Phantasy Star Online

   When Sonic Team debuted Phantasy Star Online last year, it was met with incredible success as console gaming's first networkable online RPG. Since that time, a second version of the game was produced to give players even more of what they wanted in the original game: more monsters, weapons, and items to find and trade. Now, Sonic Team is gearing up to expand on the game further with Phantasy Star Online for the Nintendo GameCube.

Gale Gryphon lays the smack down.

   The latest upgrade in the series (simply called Phantasy Star Online) starts with PSOv.2 and builds from there. Version 2's battle and challenge modes will be included, as well as the ability to engage friends in a rousing match of lobby soccer. For a mere 10,000 meseta, players may also visit the dressing room to give their character a complete makeover, or at least a quick change of wigs.

   However, the GameCube edition of Phantasy Star Online also brings with it a trio of new character classes. These classes, originally meant to be included in the first Dreamcast version of PSO, were cut due to time restraints and are expected to play very similarly to others of their kind. The RAmarl, for example, is a good fighter with access to some techniques like other Rangers. Those who play as a FOmar can expect the standard setup for Forces: incredible magic power with very little in the ways of physical combat. Finally, fans of Hunters will embrace the sleek-yet-intimidating appearance of the HUcaseal, a robotic female assassin.

   At least one new area, the jungle, has been confirmed for the game. While other sections of the game are to receive only minor cosmetic upgrades for this release of the game, the jungle was designed with the power of the GameCube in mind. Ponds and rivers ripple and flow with stunning realism, and vegetation appears lush and abundant, almost alive. Scenes of a four-member party have been seen traversing the new area, also showcasing the GameCube version's four-player offline splitscreen mode. This feature will probably see most of its use through the battle and challenge modes.

~Blue skies, nothing but blue skies...~
Costa del Sol

   Many are concerned whether or not this version of Phantasy Star Online will be able to interact with other incarnations of the game. In situations like this where such an option is available, the decision lies in the hands of the hardware manufacturer: in this case, Nintendo. At present, it seems that Nintendo is opting for a closed-network setup, indicating that inter-console play is not a part of their online strategy. On top of this, PSO creater Yuji Naka believes that those who purchase the GameCube version of the game should not have to be subjected to the rampant cheating that plagues the Dreamcast versions.

   Also of interest is the fact that the game may come bundled with a GameCube modem. While it isn't doing much online by itself at the moment, Nintendo is giving full support to any company that wants to bring its games onto the internet via the GameCube by offering to release a game/modem package. In this instance, Nintendo will probably release such a combo with Sonic Team. There is no word yet on a possible broadband adapter.

Jill and Sephiroth take a breather.

   The issue of pay-to-play is also unknown at present, although it is likely that the game will impose a pricing system similar to the Dreamcasts's PSOv.2 For $15, players can purchase a Hunter's License which allows them to play the game online for a period of 90 days. During this time, players are allowed unlimited access to all of the games various modes and features. While many gamers have protested this fee, Sonic Team has been putting the money to good use by keeping the servers up-to-date and doing everything in their power to cut down on cheating in the PSO universe.

   While those who purchased Version 2 may not see much point in buying the GameCube edition, this title will appeal to fans of the original PSO as well as those who may have wanted to play the game but lacked the opportunity. Sonic Team already has a strong backing of Dreamcast fans, and with this title due out in 2002 for the GameCube, Nintendo fans will have an excellent chance to see why.

Preview by Alex Fraioli, GIA.
Phantasy Star Online
Developer SonicTeam
Publisher Sega
Genre Multiplayer RPG
Medium Disc
Platform Nintendo GameCube
Release Date  March 2002
35 screenshots
3 new character class designs