Phantasy Star Online 2 Closed Beta Test Impressions
I never played Phantasy Star Online. While I had a GameCube growing up, I never got that internet adapter, and even if I had, I doubtlessly would have been barred from playing the game online. So, before I start talking about the sequel, it should be clear that I can't tell you how it stacks up as a follow-up to the early 2000s classic. I'm sure that has colored my impressions of Phantasy Star Online 2. That being said, this last weekend's Closed Beta Test on Xbox One was not my first time playing the game - I've put some time into the Japanese release in the past, and even still have the game's client installed on my Vita. So while I might not have a vast amount of experience with the series, I can say how it stacks up to the currently existing fan translation, and if the game itself is worth downloading (because the game *will* be free to play when it launches this Spring), and specifically how the Closed Beta hashed out.
Phantasy Star Online 2's gameplay is relatively simple. You choose a character's race, gender, and choose a starting class. You have more standard classes like the Braver, the Hunter, the Force, and Tech - as well as some more eccentric classes that have been added over the years as the Japanese release continued to receive new content. Classes like the Summoner and the Bouncer. Much like with my time on the Japanese servers, I opted to go with the Bouncer class, on a Deuman.
While you do have a standard attack button, a dodge, and the ability to jump - most of your class's attacks will be dictated by specific Photon Arts that are either unique to your weapon, or more general ones that can be equipped to your Sub-palette (think your quick-bar from a more standard MMO). The flow of combat in the game - at least from the little that I got to play in the Closed Beta, and what I remember of my time on the Japanese servers - centers around positioning, maintaining a rhythm, and knowing when to use which Photon Arts to maximize your damage. Enemies have different weak points, and the difference in how much damage you'll dole out is rather significant between targetting a vulnerable part of a bosses' body, and a more heavily armored portion.
Tying that all together is the "Perfect Attack" system. After each of your actions (except jumping), a bubble will overlay your character. Using another action as the bubble turns red will denote a "Perfect Attack", dealing extra damage on that strike. At its best, PSO2's combat is a fast-paced dance where you're aiming for weak points, trying to maintain your rhythm, and dodging attacks to maximize your potential DPS. It takes a while for things to really get going, but once it does it's a ton of fun.
Character progression is handled in more than a few ways, which does admittedly get rather daunting early on. You have skill points you earn each time you level up, a Mag that you need to feed items periodically to level up - which will give you boosts to certain stats, depending on what you feed it, and ultimately has an impact on the Photon Burst that your character will have at their disposal. Photon Arts themselves can be leveled up, but the way that it works is by finding little PSP UMD-like discs dropped in missions, usually by bosses. They each have a level for the skill that you'll learn from them, and the way that you level up your Photon Arts is by finding one of these discs with a level higher than the one that your Art already has. Then you have to grind for weapon drops, augmenting, dealing with your Pet if you're a Summoner, choosing a Sub-Class once your main class reaches Level 20 - and so on. It's a lot to take in all at once.
The gameplay loop of stocking up on Client Orders, choosing a quest, and then heading out is thankfully simple enough to drive everything forward. Transparent Free-to-Play annoyances like limited bag space thankfully do work well with systems like raising your Mag to make everything much easier to deal with in practice than on paper. There's absolutely a barrier to entry here, but it isn't nearly as large as it might at first appear - once you get going, things start to click into place quickly. Missions themselves are quick - you'll drop into one of a little more than a dozen randomly-generated biomes, travel a few zones while fighting enemies and completing Emergency Quests on your way, and head back. They're quick - they don't take much longer than 10~ minutes, and they are absolutely addicting.
As for performance and the Beta's translation, those are obviously the most subject to change. Oddly enough, the Beta had access to the full graphics settings menu from the Japanese PC release. Players were afforded the option to change everything from their motion blur, anti-aliasing, and bloom settings - to more traditional options like setting the lighting and shadow quality, and more. I played on an Xbox One X, which performed at what I would consider a perfectly acceptable framerate. The game targets 60FPS, and in most missions, it does a more than adequate job of mostly meeting that target. I hear that the base Xbox One version wasn't quite as lucky. The game is advertised as hitting 4K on Xbox One X, and it certainly looked nice on my 1440p monitor, but I also heard (again) from base Xbox One players that the game does use a dynamic resolution, and would drop the resolution when things would get more hectic on screen. I didn't notice any of that on my end, but again, I was downsampling to 1440p to begin with. I'm sure my resolution dropped on occasion, but not enough that I would've noticed.
The Beta, unsurprisingly, had a rough time getting started. The first 5 hours were a train wreck, though once things were patched up it all went relatively smoothly. Very, very infrequently I would run into split-second hitches that would appear to be network related on my wired connection, but nothing so frequent as to ruin the experience. Hopefully, those will get ironed out by the time the Open Beta hits - and if not then, here's hoping by the full release.
Another thing that I hope gets patched up by the time the full game is launched is the translation. While most of the game's translation was perfectly fine, it was abundantly clear that it wasn't yet complete - and PR has admitted as much. I won't share some of the screenshots I've gathered of the most egregious offenders, due to the fact that I've already reported them to SEGA and by all means, they should be fixed before launch, but consistency was definitely not one of the Closed Beta translation's strong suits. I ran into issues such as formatting errors, inconsistent translations for area names, system text that almost blatantly seemed machine translated, and more. Again - I'll give SEGA some leeway. It's a huge endeavor to try and translate 8 years of content all at once, and this was just a Beta, but I seriously hope that they can catch everything in time for release. It felt like I was running into new issues on a near-constant basis.
My issues, however, are definitely minor in the grand scheme of things. I put more time into my Xbox this last weekend than I think I might've put into the thing throughout all of 2019. I'm hooked, and I've already started to go back to playing my Japanese account on Vita. Something about the game has clicked for me, and I'm absolutely anxious to find out when the Open Beta will drop and I can return to ARKS. It'll be interesting to see how the full game stacks up (and, frankly, I offer my sincere condolences to anyone that has to review this behemoth of an MMO all at once!), but I already feel pretty confident in saying that I'm going to be getting a ton of mileage out of it personally once the full game launches in a few weeks or months.