Rating: COWBOY HAT
The only take away is just how great this robot's hat is.
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The Phantasy Star Online series started on the Dreamcast back in 2000 and became a favourite of the Dreamcast owners in our shared student flat. Eventually, once the Dreamcasts had migrated into the living room, playing it offline became a staple too. The action RPG had fun combat and compulsive loot drops. A few years after that Phantasy Star Universe dropped on the Xbox 360, it had the familiar combat and missions of the first, but for me it didn't quite rekindle the excitement of the first one.
This year Microsoft announced that the sequel proper: Phantasy Star Online 2, was coming to Game Pass and the Xbox One. I picked it up and it feels very mush like the original, but having already been out in Japan for eight years, it also feels like an incredibly established experience. It's initially quite overwhelming, there are casinos and bonuses, and personal quarters to decorate, and tiny assistants to craft, and story missions to run, but at it's core it's the same game as the previous versions, just refined.
The combat flows gracefully and feels faster and more fluid than before, the weapons have more variety and feel distinct to master , and the missions have dynamically spawning quests that add challenges on the hoof to keep things interesting. That said, where I think the game really shines is not in the fun of the combat or the compulsion of the loot drops, but in the abject chaos of its "Urgent" missions. The absolute insanity of the melee in those frequently scheduled missions is heightened by the boss designs, and the choices of music that accompanies them. For example, one such mission has a group of sword carrying characters charging along a beach fighting crab-like monsters while a remix of "Splash Wave" from Outrun blares in the background. It's spectacular.
Also as it's SEGA there are plenty of blue skies and happy landscapes, which really sets its look apart from other MMOs I've played. That said, it's not without its flaws, some of the character designs are pretty darned creepy; SEGA decided there'll be a lot of French-maid outfitted young women on the front lines of interstellar military operations. I very much hope they're wrong, I prefer the Star Trek vision of a future space fleet where everyone's allowed to wear sensible clothing.
Anyway, graphical gripes aside, PSO 2 is a really fun experience that I love not just for the nostalgic twitches it triggers in my brain, but also in and of itself as a game.
Plus, my robot avatar has a very good hat.