I have suffered for more than 15 years enjoying Role Playing Games. I have endured companies not releasing games in the United States based on "supposed" lack of interest (Final Fantasy II, III, and V). I have settled for renamed characters and poor translations (Phantasy Star IV). And I have put up with over priced RPGs (all Role Playing Games). So why do I do it? Why do I put up with it? Because I knew it was only a matter of time before my favorite games became the next big thing.
I think that opinions changed when Sony made it a point to have Final Fantasy VII as it's flag ship game. Ever since then RPG's just seemed more important to the industry. Even well established games like Ultima and Dragon Quest (the Japanese Dragon Warrior) are more popular that ever. And Square releases no less than ten long quest games a year, something unthinkable for the Genesis or Super NES.
It was only a matter of time, though, before these one player games became online mega quests. Several computer games took the ball and ran with it early, with mixed results. And just now we console gamers are starting to catch up with our own brand of online and multiplayer games.
Though Phantasy Star Online is one of the first online RPG's to hit consoles, it is a fantastic example of what can be done. Is it deep? Nope. Is it easy, and within reason that you could beat it (with the right team) in one day? absolutely. Does it lose it's enjoyment after being beaten 15 times? Nope!
Phantasy Star Online works in the same way that the original Street Fighter works. I'm sure you can look back in retrospect and pick apart Street Fighter for being, slow, or letting people play Guile vs. Guile, or being unbalanced, etc. When we played Street Fighter II The World Warriors in the arcade the first time, we didn't think of any of these woes. Heck, months later when we were getting better and better and better ... . we still played just to prove ourselves. Phantasy Star Online is a lot like that. It can be quick like Street Fighter II, it can be a fantastic group experience. And instead of just being "your opinion", now you can PROVE you are the better player in so many different ways.
The game does only give you four levels, which ultimately gives you four bosses. Each of the levels are slightly diverse, though a little too much the same. Past the first level, the forest, you won't really be able to tell the difference between the levels. Outside of the wallpaper and enemies being different, the Caves, Mines, and Ruins are the same looking.
The bosses, however, are a different story. Some are a bit cliche, however the 3D take on the classic fight against the towering dragon is fully realized, and completely forgiven. The second level boss is a serpent-like creature that attacks you on what I swear is the same raft in Soul Calibur. There is a computer virus creature where you have to take out bunch of computer moniters (very Apple 1984 era), and then defeat some pop up creatures (think POP UP MOLE GAME at your local arcade chain). And then there's the last boss that, with some refuge, makes you defeat three mutations of him (there are four mutations if you are on very hard). One of the mutations makes you defeat a literal army of spiked BATTLEBOTS. Each of the bosses are vunerable in different ways, and really gives off the impression that more time was spent on the bosses than the level designs.
However, one problem, the bosses seem a little out of order. The forest has you fighting the dragon, which is stuck in a cave ... even though you are in a forest. The last boss is fought outsides in a "forest" like environment ... . even though at no time in the last level are you outside.
There are some camera problems that can effect newbies ... however, once you have mastered the control you should have no problem using the "reset focus" button to your advantage. And honestly this camera problem really only effects players far away from enemies, like Rangers ... who suck anyways.
There are three difficulties you can work through. Normal, Hard, and Very Hard (I think Easy was taking a vacation so Very Hard stepped in). Hard is playable at level 20, and Very Hard at 40. At level 20, though, it becomes useless trying to gain levels in Normal. The same works on level 40 with Very Hard. This keeps the game fresh, and for new gamers, it's nice not having to worry about looking like a clumsy oaf if everybody else is also. You can still play on Normal when you are on level 60, however, when you need 22,385 experince to level up, and each character only gives you 4, it is hard to find much enjoyment. What is worth 4 in Normal may be worth 49 in Hard. And once on Very Hard those same characters give you 95. Same works with money ... which after level 50 becomes an annoying item you can't get rid of.
All worry of evil thieving PSOers has, at least in my experience, been pretty minimal. I have heard horror stories from other gamers, and have myself run into a gamer who simply ruined the fun. But all in all, my experience with online gaming has been nothing but wonderful.
It's the arcade aspect of this game that makes it work for me. Sure it's the same levels over and over and over ... but when you are with people you know, it doesn't matter. My friends and I have played Ryu vs. Ken so many times I can't even spell that high ... and for all the same reasons we keep playing that, we keep playing this. A masterpiece that comes close to being perfect ... but also leaves a lot of room for improvement!