For SEGA fans, one of the biggest surprises of E3 2019 was the announcement that Phantasy Star Online 2 would finally be getting a full North American release—a plus for both single-player and multiplayer gamers alike. After eight years, will it be worth the long wait?
The Phantasy Star series made its debut in 1987 on the Master System, becoming a staple turn-based RPG for Master System and Mega Drive. Unlike many other RPGs of the era, Phantasy Star heavily incorporated science fiction elements, a tradition that continued after the soft reboot of Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast, being set aboard a colony ship in space.
Phantasy Star Online was the first online RPG for games consoles, and was warmly received by fans. Remarkably, the game is still beloved to this day, with fans creating private servers to allow Dreamcast owners to still use the online features. This speaks to the appeal and staying power of the core concept of Phantasy Star Online and its successor.
The fanbase has some concerns about how the localisation will be handled, however. Chiefly, fans are hoping for a completely new translation. An English translation for Phantasy Star Online 2 does exist, handled by AsiaSoft for the SouthEast Asian market. However, this translation is widely disliked due to grammar errors and altering the long-standing sci-fi terminology of the game into generic fantasy terms, such as changing Technics to Magic.
Additionally, those in the West who remember playing the 2006 MMORPG Phantasy Star Universe will recall a number of issues relating to conflicts between SEGA of America and SEGA of Japan regarding the management of the game. In one instance, a persistent bug prevented many Western players from participating in a limited-time event; SEGA of America promised to extend the event, but were not given powers to do so by SEGA of Japan. Fans are hoping that those sort of power struggles are now in the past.
One of the more interesting aspects is that Phantasy Star Online 2 is using a free-to-play model, supplemented by the real-money shop called the Arks Cash Shop. This is in contrast to Phantasy Star Universe, which was subscription-based. Phantasy Star Online 2 will also be coming to Xbox One as well as Windows, but oddly not to PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch. Also worrying is that a European release has not yet been confirmed.
On a personal note, I am one of those nerds who still owns a Dreamcast and a copy of the original Phantasy Star Online. I have even investigated how to hook up my Dreamcast to a modern broadband connection to play on private servers. The Phantasy Star series is not really like other RPGs, embracing a science-fantasy aesthetic and encouraging players to explore and make new friends online.
Despite all the concerns, I’m still very excited to dive back into this expansive universe. I’m looking forward to building my character, following the complex storyline, meeting my cute little ‘Mag’ droid and adventuring among the stars. Even if I do wish it was coming to PlayStation 4.