PSO Episode I & II impressions
We check out the final retail version of Sega's online RPG for the GameCube.
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The servers for Phantasy Star Episode I & II are finally up and running, and we've had a chance to play the game online for a few hours. Unfortunately, PSO's biggest drawback--the lack of a US keyboard for the GameCube--becomes readily apparent the second you step into a lobby (which is appropriately decked out with Halloween decorations) and try to type words using the game's software keyboard. For some, this may only mean that they spend more time making symbol chat icons more meaningful or entering macros for commonly used phrases. In any case, not being able to readily chat with other players in the game is somewhat annoying, so some may want to import the GameCube keyboard that's available in Japan.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, very little has changed since Phantasy Star Online was released for the Dreamcast. There are still three primary classes in the game, each one proficient in one of three areas: melee combat, long-range combat, and magic. However, some characters will have a slight mixture of both, such as the ramarl, which has relatively weak melee and long-range attacks but greater magic attacks. In addition, android characters--which are found in both the ranger and hunter classes--are immune to poison attacks and have the ability to see traps, but they have no magic skills whatsoever.
Because of their design, Episode I and the first few levels in Episode II tend to favor the long-range weapon users and magic users, since such characters can simply walk into a room, shoot, and then walk back out before being attacked by an enemy. Melee combat is slightly more difficult in the earlier levels because it's easy to get surrounded and trapped by enemies, but as your character becomes stronger (and you find better weapons and armor), you'll find that the three methods of attack are reasonably balanced.
Though, it's worth noting that the later levels in Episode II are constructed quite differently from those in the rest of the game. Instead of consisting of a series of squares, rectangles, and other geometric shapes strung together by a series of hallways, the later levels in Episode II have enormous open areas that stretch deep into jungles or spread out to cliffs overlooking the ocean. In fact, these levels put the older ones to shame on a purely visual level, as you'll notice much more detail in the environment and better use of various special effects. In one level, there is a series of waterfalls that cascade down a jagged slope of a hill, while in another, a setting sun pours beams of orange light through a jungle canopy.
We haven't had any serious problems with lag using the broadband adapter, but there have been a few questionable moments with the synching. For example, we were sometimes able to harm an enemy 12 feet away simply by swinging our sword. We'll soon have a full review of Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II for the GameCube.