After hearing about PSO2 coming to the PS4 (only in Japan, of course), I decided to take a look back at the first game in the Online series, a game that enthralled me when I first played it, and would continue to play as it moved on to following generations.
The story and gameplay kept things relativily simple: you are a member of the Hunters, a group of warriors/explorers aboard the colony ship Pioneer 2, who must explore an alien planet after the colony Pioneer 1 is lost thanks to a mysterious explosion. You then take your character to the surface to explore and fight monsters across the planet in attempt to find out what happened.
The game lets you create your own character from 9 presets using combinations of 3 different races and 3 different classes (later expanded upon with 3 new presets when the game jumped to Gamecube). You don’t have many options, with the game only letting you pick an outfit, hairstyle, face, color scheme, and size from a group of preset options. Then you get assigned a Section ID, which is a colorful symbol that adorns your character. It is very important which one you get, as it affects the item drops you recieve in game.
Once you have your character, you can level it offline with story missions or just random exploring across the game’s 4 zones, or take that same character online (not anymore thanks to the servers going down years ago, though I’m sure there are ways around that now that I won’t discuss here). There were no server side saves, so everything was saved locally to your Memory Unit. By the way, back on the Dreamcast, you could only ever save 1 character to a single Memory Unit, making multiple characters impossible unless you were like me and owned a special 4-in-1 unit that let you switch memory units at the press of a switch.
As you explored the planet’s 4 unique areas, you would find new weapons and equipment for your character, find new techniques(spells) to cast, and find items to feed to your MAG, a sort of virtual pet/companion every character started out with that when fed items would evolve and provided you with significant stat boosts. These MAGs could also grant special attacks known as Photon Blasts, as well as give you buffs when certain conditions were met, such as getting low on HP or entering a Boss room.
While offline, you explore on your own or play single-player missions that provided AI companions and special weapon drops. But the real fun came when playing online, where you could meet up with 3 other players to explore or battle. You could quick chat using preset emotes that you could write yourself, or type out messages using a virtual keyboard (Thankfully, there was an option to use an actual keyboard to type, but that was sold separately). The game became more fun as you teamed up, forming strategies and working together to beat bosses, or sharing/trading item drops with other players.
This was the first online game I had ever played, and even now I occasionally go back and boot it up, making a new character and starting all over again. Later versions of the game would improve on the original, such as adding four player split screen and letting you save multiple characters in the Gamecube version. This game was a blast, and its because of it that I really hope SEGA would actually release its sequel in North America soon.