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Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis Impressions

New Genesis

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Sega is weird. It is one of the few very well known companies out there that is pumping out games here and there with varying degrees of success that just seems completely random. Being probably best known for the Sonic franchise, it has ironically been failing to hit the mark in that regard, while oddly being successful in several other of its IPs and ventures, such as the Yakuza series and its acquisition of Atlus which by extension includes the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei series.

The Phantasy Star series, with their online MMOs being the more recent iterations they have released, is another one of those successes; the first Phantasy Star Online is still being played in private servers to this day, and Phantasy Star Online 2 became one of the two most successful MMOs in Japan, the other being Final Fantasy XIV. Emphasis on “in Japan” because of its first attempt for a worldwide version failed spectacularly due to the mishandling of the game, with rampant pay-for-conveniences monetization method that plagued the game and pretty much every other free-to-play games at the time, something that isn’t present in the original Japanese version. That said, in the past year, with the aid of Microsoft, PSO2 has gotten its global second wind and turns out that was just part of their plan to finally release……….Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis! And it’s available for both Japan and the global audience, too!

Welcome to the world beyond the sky

So first of all, what is PSO2: New Genesis (from this moment on, let’s shorten that to New Genesis, PSO2:NGS, or just NGS), other than that it’s a Phantasy Star Online MMORPG? It’s pretty hard to describe. It….certainly doesn’t seem to be an expansion since it seems to be a slightly separate entity and your progress doesn’t really carry over from the original PSO2, but neither does it seem to be a completely new game because under the hood there’s still a lot of the original PSO2 in it even though you can say they’re just jammed into that new engine and you do can transfer over some items (mainly cosmetics) from the original PSO2.

One thing that is certain, however, is that New Genesis, like PSO2, is an Action MMORPG. Unlike what you’d probably think when you hear the word MMORPG (where you’d probably think of something like World of Warcraft), its gameplay can be said to be closer to the more modern actionized MMOs like say Blade and Soul and Black Desert Online where your gameplay will usually revolve around hacking and slashing your way through enemies.

To do that, a per usual in MMORPGs, you are provided with classes, 6 of them, to choose from, each with its own set of specific weapon choices and respective skills or Photon Arts that will likely appeal to various playstyles and with more classes coming on the way through future updates. Another feature that the game inherits from the original PSO2 is the subclass system, which allows you to…..well, equip a subclass, which then allows you to equip the weapons for that subclass and utilize the skills and Photon Arts for their respective weapons in addition to the main class you’re already equipped with. Every class also comes with the usual skill trees which allow you to make your own unique builds, even though as it now, is there’s not really that much skills in the skill tree for that much uniqueness. However, factor in the main/subclass system, and the game allows for pretty interesting class combinations.

I chose to be a Partisan Hunter this time, but I really like Gunner, Equilibrium, anyone?

A feature that is new to New Genesis is the Multi-weapon system, which allows you to combine two different type of weapons that will occupy a single weapon slot so you do not have to scroll through the weapon palette to change weapons, which then allows you to basically mix and match Photon Arts, creating combos not unlike the Devil May Cry combos you might come across while browsing YouTube. While this doesn’t seem like much, this is a large improvement because they attempted the concept of multi-weapon combos in the original PSO2 with the Hero class, which had one very glaring problem with it. The Hero class has Photon Arts that allow you to automatically switch weapons (which in fact, is even essential to achieve higher overall damage), but this is only good as long as you have a pristine connection. As soon as it lags, even for a split second, you will be stuck in the weapon change animation, not being able to do any attack because the server has to confirm that you have switched weapons, stopping you from doing anything until it finishes doing so. I don’t exactly know how it works under the hood, but I assume the Multi-weapon system circumvents this by treating the two weapons as already equipped at the same time, which allows you to keep attacking without being stopped by that confirmation process.

Another thing that is different in New Genesis is that the game is now in an open-world format. As of now, you’re only limited to the Aelio region, but updates to allow travel to other regions will come in the future. In relation to the game now being open-world, New Genesis improved the mobility in general in order to make traversal through the world much more pleasant. The game now allows for infinite dash and gliding whereas in the past, in the original PSO2 there isn’t even a dash button and it takes around 2 seconds before your character goes to a full running pace, and it’s not even as quick as New Genesis’ dash, and there wasn’t any gliding either. It’s really an improvement everywhere, even in battle. That said, while this addition is an improvement, it should be expected for pretty much any open world game without vehicles or other swifter method of travel, even if it’s only because of the convenience it provides. Oh, and additionally, even though we’re currently only being stuck with one region, the game apparently has a lot of stuff to load. It takes me minutes to just log into my server, so I would recommend-no I say that you MUST install the game on an SSD, because of not only the initial login loading, the game also loads stuff as you’re running around between areas as evidently my regular HDD can’t seem to keep up with it, giving me stutters when I move from area to area.

You can’t go there yet but you can see the other regions from here

As open-world in JRPGs usually go, you’re free to go anywhere you please outside of the story-locked areas. But as is also the norm, certain areas are meant for higher level players with higher level enemies, so beware that you can certainly get killed. Luckily, there isn’t any penalty to getting killed, and currently the level cap is at level 20, which means the gap between you and the enemies that you come across wouldn’t be that much and you’re only in real trouble if you engage in battle with enemies that are more than 4 levels above yours. Luckily and oddly, leveling is very easy at this point. As as soon as I cleared the tutorial I was already level 4, and I cleared the currently available story quests as soon as I was around level 12, which I did in only 2 days. And you can probably do so even sooner provided you are skilled enough and meet the prerequisites to access the story quests. The prerequisites being the game’s way to rate your combat capability, termed ‘Battle Power’ though players and unofficial translation prefers to call it Power Level. In order to raise your Power Level, you can get better gear, invest in more skill points, just doing things that make you stronger in general.

IT’S OVER……1000? Yeah I’m still weak……

While powering up and progression in MMOs tend to be a chore full of grinding and whatever repetitive activities, New Genesis mostly managed to avoid that by making the experience……..less stressful I think is the word I’m looking for? To put aside first, grinding for level and gear drops is still grinding as usual and I think it’s just the way that leveling and trying to get gear drops are. However, there is less pressure in the process of upgrading other aspects of your power level. Skill points that you use to invest in your skill tree skills are obtained through completing challenges in devices called Cocoons and Towers spread across the open-world which you’ll most likely encounter while you’re just exploring. Note that you only need to complete them once to get the skill points, and it doesn’t even need to be done perfectly. If you wish to do quests (or client orders as the original PSO2 calls it) that can provide you exp and other rewards, there’s surprisingly almost a complete lack for them. There’s a few that will pop up in the game, but unlike in the original PSO2, they’re completely a one-time thing and can’t be taken over and over (even after a reset period) like they used to. Though then again leveling and getting items are far easier than it used to be, but I can’t help missing taking the client orders and completing them.

Each weapon archetype has different potentials, so make sure it’s the one you want!

And then just like the original PSO2, your gear can be upgraded and you can have augments installed on it to suit your needs. But unlike the original PSO2, it is now sooo soooooo much better in the way that it’s no longer the storage management hell that it used to be. The augments can now be managed and added to weapons via augment capsules that can drop when you defeat an enemy, and the more capsule of the same augment adds a certain percentage of success when adding that augment to your weapon of choice up to a certain percent of success. The amount of augments you can add to the weapon increases for every certain amount of upgrade level the weapon goes through, which at the point I’m up to, I found that there is up to a maximum of 4 augment slots at 40 levels of upgrade. And just like the original PSO2, you can use the weapons that drop that you’re not gonna use to upgrade your weapon’s levels too. Additionally, there are weapon potentials that you can unlock which are basically predetermined augment that is specific to that weapon. Unlocking these weapon potentials just simply uses materials that you can gather while you’re just out and about wandering around. That’s three birds by just wandering around.

Speaking of wandering around, it is a somewhat productive but relaxing experience, but there are still a bit of thrill and excitement to be found in it if you do want to look for it. The Emergency Trials system returns from the original PSO2. It is a type of semi-random field event that pops up from time to time during missions in PSO2 which back then was kind of an annoyance because you’re usually trying to get to your objective as fast as possible because your mission completion time is one of the factors in determining your mission score and the higher your score, the better your loot drops. But now that the game is open-ended, it definitely feels much more optional. You can definitely choose participate if you want to or if it’s conveniently in the way of your stroll, or just ignore it because another one will pop up later on. Though you will also sometimes probably want to go chase after them because the loot and experience you get from them is quite worth it even as upgrade fodder.

That’s how you know it’s time to party

Another returning feature similar to the Emergency Trials is the Photon-Sensitive Effects Burst or usually abbreviated PSE Bursts, which are basically bonus round loot drop and EXP frenzy mode that is triggered by clearing groups of enemies and Emergency Trials as fast as possible as the PSE gauge on the side of your mini-map fills up. In the process, things like rare enemies (which are just like other enemies but coated in silver or gold) with better loot drops will start to appear, until the gauge completely fills and the PSE Burst triggers. After the PSE Burst finishes, in the original PSO2, nothing happens, it just ends. But in New genesis, they now end the PSE Burst with a bang, as once the gauge depletes, a boss type enemy will appear. While triggering a PSE Burst is completely voluntary, you will want to be there if someone triggers a PSE Burst, because similar to the Emergency Trials, the loot and experience is worth it. 

Yet another returning feature from the original PSO2 is the Emergency Quests, or Urgent Quests in the global official translation. These are basically semi-random server wide instanced raid events that happen every few hours which you can join in with similarly lucrative loot as the PSE Bursts and Emergency Trials, if not far more. Back in the original PSO2, these can be either full-sized dungeon raids or just a single intense fight with a raid boss, or even a multi-phase operation with both kinds combined. At this moment however, there’s only a few different Emergency Quests, like 2 of them few, and they’re sadly not that exciting. Even the Emeregency Trials and PSE Bursts felt more exciting just because of their far more spontaneous nature alone. This probably comes from the fact that a lot of the Emergency Quests in Original PSO2 have fights that are……more nuanced, as in, they’re not just fights with mindless Dolls, literally and figuratively. Of course, this will change in due time with updates, but as mentioned, they’re not very exciting right now and feels like just another way to get more loot and experience to raise your power level. You might ask why I’d sweat about the details on a raid, but I’d say fighting something that has a personality adds into the fun because you can see how their character influences their movesets, and even sometimes devs are smart enough to have it affect their AI behavior, instead of fighting a drone that just…….does stuff.

One of the two Emergency Quest bosses, it’s just a bigger version of a normal enemy. It’s fun, but gets old fast when there’s only this boss and the other one.

As I raise my Battle Power and go through story quests one by one, I figured in the end that there isn’t actually much story to go through right now,  but the game did hook me pretty well. As soon as the game starts, everything is a complete mystery, not that it shouldn’t be, but you definitely don’t quite know what kind of world you’re (quite literally) being dropped into, even if you played the original PSO2. The story is set about a millennia after the story of PSO2 ends, its stage being the planet Halphas. While ARKS (the organization you’re a part of in PSO2) still exists, they are fighting a new different enemy now, the mysterious entities called Dolls, which drops from the skies without rhyme or reason. On the other hand, with similarly no rhyme or reason, amnesiac people also have been dropping from the skies, which people have come to term as Meteorns. On the ground, the planet itself doesn’t seem to be normal either. You can spot the rocky cliffs that you travel around, the hills, even the trees, seem to cover some kind of futuristic metallic walls with Tron-lines on them, caves with what seem to be beams made of similar materials, and trees that look like they emit projections of random geometries. Asking around the ARKS stationed in the city, every single one of them have no idea why things…..just are. I think the curiosity will drive a lot of people to keep on doing the new story content as they get released.

As of the released story thus far, the story only goes up to what is equivalent to the point where a 4th party member joins your party in a regular JRPG. It’s not really that far in a story, but I don’t really wanna spoil anything even though there really isn’t much to spoil yet, and right now you’re better off experiencing the story hooks by yourself. There’s not too many cutscenes at this point, but they are rather decently performed. The only make or break factor being that these cutscenes are most definitely motion captured, Japanese acting motion captured, which are those somewhat exaggerated stage-play theatrical kind of acting.  Personally, I don’t really like these types of motion capture performances, but they’re pretty abundant in a lot of the lesser western-known JRPGs that I just started to unconsciously ignore them at some point. The voice acting, however, is not bad, pretty good even, and I’m talking about the English voice acting! People still say that subs are better than dubs, but I’d say dubs these days are catching up with a lot of great dubs coming out recently like the Yakuza 7 dub, and New Genesis is somewhere in there being one of the decent ones.

Meet the main characters, from the left: Aina, Manon, and you

And speaking of new, the game also gets a new and improved graphics thanks to the new engine. The game looks so beautiful, it’s even so good that even its first reveal trailer is actually entirely in-game rendered as can be proven by the benchmark tool they provided some time before the official launch. Additionally, it’s also surprisingly lightweight despite the quality of the graphics. I’m running on an almost maxed out settings and the game still keeps its framerates well above 45fps even at the most intense situations, and this is on an old GTX1060, imagine what it can do on even better hardware. 

As can be seen in the trailer and a lot of screenshots, the game goes more towards the realistically rendered look, unlike other anime-styled games which lately tend to gravitate to the 3D-made-to-appear-like-2D look, similar to the recent Guilty Gear games. This choice usually makes or breaks the overall look of the game, especially once you seethe character models in the environment. However, New Genesis surprisingly succeeds in that regard. They managed to make the still anime-looking characters not only fit the environment, but also look good in it. Personally I like how it looks, it reminds me of the anime figure and Smart Dolls Photography that usually end up in my Twitter feed.

On the matter of character models, the character creation is also really good. It might not be the most technologically groundbreaking like say the way how Black Desert Online went viral because of its super advanced character creation, but New Genesis’ character creation really holds up well despite basically being just an upgraded version of the old PSO2’s character creator. The character creation mostly just lets you play with several sliders and base type selections for things you’d expect such as body and face, but they’re good enough that you can make diverse faces and body types. Some upgrades compared to the Original PSO2’s character creation is the addition of some fine detail sliders now that the game is more highly detailed and higher resolution, and also the fact that you can adjust your character’s expressions. And by that I mean the expressions that is going to be used at cutscenes and stuff. Sadly I think my character’s face was framed by hair and clothes too much for me to notice any change in expressions in the cutscenes. Either that or our character haven’t gone through truly emotional moments yet.

You can even see the details in-game when you zoom in to it enough

Also unfortunately, there is not that much too choose from in the way of the initial clothes you can get, but they’re stylish enough that you wouldn’t mind wearing them for long stretches of the game until you get more selection. You can get more selection to your outfits by either by getting them from the scratch tickets, which is just gacha, or buying them from the player shop from players who got them from the scratch tickets themselves, who may also provide things like the weapons that dropped for them. Additionally, I have to mention here that these are the only two major methods of monetization the game has; the scratch to get the cosmetic stuff, and the premium subscription which allows the ability to sell stuff in the player market (you can buy from the player market just fine without the premium subscription), and other more minor things like an expanded item storage. That’s it.

Oddly though, the global version of the character creator seems to be nerfed compared to the Japanese version. Some of the sliders don’t go as far on the global version compared to the Japanese version, things such as body height, which (taking into account costumes with shoes which may increase height) in the Japanese version can go as low as around 142cm minimum height, while in the global version can only go down to around 154cm according to the game’s own measurement. While I do understand the reason why it might be that way for the height sliders, I do not understand nerfing the other sliders, taking away the ability for people to make some truly THICC characters if they see fit to do so.

This whole time, I’ve been talking about the things that stood out in the game to me, but one thing that I didn’t notice standing out is the music. While I don’t wanna say too much about this because I’m rather musically illiterate (I enjoy music as just sounds and don’t understand the concepts and theories behind them), they seem to be in the back seat most of the time at this point and the only standout to me is the main theme, which only plays at the intro and if you stand at the same spot the trailer guy stood in the intro (and it goes away as soon as you move from that point). I can say that they have that distinct Phantasy Star style to them and they’re good, but none of the music right now feel like they do anything more than accompany what’s going on at the moment rather than carry you to what’s going on at the moment like some music in climactic fights back in the original PSO2, such as the Dark Falz Persona boss theme. Granted we don’t actually have any fights that climactic at this point, so I’m looking forward to the real stuff we’ll be getting later on.

Those two ships (servers) have been in maintenance since before New Genesis came out

Before we finish, there is one thing that I have to mention and that is the state of the game itself as…….well…… a game that’s also online. As I mentioned, there’s a global version and a Japanese version of the game. I noticed that even though the content releases are simultaneous between the two versions, things get weird when you look at the way the game is handled. For starters the global version has issues that in the Japanese version has been fixed much much earlier. At the beginning, both have severe server issues where players lag more even when the servers aren’t congested. Official tweets even mentioned that the servers seem to be under more loads then its supposed to. This is fixed within a day or two for the Japanese version, but a bit more later in the global version. And currently, the player shop doesn’t even work properly in the global version. If you search with the provided item search tags, the game will say that it can find nothing you specified, but if you search the items you want by name, the results actually comes out. As far as I’m aware this has never been an issue with the Japanese version. And there are apparently a lot of other bugs other players encountered even until now, even I fell through the floor as I logged in at one point. So I advise that you might want to watch out for these if you’re gonna start playing right now because apparently some of the bugs can break stuff like quests and your inventory. Personally I don’t really mind the bugs since I’m lucky enough not to encounter most of them, but I understand that some people want the game they’re playing to be more stable, in which case you’ll have to wait for it to be fixed.

Now you might have noticed that I have keep saying things along the lines of “there’s not much, but there will be updates” more than several times along this review. Frankly that’s because currently there really is not much content in the game right now. As I mentioned, there’s not much to do other than just improving your power level and I also mentioned it only has as much story equivalent to the point in a regular JRPG where one more character has joined  your party in addition to the ones already with you since the beginning. While it’s true that story isn’t the true lifeblood of an MMO, the raids and other main content in the game is still also rather lacking, if not in abundance, then in quality. However, the game at its core is one that I find really fun, the combat is good and satisfying, the amount of things that you can mix up to create your own build and playstyle is rather impressive, and even just wandering around gathering materials to upgrade stuff to make that build work didn’t feel like a chore. There is a very solid base for this game to build more content and feature around in the future and I can see that happening.

Sega has a game that’s good at its core here but lacks in content. In that matter, I’m a bit disappointed as well as I was expecting a bit more. Additionally the game is still a bit buggy, even though the game is completely playable and fun right now it would definitely be nicer if stuff like the player shop works as intended. If the Original PSO2 is anything to go by I can see them delivering good stuff in the future. Oh and have I mentioned? The game is free to play.