Title :Phantasy Star Online
Platforms :Sega Dreamcast
Publisher :Sega
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :9.5
Review by :Larry Tipton

Phantasy Star Online is a science fiction style role-playing game that is actually two games in one. There is the online game. Here you create or join a team of up to four members. You can play through each level from the beginning, or you can join a game already in progress. Then there is the offline game mode where you play by yourself. Your character can be used in both offline and online modes. 

You will no doubt spend most of your time playing the game online. The lag time using the Dreamcast's built-in modem is almost non-existent. Setup is a breeze if you've already configured your Dreamcast modem for dialup. The first time you play the game online you will be asked to supply serial number and access key. This information and the unique ID found in your Dreamcast itself are used to establish an online account on Sega's PSO network. For this reason, renting the game to play online is rendered useless. Be advised! 

When creating your character, you have quite a few choices. There are three classes: Hunter, Force and Ranger. Each of the three classes have three different species ranging from human to android or Newman. For each character, you are presented with a graph of the character's strengths and weaknesses. Included with this graph are health points, technique points, accuracy rate, armor class, technique damage rate and attack damage rate. Choose one that fits your style of playing. 

Each character has a protector called a MAG. You must feed your MAG in order for it to become a powerful companion. As the MAG evolves it will have powers that you can invoke in the heat of battle. 

So how is the game? Have you ever played Diablo or Diablo II? Have you ever wished that those games were more up close and personal and in a 3D world? Well, PSO delivers the classic Diablo game play in just such a world, up close and personal. You go from area to area clearing out all manner of baddies, flipping switches, discovering secrets, finding loot, new weapons, shields, and armor along the way. If you perish and no one is there to revive then you lose your current weapon and are returned to Pioneer where you can once again join the game in progress.  

The game levels themselves are varied. You begin the game on the surface of the planet. Later come the caves, mines and finally the ruins. All are a completely different, look simply amazing and have all manner of beasts to defeat along the way. 

The level bosses are huge and powerful. Each is incredibly well animated and detailed. To defeat each boss you need to identify its weakness. 

Have you ever played a game online with someone and thought how great it would be to hook up with him or her later and play again sometime? Sega makes this easy to do through the use of a Guild Card. Every player has one and it can be customized. You can send this card to any other player in your current game as well as to anyone that has given you his or her card in the past. With this you can then send "simple mail" to up to 55 different people. You can also find and join another person online using the card. 

The game is deep yet it is incredibly easy to play. Within a few hours you will begin to understand what items are truly necessary for survival. You'll also gain more techniques and attacking actions. Phantasy Star Online is one of those rare gaming gems that come along once in a while. It is a game that is not to be missed.  

This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 12-Mar-01