I was just reading that Sega is putting out a gigantic patch for the 360 version of Phantasy Star Universe and it had me thinking about the original Phantasy Star Online. I was really into PSO pouring hundreds of hours into the Dreamcast and Xbox versions, it was as close to an addiction as I've ever had. When I first started playing online games it was mainly FPS games of the occasional game of Red Alert or Warcraft 2. When stuff like Everquest started to show up and never tried it. A friend let me watch him play a little PSO and I was so amazed I ran right out and picked up the game and the Dreamcast keyboard. I had just moved into a new place and all my stuff was still in the boxes nothing put away it was a mess. I ended up putting my TV on a trunk and setting the Dreamcast on a box and hooking it up and playing. It all stayed that way for about 3 months.
What grabbed me about this game was the simplicity of it but how it was just complex enough to hold my attention. Combat was handled by a few buttons and you could do come combo moves but they were easy to pull off which made slaughtering monsters very easy and fun. This was my first exposure to the "online RPG" and at the time I was unaware of the time commitment needed for this type of game to keep up with the people I was playing with. But in the end I didn't mind putting all my attention to it I even missed a bunch of games because I was so into playing PSO. My main thing that just sucked me in as I'm sure it did most people was the loot. Like other games such as Diablo, Everquest and World of Warcraft you have to keep killing hoping that new shiny sword drops so you can be a badass running around for the 5 minutes it's new to you until eventually you just want the next shiny thing to drop. The game had a lot of stuff to get some of it very rare but one thing I thought was cool was you could get loot online as well as off. Certain weapons could be found by doing things in the offline game which let people always have something competent to use and not be stuff with the base weapons. The classes were simplified too, the Hunters who were best with swords and other close combat weapons with a limit on the ranged weaponed they could use. You had the Rangers who could use all the guns but were limited to the melee weapons they could use. You also had the Force class which were the mages of the game and could use the stronger magic. On the Dreamcast version the other two classes could use almost all the same magic as the Force which kind of made that class a little useless as the Hunters and Rangers could resurrect and heal. In the later versions such as the Xbox game the Force was the only one that could use the most powerful or useful spells. The other two were very limited to what they could cast. You also had the "Cast" or robot races in the Hunter and Ranger class, they couldn't use magic but they couldn't be poisoned and they could see the traps on the ground without the aid of items or magic.
The Dreamcast version was plagued with problems, cheaters and hackers were all over the place near the time I started playing. The in game economy was broken as money was hacked to hell and most everyone had 999,999 in their banks and on there person. You didn't have a trade window either. You had to drop your trade on the ground and hope the other person was honest and didn't try and screw you. The biggest crap thing about the Dreamcast version and this for lack of a better word was just bullshit, when you died you dropped you equipped weapon on the ground. It would just be lying there waiting for you to be resurrected or if you were unlucky for some other player to swoop in and grab it and then steal it from you. When the hacked player killing was just starting I had a couple of times where a player would kill the party and then steal our weapons. It got to a point I wouldn't use my good stuff with strangers in the room. All this was fixed in the Xbox and I imagine the Gamecube versions of the game, but I never played the Gamecube version so I'm not sure on that.
Typing and fighting at the same time was okay, I had been doing it in on my PC for awhile so it wasn't a big deal. Sometimes I'd go to my friend's house and while he played I would type and people were amazed he could play and type like that at the same time, it was fun. The Xbox version had voice chat which made playing this game so much more fun. Not having to stop fighting to communicate was just what this game or hell any game needed. You really got to know the people you were playing with and since this was the infancy of Xbox Live all the idiots weren't really around yet or at least in the force they're at now. The only voice issue I had was this dude I played with named Korn who played a song by the band Korn when he entered a room and I wouldn't even really call it a problem because I thought it was cool but some may think it's annoying.
On the Dreamcast I played as a Female Cast Ranger as I was into the ranged combat and the eventual ranged weapons you could get were just super badass. Heaven's Punisher was just the fires of the sky raining down on the forces you were fighting. The cool thing about that gun was it only worked every other minute. One minute it's bringing the apocalypse then the next it's just a normal gun. On the Xbox version I was a short hunter with a pink afro. I don't know why I didn't just remake my Dreamcast character because I liked it so much but I guess I wanted to try something different.
One thing this game introduced to me and what I've gone on to call "Like PSO" or PSO use of levels" is the way it handled the side quests. You had the main zones you went through for the story four in the original and I think 8 in version 2.0. But when you were given a side quest you went through the main zones but with maybe different enemies or some obstacles added to the level to make it a little different. This was the first game I noticed that did stuff like this and after playing it I started to see it in other games. Knights of the Old Republic was one that did it and was one of the first I noticed it in. I kind of like it when developers do this it makes the zones you've visited seem to have more life to them.
PSO was a really fun gaming memory I have and I still think about it fondly. As with most games like this though I eventually burned out and that's when I tried the PC MMOs such as Anarchy Online and Everquest but they weren't the same. The next time I would get into a MMO type game was with Star Wars Galaxies and eventually World of Warcraft like lot's of other people have. I tried the sequel Phantasy Star Universe but it wasn't the same it just didn't have the magic for me the first game had. I would love to see Sega put the Xbox version of PSO out on the XBLA or PSN. Maybe with the release of Monster Hunter 3 on the Wii which I understand is close to the PSO gameplay people might want to see PSO on Wiiware but I would prefer the other two systems so we could have the voice chat and all that jazz. Right now as I write this I'm considering hooking my Dreamcast up and playing some solo PSO it won't be the same but it would probably be a nice blast from the past. The only thing that makes me not want to is what happened with Mario 64. It would devastate me to play PSO and not like it anymore but I don't know maybe I'll do it.