|Publisher:||Sega of America|
|Release:||03/02/04 - 11/27/03|
The original Phantasy Star titles were a cohesive four-part epic which spanned several thousand years and generations of characters. Appearing first on Sega's Master System and continuing on to the Genesis for a number of years, it was eventually brought to a close with “End of the Millennium”. Following this, there was a long period of silence from both Sega and the Overworks team concerning the PS franchise. Two side-stories later appeared for the Game Gear, and a compilation disc of the four original titles for the Saturn, but the series seemed to have otherwise breathed its last.
Then in 1999, with the Dreamcast having just been released, Sega announced that Phantasy Star would return; but with a few major changes. Sonic Team, not Overworks would handle the project, under the direction of Yuji Naka. The game would also be online, allowing dozens of players to interact in a lobby and then join up in teams of four to go on adventures.
PSO attracted a large audience, and received a major upgrade with Episode II, released during the waning days of the Dreamcast. By the end of the Dreamcast, Sega had decided to become a software developer and moved quickly to transfer its online franchise to both the X-Box and GameCube. It released both episodes in compilations, allowing players to access both parts from the same disc. Sega now plans to revitalize the series one last time, with Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D Revolution.
End of the [Online] Millennium
Touted as the closing chapter of the PSO saga, Episode III is set 21 years after the events in Episode II. The new political leader of Pioneer II and his cabinet are under fire from a rebel group called the Arks. These rebels claim that the government is covering up information vital to colonial prosperity on the planet Ragol. To combat the growing threat of the Arks the government employs Hunters; adventurers loyal to the government's cause.
Right from the beginning, factions must be chosen. Players can select to side with the Hunters or the Arks, referred to as the Heroside and Darkside respectively. The story will change according to character loyalty, displaying two different viewpoints for players to experience. In a major departure from the first two episodes, Sonic Team has created a completely new battle system for the final installment of the series. Players are now accompanied by teammates and move on a grid, drawing cards from decks to perform actions. Hunters and Arks cannot use each other's signature abilities however; Hunters are given an Item Deck, allowing them to change equipment while on the field while Arks have an Enemy Deck, which allows them to summon creatures for assistance. Both sides are given Action and Assist decks in addition to their faction abilities; the first allows players to use various attacks and techniques in battle, while the second lets them use support skills.
While in previous episodes players would create characters to battle with, this installment requires players to fight via NPCs given to them at the beginning of their adventure. Their own character serves as a virtual avatar, rather than a battle character. Initially, players are given four NPCs to deploy into battle, and they can then control them during combat; similar to the system most strategy RPGs employ, such as Disgaea. Players will be able to acquire new NPC characters to use in battle as they progress and build their decks. One of the game's main attractions will undoubtedly be the online battle tournament, where up to 32 players can contest each other, with up to 8 players observing combat as spectators.
Player characters are used in the lobby and on board Pioneer II, with which Pioneer II players see depending on which side they chose initially. They can also interact with players from Episodes I and II while in the lobby. Veteran players will also be able to use the same Hunters License they purchased for Episode I and II to access Episode III's online game.
Elements such as MAGs, which served as virtual pets and battle assistants in episodes I and II, are now relegated to being cards for combat. Section IDs will also exist, although now they're merely aesthetic, and have no bearing on item or money bonuses as they did in previous installments.
Building solid decks of items, techniques, and monsters will be integral to the game. Although players will start with standard decks, ranks ranging from A+ to E awarded after battles will enable them to acquire new packs to add to their arsenal. Players will also be able to trade cards with others online, allowing for a wide range of customization.
The series' trademark gloss and high technology look has been improved with Episode III, featuring new particle and lighting effects to compliment the game's sci-fi world. In addition, the game will use larger battle models, and feature more detailed environments. In addition to visual aesthetics, Episode III will feature a brand new soundtrack; engineered by Hideaki Kobayashi, Fumie Kumatani, and Kenichi Tokoi. Kobayashi and Kumatani have worked on both prior episodes, and Tokoi is known for his compositions in Sonic Adventure 2 and Space Channel 5.
A Final Look
Although the conclusion to an online epic, Episode III promises to entertain gamers long after its release. Offering versatile gameplay and communication between the communities of all three episodes, Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D Revolution is something long time PSO fans and newcomers can certainly look forward to. The game has been available in Japan since November 2003, and will be released on March 2nd 2004 in North America.