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Looking back on Phantasy Star Online 2’s closed beta

It’s been almost two weeks since the Phantasy Star Online 2 Closed Beta Test ended. The withdrawal is starting to wear off a bit, but I still get that itch to traverse the galaxy with the Oracle fleet.

Last week’s encounter with the region evasive MMO wasn’t my first experience with ARKS as I previously spent time in the Japanese servers back when Episode 5 was released. But “this time” was different. Its presence on the Xbox One or just the mere existence of North American servers was surreal. SEGA released PSO 2 8 years ago as a Japanese exclusive.

The Pioneers

Think about this – we’re getting excited about a game that is virtually “last-gen.” That should say something about the persistence of Phantasy Star’s fanbase. Even the most casual of fans would raid message boards questioning why SEGA was so nonchalant with localizing PSO 2. Perhaps they didn’t feel confident the game would be a success. Its predecessors, like Phantasy Star Universe, were met with lukewarm reviews at best, and North American servers were shut down relatively early due to a dwindling player base.

But to those dedicated to culture, a group of devoted fans over at Arks-Layer worked tirelessly since almost the game’s inception. The collective worked tirelessly with translating nearly the entirety of the game (save a few jpeg images). It isn’t perfect, but its damn close.

Arks Layer’s labor of love – PSO2 Tweaker

But then E3 2019 dropped a bombshell on us all, confirming that Phantasy Star Online 2 would be coming to North America in Spring 2020. A lot of mixed emotions surfaced out of the PSO community. On one hand, official localization would open the game to tens of thousands of who have been teased by SEGA for the better part of a decade. And on the other, the work of over 50 enthusiasts who sacrificed their time and energy to support thousands of players may have been put on life support.

Personally, I’m kind of stuck in the middle. I put a relatively significant amount of time on the Japanese servers playing solo, but given the opportunity to watch my friends experience the game for the first time, to me, is worth it.

Closed to everyone

So fast-forward to early February. Mega Visions HQ is getting pumped for the closed beta. Most of us are kinda bummed that the beta will barely last the weekend, but we remain optimistic. The bossman keeps on talking about that silly Dreamcast MAG for the better part of the week. It’s 8 p.m. EST, we all queue up and … nothing. Absolutely nothing.

As it turns out, SEGA’s closed-beta team only made a single server available at its launch, allowing for a very small number of players to get into character creation and maybe complete a single-mission before getting kicked out. The beta team tried circumventing this by opening up another server, but even that was no match by the sheer influx of players trying to get in on the action.

What then proceeded was a five-hour waiting game as we stared at PSO2’s Twitter page for updates. Each time we managed to connect to a server or make it to the character select screen was met with utter disappointment in the form of failed Authentication IDs and Session Terminations. Not wanting to consider the night a wash, we pulled up a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters to bide time. Throw in some shenanigans like whenever someone disconnects from the client, make the emulator’s screen bigger. It saved what was otherwise a disappointing night.

Technical Difficulties

Look, I get it. Closed Beta Tests, especially your first one, are difficult. You’re running a glorified stress test with a control group of finite players. Sometimes the unexpected takes place and things go south. In this case, the entirety of the western PSO fanbase tried getting online at the same time. Thankfully, the community managers maintained transparency throughout the blackout and even extended the CBT as a result of time lost.

With that said, it was still a beta test with a finite number of players. SEGA and Microsoft knew ahead of time how many players signed up via Xbox Insider Hub. Doing comparative analysis between the stress load on Japanese servers and what Microsoft had available to support the CBT could have prevented the crashes or at the very least reduced the server downtime. I’m not saying that didn’t take place, but to just open one single server on the night of SEGA’s most anticipated MMO is borderline negligent.

Character creation

Before we start talking gameplay, let’s hit on the most strenuous aspect of any RPG – character creation. When creating your character, you have the option of four races: Humans, Newmans, Deumans and CASTs. Humans are your middle of the road option – jack of all trades, master of none. With an even stat spread, Humans are able to jump into any class with ease. Newmans are good with Techniques (space magic), CASTs are strong physical fighters with bad Tech stats and Deumans are glass-cannons.

Of the classes available, I’ve always been partial to anything with a big-ass sword. Hunters fulfill the need, being strong close-range combatants and having access to swords, partizans and wired lances. Other classes include Rangers (assault rifles, launchers), magic-wielding Forces (rods, talises), the adaptable Bravers (katanas, bullet bows), aerial fighting Bouncers (dual blades, jet boots), and commandeering Summoners (pets). More details on the classes can be found at the ARKS-Visiphone Wiki.

Click below to read Part 2!

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Christopher Wenzel

One half of The ScrubVerse Podcast. Hardcore retro gaming collector and aficionado of RPGs. Will do morally ambiguous things for a remake of Phantasy Star IV. Send Jameson for morale.

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