Half a port of the Dreamcast game Phantasy Star Online and its expansion Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2, half new content, PSO Episode I & II was originally created for the Nintendo GameCube but was later ported to the Xbox. All of the Dreamcast content was gathered and labeled as Episode I, while all new content was created and labeled as Episode II. Online play required a monthly fee of 10 bucks on both systems, in addition to the costs of Xbox LIVE. It was one of very few games to make use of the GameCube's Broadband and Modem Adapters to facilitate online play.
The story revolves around the space colony ship Pioneer 2 which is sent to populate its passengers' new home of Ragol, a planet barren of civilized life. In Episode I the players follow the footsteps of Pioneer 1 and the famous hunter Red Ring Rico Tyrell, who coincidentally is the daughter of Pioneer 2's Principal. There are two sets of quests, one set for single player play, and the other for online multiplayer. The split screen multiplayer mode featured no quests and allowed up to four players travel through the game's areas on one TV. The campaign had 4 difficulties, Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and Ultimate. Upon creating or choosing a character, the player chose their Episode and difficulty. Since the actual adventure was so short, the main draw of going through the areas was leveling up, getting to the next difficulty level, or finding loot / rare items. The only main difference between difficulties is that Ultimate has re-skinned monsters and bosses, plus rare loot becomes exponentially more common which each successive rank in difficulty. The currency in Phantasy Star Online, along with many other Phantasy Star games, is called meseta.
In Episode I, players follow in the footsteps of Red Ring Rico, finding and recovering data logs of her progress through the areas on Ragol’s surface. These messages start as a sort of tutorial, but as the game progresses they become the main device for advancing the story and receiving tips about the enemies and environments around you.
This dungeon is split up into two tiers, Forest 1 and Forest 2. Enemies are generally mammalian, ranging from birds and wolves to larger gorilla-like creatures. This area leads them to the Central Dome of the Pioneer 1 community in which a Dragon has taken up residence. The player must vanquish the Dragon, avoiding fire-based attacks and a targeted underground tunneling attack.
This dungeon has three tiers and is noticeably longer than the Forest. Enemies are more reptilian or insectoid. The caves end with the players teleported onto a raft where they fight the worm-like De Rol Le down a seemingly endless underground river. This boss has laser-like energy attacks and will latch onto the raft to attack you with tentacles.
In this two-tiered dungeon players encounter the first non-organic enemies in the game, many types of robots who have electrical attacks. The teleporter in Mines 2 leads them to a control room where they fight the super powered computer Vol-Opt.
This huge machine is the first multi-tiered boss in the game. At first the player is tasked with breaking screens on which the image of Vol-Opt is shown while avoiding pillars that send out lightning attacks. Then, your character must contend with a large rotating machine that attempts to crush the player and shoots missiles. The players are then taken to a mysterious underground room where they will be able to enter the Ruins if they have activated relics located in the second stage of each previous area.
This dungeon has three tiers and features darker, more supernatural enemies. At the end of Ruins 3, the player is transported to a beautiful garden. In the garden they find a large stone, apparently a grave of some sort, and upon approaching it the skies grow darker and dozens of small spike covered enemies begin spinning around the circular arena. After destroying a few of these enemies, they bury themselves in the ground and a large beast appears. This boss is named Dark Falz, and in his fist stage he moves around the area on a base consisting of three serpent-like heads. The heads occasionally spit out the same spiked creatures the players fought before, and after doing this the creature continues to move about. After enough battling,
Dark Falz will launch a blast of energy into the air which rains down on the players, hitting them all. After the players destroy this form he leaves the base behind and rotates around the outside of the stage. He will sporadically attack using explosive fire techniques and ice attacks that may freeze the players. After enough hits the battle is over if on Normal difficulty, or moves onto the third and final form if on Hard, Very Hard, or Ultimate difficulty. In the third form the players are lifted into the skies on a holographic ring created by Dark Falz. This form will attack one player at a time with a long range energy Gatling attack and an extremely powerful swipe. Also, the beast casts an elemental light attack, and a dark attack which can result in instant death. After the players destroy the creature, they receive loot, and if the killing blow was made by a weapon with "Dark" in its name (made with an item earned as a drop from the Episode II final boss) the player can travel back to the boss fight area with Dark Falz to see the garden restored and the spirit of Red Ring Rico floating on the grave. If playing single-player, the game then rolls an epilogue / credits sequence, but if you are playing with friends you are only shown a quick congratulations screen with pictures of all the involved characters.
Episode II starts off with the player going through two virtual reality locations, the Temple and the Spaceship. Throughout the areas of Episode II there are communication terminals similar to the logs left by Rico in Episode I. These allow the player to
receive reports and information from Pioneer 2’s lab. Your contact at the lab is Elly Person, a character you meet in one of Episode 1's optional quests. These areas are noticeably harder than those of Episode I. Each area consists of two tiers, 'Alpha' and 'Beta', and feature enemies found in Episode 1 along with re-skinned versions of Episode 1 bosses, Barba Ray (De Rol Le) for the Temple, and Gol Dragon for the Spaceship.
Players then head to the newly discovered areas on Ragols' surface to a Central Control Area which is comprised of three locations: the Mountain, the Jungle, and the Seaside area. This area features all new enemies, and the boss creature Gal Gryphon who uses powerful wind attacks from a distance to challenge the players. After completing the CCA, the players
journey to the Seabed, the hardest location in the game. This area also has brand new enemies and is split into the Upper Levels and Lower Levels. It is there they fight Olga Flow, a creature formed from a famous hunter aboard Pioneer 1, Heathcliff Flowen. This fight takes place on an elevator-like platform that is falling down a long shaft and crashes when the second stage of the fight begins. The boss is seen flying around the shaft during the first stage but is no longer able to do so in its second stage. Should Olga Flow be killed by a weapon with Red in its name, the players can travel back to the boss arena to see the ghost of Flowen.
PSO offers a bevy of quests, both for online and offline play, to add to the player’s experience and further the main story. Some
of these quests have unique rewards and are a good place to hunt for certain items, due to different enemy distributions than were seen in the story stages. Quests are accepted at the Hunter’s Guild counter. There are no offline quests in Episode II with the exception of PSO Ep. I & II Plus, which adapted a few of the available download quests for offline play.
A player must complete the first three offline quests (Tier 1) to have access to any further quests, and after this point quests are unlocked as your character reaches successive stages in the campaign on that particular difficulty level.
- Battle Training – The player is tasked with seeking out a young hunter who has become lost on the surface of Ragol. Accompanying the player is an android named Kireek, who has much more experience and teaches the player simple lessons about the battle system during the mission.
- Claiming a Stake – A young man informs the player that his greedy uncle went down to Ragol to claim land, and asks you to bring him back. When you find the man, he agrees to return but tells the player they must find the capsules he has left on three promising pieces of land.
- Magnitude of Metal – A greedy trader tells you he has lost a valuable commodity down on Ragol. You find out that these valuable items are actually MAGs, partner characters. You meet an android named Elenor who gives tutorials on feeding your MAG.
- The Fake in Yellow – A scientist’s assistant worries about his teacher’s location. You find the man impersonating one of the enemies in the forest, and when it becomes clear that you see through his disguise, he agrees to return with you.
- Journalistic Pursuit – Nol Rinale, a civilian, has slipped through security and asked you to take her to the surface so she can report to the people of Pioneer 2 what is actually going on. She becomes unsettled when she sees how unsafe the planet’s surface is.
- Gran Squall – You are asked to find clues about a luxury ship that left Pioneer 2 before the loss of communication with Pioneer 1. You meet a ranger name Bernie in the Forest who can fix doors and is suspicious about the true disposition of the Gran Squall.
- Native Research – Alicia Baz, a scientist from the Lab on Pioneer 2, asks you to go to the surface of Ragol to collect samples from the wildlife for their research.
- Forest of Sorrow – After you complete Native research, Alicia returns to tell you she doesn’t believe the test results, and asks you to accompany her to the surface. After fighting many monsters, she accepts that they have become hostile and vows to work toward a solution.
- The Lost Bride – Cecil the force has gained weight from using too many items, and you must escort her through the caves to help her lose weight for her wedding.
- The Value of Money – A woman’s husband is obsessed with buying new weapons at the shop on Pioneer 2, and you must teach him the worth of patience.
- Secret Delivery – You are tasked with transporting a power supply into the caves, and must fight hostile hunters to deliver it successfully.
- The Grave’s Butler – Martha Grave wants you to help find her family’s butler, who has disappeared on Ragol’s surface. You must fight through the Caves to find him.
- Addicting Food – Trekka wants something sweet to eat that isn’t available on Pioneer 2, so you must find the Cake Sisters in the Caves and trade with them.
- Waterfall Tears – Kroe wants you to find her sister, a Hunter who recently disappeared in the caves. You must again fight hostile hunters to complete this quest.
- Black Paper – Kroe believes a man named Black Paper is behind the disappearance of many hunters. Fight through enemies in the Caves and meet up with her to complete this quest.
- Letter From Lionel – A hunter named Lionel sends a mysterious message to the Hunter’s Guild, asking you to find ‘all of him’. Pick up all the pieces to finish this quest.
- Soul of a Blacksmith – A hunter named Ozwald wants your help collecting materials from Ragol to create a new weapon. Assist him with this and you will receive a weapon of your own.
- Knowing One’s Heart – Elly Person would like you to accompany her into the Mines to find a friend she believed to be with the people of Pioneer 1. She receives scrambled messages, and when you reach her friend Calus, it turns out that he is a supercomputer whose system is deteriorating. You help Elly keep a backup of his data and return to Pioneer 2.
- Dr. Osto’s Research – A scientist aboard Pioneer 2 wants to know what Dr. Osto was working on in the mines, so you must go gather his data on the research project.
- The Unsealed Door – One of Pioneer 2’s scientists wishes to accompany you into the mines and see Dr. Osto’s facility himself. It turns out that the specimen mentioned in his reports is De Rol Le, and perhaps there are further implications…
- The Retired Hunter – Donoph Baz, a hunter who claims to be on this deathbed, made a promise to himself that he would kill 10,000 monsters before he died. He has only defeated 9,901. Accompany him to the Ruins to help him reach his goal!
- Doc’s Secret Plan – Dr. Montague wants to collect data from monsters in the Ruins using a special weapon. Protect Elenor while she assists you in gathering the data.
- Seek My Master – Shino is a CAST whose owner, Great Sword Zoke, has gone missing. Take her into the Ruins and protect her while you unfold the mystery of his disappearance.
- From The Depths – Strange earthquakes have been occurring on Ragol and a research team has gone missing. Head to the Ruins to find them and fight through monsters and hunters.
- Soul of Steel – Accompany Dr. Montague and Elenor to find an android deep in the Ruins. This quest has many mechanics that you will otherwise find only in online quests.
Online quests were sometimes focused around the story of the game, but more often just fun alternatives for players to take on outside of the main campaign. There were item trading missions such as Gallon’s Shop, where players could exchange their collected items for rare weapons. Many missions, such as the Endless Nightmare and Phantasmal World sets, were simply familiar environments with more enemies, increasing both the difficulty and experience earned. These quests provided a fun way for groups to hunt certain items.
Like any RPG, Phantasy Star Online has many character statistics to keep an eye on as they grow and progress through the game. These stats have many effects on a character in and out of battle, and many times serve as a requirement for equipping or using certain items.
- HP – Hit points. The amount of health your character has. Determines how many hits your character can take in battle before being knocked down. Androids have automatic HP recovery when they are standing still, at a constant rate that increases with your character level.
- TP – Technique points. Used to cast spells, similar to mana. The pool your character draws from whenever they cast a technique. Androids do not have TP as they cannot use techniques, and Newmans recover this automatically at a constant rate when standing still.
- ATP – Attack power. Determines how much damage your character does in melee or ranged combat. Used as a requisite for equipping melee weapons.
- ATA – Attack accuracy. Determines how likely your character is to connect with a melee or ranged attack. Used as a requirement for equipping ranged weapons.
- DFP – Defense power. Determines how much damage your character will take from a successful melee or ranged attack. Raised by equipping guards.
- EVP – Evasion power. Determines how likely your character is to block an incoming melee attack. Raised by equipping guards.
- MST – Mental strength. Determines maximum TP as well as how much damage a character will do with attack techniques. Used as a requisite for learning new techniques from disks.
- LCK – Luck. Determines your character’s critical hit rate with either melee or ranged attacks.
- Elemental Resistance – Determines how much damage you will take from enemy technique attacks. These resistances are divided into fire, ice, lightning, light and dark resistance, and are increased with guards.
Three races are featured in the game: Humans, Newmans, and CASTs. Humans reprise their usual role as the jack-of-all-trades, while Newmans and CASTs are proficient in mental strength and physical power, respectively. This differentiation is further accented by their different types of automatic regeneration. CASTs are unable to use techniques, but have access to special items called traps, which the player sets on the battlefield to damage enemies or inflict them with certain status effects. Race effects the name of your class in the form of a suffix. For humans, -mar and -marl, for Newmans -newm and -newearl, and for CASTs the endings read as -cast and -caseal.
Classes in PSO are broken up into three main groups: Hunters, the melee specialists; Rangers, the gun users; and Forces, the spellcasters, each with four unique sub-classes. Each sub-type has its own statistical strengths and weaknesses, and in some cases, a bonus or penalty when using certain weapons or techniques.
- HUmar; Human Male. Considered to be the most balanced Hunter, he has access to some recovery and attack techniques and is excellent in melee combat.
- HUnewearl; Newman Female. While at a disadvantage because of her low HP, she has strong techniques to augment melee damage. Also has Newman inherent TP recovery.
- HUcast; Android Male. Has the highest attack power potential of any class. Makes up for lack of techniques with ability to use traps. Automatic HP recovery.
- HUcaseal; Android Female. High accuracy and evasion help her melee combat while traps aid against enemies. No techniques, but shares in the Androids’ automatic HP regeneration.
- RAmar; Human Male. Gifted with the highest accuracy potential of any class. Can use techniques to help in combat and support roles.
- RAmarl; Human Female. Slightly lower HP is countered by high mental strength, providing strong attack and support techniques to aid her in ranged combat.
- RAcast; Android Male. Highest HP potential of any class. Has the most attack power of the Rangers, enabling him to do great ranged damage. Automatic HP recovery.
- RAcaseal; Android Female. Has the highest defense power potential of the Ranger classes. No techniques, but is able to use traps to support herself in combat. Also has HP recovery.
- FOmar; Human Male. Makes up for very low HP and weak defensive power with quickness in combat and powerful spells. Challenging to use.
- FOmarl; Human Female. A balanced character, simultaneously excelling at support techniques and competently using weapons. Receives a range bonus when casting support techniques.
- FOnewm; Newman Male. Well-versed in all techniques, FOnewms are balanced but excel with their strong attack techniques. Has automatic Newman TP recovery.
- FOnewearl; Newman Female. Limited in combat, but excels at all sorts of techniques. Highest mental strength and TP potential of any class, plus automatic TP recovery.
The three race / class combinations added in Episode I & II that were not previously available in the Dreamcast versions of the game were the HUcaseal, RAmarl, and FOmar.
Many forms of customization options are available to the player. Parameters such as hair color, skin color, facial features, proportions and outfit / body color are all player-defined. Many of these customization features can be accessed later from the character selection screen for a fee of 10,000 meseta. This function is called the Dressing Room. Players are also able to name their character in any way they choose, though there is a word filter in place to disallow profanity.
When a character is given a name, an in-game algorithm determines what Section ID the character will carry. Based on colors, the different Section ID possibilities are Whitill, Redria, Yellowboze, Oran, Greennill, Viridia, Bluefull, Purplenum, Pinkal, and Skyly. Each of these Section IDs have a different drop chart and determine what types of items your character will be adept at finding from enemy drops. This makes trading an essential function for anyone who wants to collect a majority of the in-game items and weapons.
Weapons in Phantasy Star Online are broken up by class; Hunter, Ranger and Force. Most weapons have stat bonuses in attack and accuracy, and many others will add to another statistic. Most weapons perform a standard three-hit combo, and some hit multiple enemies while others add more hits to each step of a combo.
Hunter weapons are mostly close-combat types. The requirements to equip these weapons are usually ATP-based. They are broken up into Sabers, Twin Sabers, Swords, Partisans, Daggers, Claws, Fists, and Slicers. Rangers are the gunner class, and their weapons are broken up into Handguns, Rifles, Shotguns, Mechguns, and Launchers. The requisite statistic for
equipping these weapons is usually ATA. Forces mainly use casting weapons, types of which include Canes, Wands, Rods and Cards. The can be equipped when your character has the requisite amount of MST in most cases.
In addition to their inherent stat bonuses, some weapons have percentages associated with them that grant additional power. There are five areas in which a weapon can have extra percentages: Native, Altered Beast, Machine, Dark, and Hit. The first four correspond to the enemy types in each area of Episode 1 and grant damage bonuses against monsters of a particular type. Hit percentage adds a direct bonus to a weapon's accuracy, and for this reason weapons with "hit" are highly sought after since enemies become much harder to hit with each step up in difficulty.
The first type of guard is a frame or armor, with the former being usable by all three classes and and the latter only by Hunters and Rangers. These guards will add to your character's defense and evasion, with some providing additional bonuses or cosmetic effects. Some guards are also equipped with slots, which enable your character to add items called units to their frame or armor. These items will add additional statistical bonuses or other effects for your character. The second guard available for your character is a barrier or shield. These items carry the same respective class restrictions as frames and armor. Most will add the same type of statistical bonus, with an emphasis on evasion. Many shields have unique cosmetic effects, some persistent and other only visible when your character blocks an attack. Guards also add elemental protection to some or all of the game's five elements: fire, ice, lightning, light, and dark. Character level is used as a requirement for equipping most guards.
MAGs are equipped items that offer additional stat bonuses that can be controlled by your character through feeding, and function as a sort of partner in battle. You can feed recovery items to your MAG to raise its level in four different areas: Defense, Power, Dexterity and Mind. Each of these areas will give your character a specific statistical bonus when the MAG is equipped, and based on the levels in each of these stats, your MAG can evolve 2 or 3 times into a different form. Each of these forms grants special assistance when your character is close to death or in a boss encounter, and also possesses a special attack called a Photon Blast. When your character lands hits on enemies or takes damage, a meter fills incrementally, and when it hits 100 you will be able to perform this move.
Recovery / Augmentation Items
Recovery items allow your character to regain HP and TP (technique points), cure status effects, and revive teammates in multiplayer games. Augmentation items add bonuses to your weapon or character’s stats. They consist of grinders and materials. Grinders raise a weapon’s attack power by 2, 4, or 6, and the effects stack until you reach a weapon’s inherent grinding limit. "Materials" add permanent bonuses to a character’s statistics. There are materials for raising hit points, technique points, attack power, defense, evasion, mental strength and luck. Materials for raising accuracy were removed from the game after the Dreamcast iterations.
Techniques function as the equivalent of spells in the game, and are broken up into attack and support types. Attack techniques are elemental in nature and some are broken up into three tiers, with the higher tiers hitting multiple enemies or adding an
area-of-effect function; support techniques vary from buffs and debuffs to healing and reviving. Techniques are stored on disks which can be dropped by enemies or found in shops. For most techniques, these disks range in level from 1 to 30, with higher levels being significantly more powerful. If your character meets requisite conditions, they can use the disk to learn a technique. Some techniques are limited to use by Forces.
Other Game Modes
Phantasy Star Online Ep. I & II offered two game modes in addition to the regular campaign. Both Battle and Challenge mode could be played online or offline. Battle mode was the only player vs. player combat available in PSO, and offered 8 different rule sets with differing starting scenarios and victory conditions. Challenge mode started the players at level one and tasked them with playing through the campaign in a series of short stages, which created a scarcity of items and a need for effective teamwork. If the players completed all of challenge mode under a certain time limit, they were awarded an s-rank and chose from a bevy of available prizes, which were different depending on whether challenge mode had been completed online or offline. Each character is only allowed to earn a prize once each in challenge mode.
Online Play Details
The online play cost $9.99 a month and the servers were console exclusive, meaning that Xbox players could not interact with GameCube players. Due to voice support in the Xbox version there were a few additional quests that made use of that functionality. The GameCube version made use of the connectivity to the Game Boy Advance allowing players to play three small games based on other Sega franchises. The Chao game linked up with a Sonic game to offer new gameplay options. The GameCube version was re-released in August 2004 as Phantasy Star Online Episode I and II Plus with new GBA games and two Episode II quests which were formerly online only. The GameCube version's servers were shut down in 2007 and the Xbox's in April 2008. The game can be played for free on GameCube, Dreamcast, or PC through a free server created by SCHTHACK. Information concerning this server can be found at schtserv.com. The latest official release of PSO is Phantasy Star Online Blue Burst which features most of the console version's features and an all new episode called Episode IV, as Episode III was a card based RPG released only on the GameCube as Phantasy Star Online Episode III C.A.R.D. Revolution. Episode III's servers were shut down concurrently with Episodes I & II and their players could communicate with each other in lobbies, but not play together.