SEGA released Phantasy Star Online Episode I & 2 on the GameCube back in 2002; a fantastic port featuring new weapons, areas, and enemies. Two years later they would release a new game in the Phantasy Star Online series. It was a such a vast departure from the original that no one saw it coming.
Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution came out in 2004 to a mixed reception. While it maintained the online functions of previous games, its gameplay made a jump from action RPG to Collectible Strategy Card Game.
Set 21 years after PSO Ep. I&II, Ep.III has you create a character who serves as the commander for a group of characters who fight for control of the planet Ragol. You can choose from 2 separate but connected story lines that alter the gameplay based on who which story you play.
Gameplay forgoes exploration for a focus on a turn based strategy card game. You do not control your custom character, instead commanding a Character with their own card stats and special ability, building a 30 card deck around them. The type of deck is determined by which faction the character belongs to. Hero decks focus on using cards to equip weapons and shields to you deck’s character, maneuvering them around to take down enemies. Arkz (the “evil” faction) decks focus on using cards to summon creatures who you can command and move around the battlefield. The object of every match is to take the opponents character to 0 HP using your weapons/creatures & special attack cards.
At the beginning of your turn, you roll 2 dice that determine how many ATK and DEF points you gain for that turn. ATK points are used to move characters/creatures, play equipment/creatures, perform attacks, and play special attack cards. There was however a hard limit on how many points worth of items/creatures you could have on the field, forcing you to carefully assess what was worth playing. DEF points allow you to play Defense cards to block attacks. You can earn bonuses to these dice rolls by destroying your opponents cards.
The game was interesting, and playing matches both online and offline would earn you card packs for new cards, allowing you to make new decks or update old ones, taking them into both modes. Online mode provided special lobbies that would let you quickly get into battles with up to 4 players. You also could visit the PSO I&II lobbies and chat with players of the previous game, although you would need to switch games to join them.
Despite the somewhat convoluted card mechanics, the game was actually pretty fun. The game was similar to Hearthstone in that it took care of much of the mechanics, such as turn order and combat, allowing the player to focus on strategy. The cards themselves featured nods to the previous game, as well as excellent artwork that made me wish they were actual cards.
PSO Ep. III was an odd choice for a sequel, but turned out to be a fun diversion from the original. If you love card games or PSO, it’s worth the time to check it out.