Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst

This is a review that I wrote for Stage Select back in October of ‘05. If the following wall of text is too much for you to process, I’ll just say that the game was completely awful.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve enjoyed an RPG. I’m talking about the classic formula of taking one character or so on an epic quest laden with engaging story telling and perhaps a life-lesson learned along the way.

I decided to try and find the compilation of PSO I and II that was released shortly after the GameCube’s debut, but I was unable to locate any copies (stores don’t stock games that have been out of print for 4 years? Shame!). So I headed over to the game’s official site to see if I could glean some information about where I could get a copy of the remade Original Two. Almost immediately I was smacked square in the face with the realization that the good people at SEGA have taken it upon themselves to release a *FREE* RPG set in the Phantasy Star universe, and all I had to do was pony up the $8.95 monthly fee. Oh, and there’s a free trial… more about that later.

Since I didn’t really want the time investment that a MMORPG would have offered, I did some research and concluded that this was the kind of game that could be enjoyed either singly or in a group. Fantastic! A genuine console-style RPG, with server-side saving that I could play for a paltry $2.25 a week? Sounds like a winner.

Or so I thought.

Phantasy Star Online Blue Burst does indeed share a lot with its console cousins. One thing you will notice right away when you fire up this game is that the character models look like they were lifted straight out of the Dreamcast and plunked into your computer. Nothing here is particularly ugly or anything, but there’s nothing here that’s going to really push my video card, either. Well… the teleporting screens looked nice.

But hey, it’s free, and I can play online for free for two weeks. I can not, however, use my subscription to PSO III (which does incedentally work for episodes I and II) to play. I’ll have to shell out another $9.00/month if I decide I want to play them both. Yeah, not likely.

So I have two weeks to figure out if this game’s worth the monthly fee. Sounds doable.

So I fire up the game and get down to the business of creating my character. You have four classes of character to choose from, and then four types within those classes. Those familiar with the story of the game will no doubt find these choices to reflect on the rich lore and history surrounding the PSO universe. I am not particularly familiar with it, so I had to rely on the in game help. I decided that I would pick a class that was easy for beginners to play (according to the description), and out of those I picked the one with the lowest HP, on the asssumption (since the game told me so) that she would get some kind of neat-o techniques later. Fair enough.

Then I loaded up the game, and here’s where it started to break down. One of the first things you’re likely to notice is that the controls are the standard WASD layout that’s become the de facto control scheme for PC games any more. So far so good. It took me a few minutes of fumbling to realize that the mouse is not enabled in any way by default.

So, no, you don’t use your mouse to select people that you want to talk to. When people get in front of you, they become highlighted, you then can press the ‘Enter’ key to ‘Enter’-act with them (ugh, did I just type that?).

“So how do you control the camera, then?” I hear you asking aloud. Well, forget about using the mouse. You can press the ‘Up’ arrow to snap the camera behind you. That’s all you get, as the camera tries to stay mostly behind you anyway. Want to see if an enemy chasing you has broken off pursuit without stopping and turning around? Too bad.

“But,” I hear you asserting with an arrogant air, “there are three more arrow buttons.” Indeed there are three more arrow buttons. The ‘Down’ arrow being defaulted to ‘Attack’, the ‘Left’ one being defaulted to ‘Stronger Attack That Misses More’, and the ‘Right’ one is defaulted to ‘Healing Item’. Bear in mind here that when I say ‘Attack’ I do not mean ‘Auto Attack’, I mean ‘Swing Your Weapon’. Enemy encounters boil down to you repeatedly mashing the ‘Down’ button, and yelling at your character because she isn’t swinging the sword as fast as you’re slamming the keys.

Enemy encounters turned frustratingly tedious and difficult right out of the gate. Due in part to the abysmal control scheme and my character having the constitution of a soap bubble. My rough and tumble adventurer has a lifespan of about three hits. This worked out perfectly since the first enemies I encountered came in a group of three. Admittedly, that probably wouldn’t have been too bad of a problem until I found out that for some reason my character couldn’t kill them in less than six or seven hits each. Even that wouldn’t have been so bad had I been able to swing my weapon with anything resembling speed, but I couldn’t. By the time I got about one or possibly two hits in, all the creatures in the area would congregate around me and strike me all at once.

Then my character died. A lot.

I did manage to devise the strategy of picking a monster out from the crowd, thwacking it with my Bonk Stick, and then retreating to the safety of the… um… ’safe area’ at the beginning of the level until I had managed to dispatch the three creatures. All in all it was a process that took about half an hour. Then three more appeared. By this time I had blown through the meager allotment of health potions you start the game with as well as the paltry sum of money you are given to start the game (I blew it on health potions), and I had to do it all again.


Okay, pick an enemy, hit it once, run away. Pick an enemy, hit it once, get over confident and try to hit it twice, get slaughtered, revive at the hospital. Repeat. About ten times. After I dispatched the creatures I fully expected the sealed doors at the opposite ends of the play area to open and usher in the part of the game where the Fun begins. Instead, SIX of those crappy monsters rose out of the ground at once.

“Screw that!” I shouted at my PC. I then uninstalled the game, cancelled my account, and set the paper I printed out the control reference on ablaze.

And I never even made it to level 2. Pity, that.

One Response to “Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst”

  1. [...] But I did have fun in the mode where I got to fight against a bipedal cow. And though the challenges to unlock most of the hidden characters were well out of my skill range to do, I still got a good couple of weeks out of this game, which is more than I can say for some of my more unfortunate decisions. [...]

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