I must begin this post with a confession: the original Phantasy Star Online is one of the few Dreamcast classics I missed out on (the others being Skies of Arcadia and D2). I never got to experience turning on my console to explore a strange new world with my friends or strangers. Never got to enjoy even more of that “Sega Magic” during holidays, or long Summer vacations. Never got to experience the pain of a Dreamcast running off a 56k modem. A true Gamer’s Regret.
A few years back, I finally got off my ass and got into the PC port of PSO. I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you that it’s still an amazing game two decades after release; you’ll have to get used to its somewhat unique control scheme (or use a pad), but it’s as playable and fun as any other Dreamcast hit. I’ve been playing for years, and I’m still enjoying myself. The problem is that my enjoyment is somewhat bittersweet. I love running around fighting monsters with internet friends, or joining up with a group of random hunters to complete some quests. I love exploring the gorgeous environments and listening to that great music. I love taking on a random monster hunting quest and hearing the theme song to Burning Rangers.
All of this is great. Phantasy Star Online is a wonderful game that I love. But the bitter part comes in because I experience (or re-experience) something cool, and think, “fuck me, I really wish I could have played this as a teenager.” I keep feeling like I’ve missed out on something. This is a weird feeling I admit, because it’s not as if there’s anything missing, content-wise, from this port of the game; hell, there’s more stuff here than in the original. But there’s still that part of me that really wishes I could have experienced the game in its initial state. Again, it’s weird; I’m weird.
I ended up joining the fan server Ephinea. I’ve heard great things about the other server, Ultima, but I ended up with Ephinea because it advertised itself on being as close to the original Dreamcast experience as possible. So if you want to play with me, that’s the one to join. It doesn’t quite fill the frankly ridiculous feeling I have of missing out on a game during its heyday, but it does a good job of trying to fix it.
Fall is here. It’s getting darker outside earlier, the weather is getting colder, and I want to play some fucking Sega games. I think another reason why I wish I could have played this back in 2000 was because it does a great job of fitting into that Saturn-Dreamcast transitory period that I always associate with the end of the year. The music. The unique, timeless visual aesthetic. The enjoyment you get from playing it. This is the most Sega-ass game to ever Sega. It might be hard for some people to imagine, or even remember, but there was definitely a time when Sonic Team knew what they were doing, and made some of the best games you’ve ever played in your life.
Despite that personal bull shit, PSO rules. It is the only MMO I can stand, as I’m not a big fan of the genre. Yes, that includes that game; the Fantasy one with the obnoxious meme that makes me delay resubscribing another month every time I hear it, so if you want to play Final Fantasy XIV with me, you’ll have to wait until the year 2172. Anyways. The reason I like PSO so much is that it plays like an actual game. You press the attack button, and you attack. You don’t sit through a canned animation after clicking on your 30th Giant Rat. It’s possible to dodge attacks! You don’t have to simply stand in place and eat shit until your cooldown periods end. Stuff happens, and it’s actually fun. You go out into dungeons, fight monsters until you reach a boss, then come back with all the gear you got. Then you equip this gear, so you can go back into the dungeons, get better gear, get better abilities, take out the massive boss at the end quicker, and repeat until you can do this on the hardest difficulty. Sounds monotonous, but can be hours of fun with the right people.
I admit that I wrote this as a way to try and convince people to pick up PSO, or get back into it. The shape of the internet is changing again, maybe we can all meet up on the Pioneer 2. Though I regret not playing this on the Dreamcast, perhaps by playing with friends on PC, we can make new memories, instead of looking to the past. Strengthening friendships, building new ones, having a fun night while playing the best Dreamcast game of 2022.