reinforcement for both. Different team combinations bring different gameplans, experienced players help the weak, and items are divided fairly amongst the fighters. Naka-san’s hopes that players might fall out over stronger weapons go mostly unfounded, since PSO is essentially a co-operative game, and Edge has never witnessed a friendlier on-line community. Everyone watches each others’ backs. Everyone smiles when the dragon gets slayed. “Congratulations! > Alec Empire,” says the Japanese guy. Thanks. You too.

In an online world that followed Diablo, which was legendary for it's seedy culture of hackers and thieves, PSO was a playground. It was simple and fun just as much as it was secure and orderly.

It didn't last though. Notes on the review add the footnote. Eventually the online community shattered, the servers overwhelmed by mongrel packs of cheaters and children, but for a while PSO was idyllic. I wasn't around at that point, having left the game for other hardware at that point, but my brother was still around and reported that it wasn't pretty. Where the community was at one point solidly cooperative and helpful, it had been overrun by dupers and shysters ... such as people willing to trade you items that the servers would later delete when they discovered them as fakes. Instead of a great pick-up game experience, PSO was becoming a place to watch your wallet.

Haven't tried the new versions, nor did my brother. He plays offline on the GameCube now. So I don't know if the trend has reversed or not. However, Guild Wars has a remarkable PUG (pick-up game) culture and in the near future, Phantasy Star Universe is set to be released.

I don't think I'll ever be the kind of guy to spend hours grinding for levels or searching for specific items, but I'll go for the kind of experience that Sega so richly defined anytime.

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