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The phenomenon that is PSO2: A history lesson

MMORPG has taken the world by storm in the last decade. Whether you are playing solo or with friends, most are addictive, and usually involves a fantasy setting, with a Middle Earth feel. But there have been a few titles that stand out. Blade N Soul has a distinct Oriental feel, and is stylish beyond words. Elsword looks like a fantasy Rockman. But many have forgotten about Phantasy Star Online.

Sega, famous for it's commercial hits as much as it's weird titles, has PSO under it's belt as probably the rarest title in existence. PSO made a complete successful transition from a console RPG into a hit MMORPG. Now that is impressive. I cannot even name 5 others that have done the same without crashing and burning.

Let's start with a history lesson. This is the Phantasy Star. Developed for Master System in 1987, it look like any RPG then. While you do travel between planets, it is your standard sword and sorcery title of that era. 

Phantasy Star II to IV became popular , but there is not really much change. This screenshot of IV should be self-explanatory.

From 1992, three more side stories to the Phantasy Star series were released. Not all were RPGs. Gaiden was the only one who followed the old system. Adventure was a first person puzzle adventure game. Text Adventures is a game novel. None were very remarkable.

The huge change came when Phantasy Star Online was developed for the ill fated Dreamcast in 2000. Compare this logo with the current one now.


It is quite obvious that Online was where it all began. The chairman of Sega then, Okawa Isao, saw the potential of online play, which was not popular then in consoles. He was a visionary even at the age of 73. He put the Sonic Adventure team in charge of the project in 1998. The head of the tea, is Sakai Satoshi. He is still in charge of the PSO2 project today. Alas, Isao died in 2001 and is not alive today to see the seed blossom into a flower. 

PSO was inspired by Diablo, as there was literally no precedent for online gaming on consoles then. The team was given free reign for artistic direction as they were breaking away from 2D into foreign 3D land. To help market the game in Japan, where dial-up at the time was charged by the minute, Okawa packaged the Dreamcast with a free year of internet access, and paid for it out of his own pocket, a clear signal of how strongly he believed in the online market.

This ends Part One of the PSO2 story. Part Two will show how the system developed into it's current day form.

Written by Don

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