I still can’t believe it. I got to play, for just a few hours, Phantasy Star Online 2. I played it in English, on my Xbox One X, in my living room, on my TV. No trickery, illicit downloads, or language patches were involved. It was the real deal, and it’s still there, laying dormant in my hard drive. Over the closed beta test weekend, I deciphered menus, stared at error messages, slayed several beasts, watched a bizarre musical performance, got mad at event scheduling, and fed a little robot buddy.
I also watched the Sonic the Hedgehog movie trailer in the space station lobby. That was weird. It feels like a dream, but it was real. Years after giving up on the series in the west, it’s finally here. But more important than validating a childhood obsession, Phantasy Star Online 2’s localization is the final cherry on top of a cake we’ve been trying to bake for years. In my mind, this is the end of a journey into a new era of Sega.
Mind, I’m talking North America here. In Japan, Sega is still just being Sega, but with more Shin Megami Tensei. Several years ago, Sega appeared to be struggling, especially when it came to localizing its own games. Yakuza 3 was infamously picked through before it shipped here, and the series briefly dropped out of retail. Bayonetta was a thing, but it wasn’t a big enough hit, and Anarchy Reigns killed a promising relationship with a newborn Platinum Games.
Phantasy Star 2 was just never released despite ostensible plans and Sonic… well, yeah. In what seemed like a bid of quiet desperation not unlike Sega’s peers Capcom and Square Enix, the last generation was full of weird publishing projects including a deal with Marvel to release mediocre Hulk and Iron Man games.
Sega still dropped the occasional cool thing, but it seemed like the House of Hedgehog was struggling within itself a bit. Then the Atlus merger happened. Then Yakuza 0 happened. Sega shifted gears and started porting games like Vanquish to PC. Sonic Mania was dope (I liked Forces too but let’s leave that alone for now). Japanese games have become cool again (they were always cool, but we’re talking Monster Hunter: World sales cool), and Sega seems to have majorly adjusted its strategies as a result.
Sure there’s also the RTS thing Sega has going on, which seems to be a pretty good side hustle. But for the most part, Sega seems to have found a way to have its cake and eat it too. I mean, in the past year we’ve seen returns for Space Channel 5, Super Monkey Ball, and Chu Chu Rocket. That rules.
Anyway, this piece is about Phantasy Star. It was always strange to see Phantasy Star Online 2 stuck behind a language barrier. But for whatever reason, probably the main one being how unstable the industry was during and after the recession, we never got it. But this new wave of mainstream success hitting Japanese games as we transition to the next generation seems to have snapped PSO 2 up on the way over.
And man is it weird to play this game like it’s brand new in 2020. It is unapologetically a sequel to the original, in ways the other games since weren’t. There’s even a musical reference in the opening, which caught my nostalgia receptors off guard. Every system feels like an update to the first PSO‘s foundation, from how attacking works to loot drops and the weird ways Rappys… do anything.
Regardless of my own perception of how the North American games scene operated, it’s awesome to see Sega propped up on more of a pedestal these days. From the Yakuza team climbing the ladder to even our boy Sonic having a few Ws in his column, it has just been nice to see the positivity. And Phantasy Star Online 2 appearing over here after years of nothing, and as a free to play download to boot? That’s just wild. 2020 is shaping up to be a great year already for fans of Sega’s IP library. Now, if someone could figure out a good onomatopoeia for Sega’s new splash screen sound please share it with me, because I love it and want to pay it the proper respect.
The closed beta is over, but Phantasy Star Online 2 is currently scheduled to launch in Spring 2020 for the Xbox One, and later for the PC.