2012 was the release year of PSO2, but it was also the year in which the testing phases began in earnest. This was the year that we got to experience the game for the first time. As such, many players have seen the game grow in a number of visible ways and fans close to the series have had the pleasure (as well as some discomfort) of seeing this game evolve. Some areas of the game grew faster than others and some parts disappointingly didn’t grow much at all.
This post, much like the equivalent for 2011 will take a look at this past year’s happenings with PSO2. Much like last year this post is also huge. As such, this time I’m actually going to use one of those “more” tags so you’re not scrolling forever to get past it on the main feed, so let’s just place that here.
Starting off then with something most years tend to start with:
The 2nd Alpha test was on its way which for many players, myself included, would be the first time they’d ever be laying their hands on the game. Those who either played in or watched leaked videos from the first alpha tests would notice some differences already.
Characters no longer took a syringe to the arm when they needed to heal, monomates and other healing items were now drinks. They stuck with the idea of heals taking time rather than being instant, which in retrospect is something that kind of works. Whether it’ll continue to work depends entirely on how difficulty progresses with future content.
The UI layout had changed as well as the icons. It’s hard to comment on the UI seeing as I’m so used the the one we have now, but the icons definitely changed for the better.
Back then all we had was Forest and Volcano Caves. Gawondas also used to roam the forest, turning up in the odd Code: Attack. Speaking of emergency trials, another little quirk about the alpha test version was they tended to pop up in hidden corners of the maps. You essentially had to go looking for them, which for me created a tangible reward for actually exploring the map. Another aspect of this was in the caves maps, where boxes would be hidden up on cliffs and things. I know why they changed some of this, people didn’t want to go out of their way to find things. I just think it’s a shame as there’s less encouragement to go wandering the maps now.
The 2nd Alpha Tests carried through into the early part of…
The tests were over soon after this month started. Withdrawal symptoms were setting in fast.
There wasn’t much in the way of news this month, aside some stats from the tests establishing that everybody plays as a girl and Sakai discussing the possibility of a figure printing service of some kind which would later fall flat.
We did however get to see default class styles for Ranewm and Ranewearl, two classes which were not present in PSO. This completed the line-up of default outfits.
Unlike February, March was a very information rich month. The closed beta tests were announced, the character creation/benchmark client was announced as well as a huge list of features for PSO2. Really, this was the month when the majority of the game’s features were detailed, particularly regarding the new lobby.
Briefly going over the Closed Beta then. We would have brand new things to play with such as sitting, well and other new lobby actions. New weapon classes would be up for use, including Partisans, Launchers and Talises. PSO fans rejoiced as they’d finally get to try out Mags and we’d all have a brand new lobby to wander about in.
We would also all be given Arks Cash to play with, to tease us with all the features we’d have to pay for later in the game’s life. YEAH.
Aware of the possible imbalance that Photon Sensitive Effect Bursts could cause, Sakai promised that they would bring them under control. I can’t exactly remember how bad they were back then but I know that now a good Cross Burst can still net you a ridiculous amount of exp and items, although due to the recent vendor price nerf it’s not quite as profitable as it used to be.
The character creation demo was released! It was time to make ourselves some fantasy girlfriends, boyfriends, or you know just make an avatar I guess. Unlike the 2nd Alpha the benchmark had all the default outfits for all the classes and had extra creation options added for casts. It was fairly decent times, especially with the closed beta tests coming up. The playerbase got to tweak their characters with plenty of time and as they could save they’d be able to just load the data and log in as quickly as they could when the servers went online. It was a decent thing of Sega to do.
This was also the month in which the fan translation team got to release their first major bit of work to the public in the form of a translation patch. This is something that did not go un-noticed by Sega of Japan’s developers, earning both ire and what could be argued as slight praise.
The tests themselves began, complete with the all new FUN point system. The importer community had already settled on Ship 02 block 20 as their main hangout, which remains true to this day. There are importers on other ships, but the majority are still on ship 02.
It was also the first time we got to fight Dark Ragne. It had a ton of health back then, it still feels like it has way too much health even now in some ways (unless you’re steamrolling it in a 12-man multi-party of course). The mission it belongs to, Urban Recovery, has since become probably people’s least favorite emergency mission but it’s still worth running as the first Skill Point order still requires you to defeat that boss 5 times. If you have chapter 7 unlocked then this emergency quest becomes even more useless.
Not long after the Closed Beta had ended it was revealed that a 2nd Closed Beta might have to take place. Sakai and the staff seemed unsatisfied with how the servers were performing, primarily in terms of latency. This 2nd Closed Beta would later turn out to be a Pre-Open Beta.
Beyond that, two further areas were announced which included the Naberius Tundra area as well as Lilipa’s Desert. The Undergound Complex was hinted at, at least Tranmizer was announced and shown within its arena, but the area itself wasn’t explicitly revealed.
Scratch-complete items were also made illegal in Japan, which forced Sega to change how they’d be distributing the Rappy costume. Whoops!
The Pre-OBT took place. The test came with a temporary quest which introduced us to the Desert field of Lilipa. Despite it being various shades of brown, it remains one of my favorite fields to this day. It was also the first time we got to fight Gwanada.
In terms of stability and latency it all seemed fine despite the large number of connections. Things seemed to be set to go swimmingly for the actual Open Beta. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out this way. The state of the server in the early days of the Open Beta was the worst in the game’s history. it was so bad that I know myself and others just couldn’t bring themselves to even play the game in certain hours. It did get better later on in the testing period however, once they had removed such horrendous lag-causing things such as CHAIRS.
Something else significant happened in PSO2’s history this month… what was it… Ah yes, the game was released. It released with somewhat of a whimper rather than a celebration but none the less it was released. Along with this people finally got to experience Snow Banther for the first time and many wanted to punch the developer’s faces in as a result.
In the meantime, the official English Phantasy Star twitter appeared to be leading up to an announcement of some kind. As we hadn’t heard a peep about the possibility of a localized version of the game this got people’s anticipation up.
Just as speculations reached their peak, the western version of the game was indeed announced complete with an official website. The PSO2 facebook page was also handed over to Sega of America, effectively ending any more messages from Bonkohara to the foreign players. The handover was fair given that throughout the page’s history most of the comments were non-Japanese anyway.
Along with the announcement came that infamous trailer. It’s just the opening movie, but with a surprise at the end!
Alright it’s not much of a surprise, but “updateds” is still funny. To me at least.
Additionally it was announced that the US/EU servers would be separated from the JP servers. This news disappointed a lot of people, including myself, but I don’t think it really came as a surprise to anyone.
July was also the month in which hackers were literally destroying the server, getting 1000s of people banned in the process. Or just you know, moving some NPCs and players serverside coordinates about and taking sneaky peaks at unreleased techs among other benign things. Probably only 10s of people banned as well, many of whom blamed hackers for their bans instead of admitting they were being shits in the lobby. July saw the peak of PSO2’s hacking incidents, as well as generating a torrent of pants-shitting and consipiracy threads on PSO-World. The phrase “IP-ban!” was thrown about with reckless abandon, as it was something that was absolutely going to happen. It was a time in which a lot of people made themselves look pretty stupid.
Sega responded to the hacks with a number of fairly ineffective patches and banning guilty accounts. The hacking as it was is almost non-existent now outside of botting, but this is more likely due to boredom on the hacker’s part than anything Sega did.
In terms of content this month saw the addition of the Subterranean Tunnels field with the fairly epic Big Vardha as well as the first look at the Floating Continent field, affectionately known as DRAGONLAND.
This month saw the addition of the Fang Banther emergency quest, the Floating Continent field as well as information on the three new classes; Fighter, Gunner and Techer.
The floating continent was a bit of a letdown overall. The first area at least is pretty, but the second area is a garish shade of green. The beasts making up the field were either reskins or outright recolours including the miniboss Caterdransa. The reskins at least had new AI, but the recoloured enemies were no different in any way. Players were concerned that Quartz Dragon, the area’s boss, would just be a remodeled Vol Dragon. Thankfully this isn’t the case as the boss’s behavior is nothing at all like Vol Dragon, even if it might share the same skeleton. It’s just a shame that the rest of the field wasn’t quite as different.
Panic also swept through the player-base as Sega changed their Terms Of Service making it against the rules to play the game from outside of Japan. Ignoring that it was the same term that was present during the beta tests and the entirety of Phantasy Star Universe’s lifetime this was definitely the sign that people were definitely going to be IP banned. Definitely.
Some more tidbits of the English release were also revealed, with the game being demonstrated at PAX East. However so far this has been the last we’ve heard of this version of the game, with literally nothing at all being said about the localization since. Disappointing and somewhat concerning given that the game is slated to be released in the spring of 2013.
Early in the month a substantial patch was released, weighing in at 4GB. It was the game’s first major update which for the most part just replaced files we had while seemingly making no changes to them.
The game itself had a large number of changes, however.
- Normal difficulty was added to all fields that didn’t have it, doing wonders for the leveling curve.
- Mags would now tell you when they were hungry.
- Tornadoes were added to Desert and Floating Continent to dump you in a random location on the map most of the time, occasionally dropping you onto a pile of red boxes.
- People’s favorite NPCs at the time, Franka and Kressida, had their Client Orders nerfed hard by being turned into weeklies instead of dailies.
- Team functionality was added, greatly expanding the gap between small and large teams by including things that smaller teams couldn’t obtain in any humane time frame.
- Finally of course, the new classes were added.
Gel Wulff no longer hung around for minutes at a time to ruin multi parties, its time was significantly reduced. This was an absolutely needed change, as it was one of the most annoying emergency trials in the game.
October saw the arrival of the sub-class system, the addition of Very Hard and a level cap raise. All of which gave us more reasons to hate Koffie.
This was also a rather embarrassing month where for a few days PSO2 had possibly the heaviest grind requirement of any MMO I know of. Sega showed off the breadth of its quality assurance by releasing what it claimed were severely out-dated EXP requirements for the lv40-50 range. The requirement for lv41 was a not too unreasonably 91,420 exp which shot up to 2,834,000 for lv42. It reached an astronomical level of 47,862,000 for lv50. No that is not total exp, that’s the required exp to go from lv49 to lv50.
People were rightfully pissed with this, so Sega sent its apologies and issued a new curve. Problem was this new curve, while less than absolutely absurd, was still far too steep to be reasonable. The player-base would have to wait until the following month for a new curve to be issued.
An embarrassed Sega fixed the EXP curve for good, granting us a much more reasonable (but still fairly grindy) trip to lv50. Rare boss encounter rates where boosted to the point where there was actually a hope in hell’s chance of ever seeing them. Techer also got a bit of an overhaul.
November also saw the addition of the Ruins field, which I think remains the best looking and best sounding field in the game to date. The arrival of the ruins also heralded the beginning of the end of Episode 1, as a PSO veteran might expect.
Sure enough, Chapter 8 arrived and revealed that the ruins act as a seal keeping Dark Falz in its place. All quite regular for a Phantasy Star Online game, the series loves its sealed evil. Perhaps less expected was how Falz itself would manifest, attacking the entire ARKS fleet in its true form through an all new style of emergency quest that spans two parts.
Aside the dramatic introduction to the big bad (or rather, one of the big bads as the case turns out), the Android/iOS versions of the game got delayed and more information surfaced about the PSVita version.
December, very much the last month of the year. The Christmas lobby arrived with christmassy things to buy and christmassy fluffy birds to murder. Oh and a god of darkness regularly attacking the fleet. Somewhat fitting, really.
Aside that, not much was added to the game itself. We heard more details about the PSVita version along with its opening movie. We got teased with a brief flash of the Chrome Dragon boss and Lisa would get her wish of being able to shoot people through the ARKS Clone system. We also got our first glimpses of the internally named “Darkernest”, which sadly appears to be a field that you will only ever encounter randomly. We’ll see in a few days I suppose.
Coming somewhat full circle, on the horizon of this year just like last year is a testing period. Early next year, the PSVita version will be holding its own closed beta test.
So PSO2 has been out just about seven months. To their credit, they’ve kept the updates coming in a relatively timely fashion and the game has grown pretty nicely in that time. However, it’s safe to say that its growth has been somewhat wonky, certainly clumsy at times. Updates introducing bugs, additional difficulty levels failing to provide much increased difficulty (the monsters are marginally more aggressive, that’s about it. Bosses are significantly more aggressive depending on which boss it is), pushing updates they clearly didn’t take the time to check and multi-parties not scaling properly. It’s also fair to say that too much of the recent content has been hidden behind RNG, but this hopefully isn’t a trend that’s likely to continue for long.
PSO2 at its core is a great action game, bogged down by some annoying old-world MMO bullshit. Sega’s developers have taken steps to address some of the more blatant examples, such as the severity of the cap-increase quests, but there’s more work to do if they want to create and maintain a smooth experience for new players as the game grows fatter with content. I have relative confidence that if the developers keep up their enthusiasm for the project the more severe creases will be evened out and the experience will become better overall. The recent player survey indicates they’re still interested in what their players have to say and unlike games in the past they’re better able to roll out alterations
Overall, I’m still enjoying this game. I’m excited to see where it’s gonna go, what new stuff we’ll get to play with and which of the game’s faults will be eradicated.
Despite the lack of any recent information about the western release of the game, the importer community is thriving. Fan-sites have grown and are continuing to be developed, numerous resources are out there to aid players, as well as continued support from the fan translation team. These things combined show there is a lot of enthusiasm for the game, it’s up to Sega to make sure this enthusiasm keeps up.
Moving to the future, what I’m affectionately calling “Episode 1.5” is on its way which at least appears to be expanding Amduscia a bit with the addition of Chrome Dragon and possibly a new field (hopefully with fewer recolours). Look forward to that in March and April. This leaves Lilipa for the start of Episode 2, potentially, but our current long-term schedule doesn’t look that far ahead. Beyond that is anybody’s guess.