Even with its shallow storyline and camera issues, Phantasy Star Online simply manages to be a whole lot of fun.
Creating a new installment in a classic line of games is an extremely tricky endeavor. The developer must balance the game in an attempt to please those who remember the old games, as well as attract new players who don't know a thing about any of the series' previous installments. Phantasy Star Online is an extremely ambitious game, and while it may not be tied closely enough to the rest of the series to please its longtime fans right out of the box, the sheer fun of forming a party and playing online more than makes up for this, as well as most of the game's other deficiencies.
To escape your dying planet, you and your fellow citizens are being launched into space in two gigantic citylike spacecraft. Pioneer 1 scouts ahead to look for a new home, while you, along with most of your world's population, wait on board Pioneer 2. Eventually, Pioneer 1 sets up shop on a planet called Ragol and sends word that Ragol is a perfect new home. But when Pioneer 2 arrives and establishes communication with Pioneer 1, a giant mysterious explosion rocks the surface of Ragol, annihilating the colony. It's up to you, as a hunter in the employ of your government, to find out what happened to Pioneer 1.
While the rest of the Phantasy Star series is a collection of fairly standard RPGs, PSO takes an entirely different route. PSO takes most of its cues from Diablo, running in real time and relying on your ability to hit the attack buttons in a rhythmic fashion to perform basic attack combos. There are three different character classes, and three different races to choose from. The ranger is the easiest character for beginners, as the class is quite proficient with ranged weapons. Forces are your typical magic users--fairly weak with physical attacks, but once leveled up, they can rely on magic techniques to survive. Warriors are best with sword-type weapons. The three different races--human, numan, and android--come into play during character creation as well, altering a character's starting attributes. Furthermore, androids are unable to cast techniques at all. The character creation also extends to your appearance. You can select from different heads, body types, colors, and sizes.
The game's combat is simple real-time fighting. You simply walk up to enemies or aim your weapon and hit the proper attack button to strike. Each weapon has at least two attack strengths, and some have a third with additional effects, such as draining hit points or technique points. You have six fully configurable buttons at your disposal, which is plenty for warriors and rangers, but forces will find themselves heading to the menu screens way too often to cast various techniques. On the planet, you walk from room to room, defeating enemies as they spawn in your current location. More often than not, you'll need to defeat all of a room's enemies to proceed. The enemies are well designed, though most of them aren't very smart, choosing to simply walk or float directly at you until they're close enough to attack. Also, enemies can't leave their room, meaning you can go hide on the other side of an open door whenever things get too hectic. Leaving a room causes the enemies to walk back to their starting positions, though they'll all keep their current hit points. So the major tactic in the later levels is walking into a room, shooting monsters until they get close, leaving the room until they get away from the door, reentering, and so on.