As anybody who owns this game on their Dreamcast, Gamecube or Xbox can testify, Phantasy Star Online was a glorified Diablo in three dimensions.  It was not uncommon for me to be playing with three of my friends each and every single weekend on a mad quest to score some amazing loot, raise some MAGs or just see how far we could get by ratcheting up the difficulty going through the same four levels over and over again.  That's right, there were only four levels in this game but don't let that stop you.  Hint: it won't.  Even if you try to let it.


If you look back on it now, you'd basically see a restrictive game with a minimal amount of enemies who were differentiated in difficulty by a different colour palette.  You had a weak, strong and special attack and a couple of elemental spells to cast which could be combined into any three-hit combination.  You had classes that are considered the norm these days: a tank class, a long-range class and a mage class.  Three weapon types: swords, guns and staffs.  Weapons and armour of varying stats were randomly sold at the store each time you came back from the world with a heavy reliance on your level.  Quests were given out at a Guild and when you couldn’t advance because of tough enemies you were required of course to grind your way to being able to defeat them and continue ever onward.  Yawn, right?



Those were the limitations which a lot of people who played the game surprisingly had little to no complaints about because of the experience that lay underneath all those tired or non-impressive conventions.  The game had so many reasons to replay and replay and replay and replay those levels all over again just one more time: there is a small chance that a unique enemy will be in the level when you travel to it (either to continue the story or on a quest run) and an even smaller chance that it will drop an incredibly rare item.  Bosses were the same. 


Though there were only four of them, who could ever forget their experience with the larger than life level bosses, from an enormous Dragon that raced toward your characters by burying itself underground , a leviathan worm you had to shoot at from a raft, a computer mainframe that has become viral and of course the series' end game boss mainstay Dark Falz itself - which had up to three varying forms?  Each boss fight was a battle of desperation that called for ample level grinding and a good memorization of the boss' attack patterns.



Some quests had to be completed in a specific order or some circumstances had to be done just right in order to receive some truly ridiculous loot, such as a frying pan or an awesome scythe that saps your energy.  It can be considered truthful that the main reason many people played the game to near-nauseous levels of repetition was because of the promise of better loot and to make their friends ever jealous. 


It was one of the first console games were teams could communicate with one another via symbols and keyboard chat.  The F keys would enable your character to do various actions such as dancing or rolling on the ground (much like your character can do in World of WarCraft these days with a simple backslash prompt command).  Keep in mind that there was no voice chat technology yet.



But there was more.  Some played through the levels for the sheer grind of it, to have that ever-inflating number next to their name serve as their girth of intimidation whenever it came to going online and playing with friends or strangers.  Sega used to hold special competitions or events where people could win special equipment or download more quests to embark upon online.  Others played through the levels simply to find Monogrinders, which would increase the parameters of your weapons a little bit each and every time you would use them.  It was not uncommon to see a character with a sword +54 or the like whenever you’d play with them.  Levels initially capped at 100 but upon the release of the second episode the cap was raised to 200.  I myself have never passed 76 and my time with the game is over a hundred hours, so you can begin to get an idea of the kind of devotion it took to play PSO. 


There was also a small pet that followed you around called a MAG, a sort of robot that increases four of your parameters the more you would feed it.  Depending on what diet you kept your MAG on, it would increase your strength, defence, accuracy or magic power or any combination of the four by a respectable amount. It would also morph and change shape depending on how much it liked you and what you were feeding it.  Upon feeding the little machines a specific item or combination; they could even metamorphisize into vintage SEGA systems, such as the Genesis or Master System!  A neat little Easter Egg for sure. 



Phantasy Star Online was a truly addictive experience, and I know friends who are still playing the game today offline and whose times have far surpassed the three hundred hour mark.  Though there is no new content, it is always an enjoyable experience to create a new character and restart from level 1, going through the adventure again with friends as a class you may never have initially chosen.  It was even given a sequel, Phantasy Star Universe, with mixed results.  Now the series has made its way to the portables with a DS sequel.  And yet, the planet of Ragol is always beckoning to be explored again and again...