You can’t talk about Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis without first looking at Phantasy Star Online 2 (PSO2) and its long rocky road to western markets. PSO2 debuted in Japan in 2012 and, for a long time, wasn’t expected to be released outside of that country. Praised for its action combat and aesthetics, many in the West, including myself, wanted the game brought to the global market. After some time with no progress, some fans who wanted to play the game took it upon themselves to create translation patches and other mods to the Japanese version of the game playable. For a long while, if you wanted to play PSO2, then this was the only way. That is, until last year when Microsoft (of all companies) announced out of the blue they would be localizing PSO2 for other markets. Their reasoning became pretty obvious when, about a month after the release of the international PSO2 version at E3 2020, SEGA announced PSO2: New Genesis was in development and would release globally sometime in the next year.
A myriad of launch problems marred the global version of PSO2, the biggest issues being the Microsoft Store and difficulties with downloading the game. The MS Store was not prepared to handle a game like this. The game would often crash, not start properly, redownload and take up twice the space, and even refuse to let users uninstall it. It was a mess so big that it took a PSO2 tweaker created by modders to actually download the game properly, but even this didn’t fix all the issues. This horrid launch turned off many potential players and ruined the experience for many already playing the game. These cropped up for me, as well, even as I managed to play for a month and hit max level before the Microsoft version suddenly refused to start or redownload correctly, even with the PSO2 tweaker. I dropped the game when this happened and went through the previously mentioned troubles to delete the game. The other issues with PSO2 stemmed from the archaic systems in the game that, to be fair, were already eight years old at the time: the MAG system, the permanent choice skill tree system, lack of ease to add friends, and gameplay systems hidden behind tons of menus. I could go on and on about PSO2‘s failures in the Western launch. But this isn’t a review of Phantasy Star Online 2; this is a review of Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis.
The big question for many people is, “What is Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis?” Is it an expansion, an update, or an entirely new game? New Genesis falls into the latter category, but, at the same time, its basis is in the original PSO2. You can transfer your character over to New Genesis, where the character starts over at level 1 like any fresh new character. The beauty of it is that any cosmetic items and glamours you may have collected in PSO2 are available, in New Genesis upgraded to the new graphics system. So your time in PSO2 was not wasted, as you can recreate your favorite looks once again in New Genesis. You can’t bring over any previous currency, and all the powerful weapons you collected are there, though you can very quickly replace them in New Genesis. It’s a fresh start for everyone and a great way for new and old players to begin. Also, if you feel inclined, you can even transfer your character back to the original PSO2 with the same client. It’s a nice touch for anyone who is still enjoying PSO2 or new players if they want to check it out.
With a new start comes new takes on old classes. Once again, Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis allows players to switch to any of the six launch classes whenever they wish and subclass any of the six as well. Those six classes are the Hunter, Fighter, Ranger, Gunner, Techer, and Force. Hunter and Fighter are your classic melee classes. Hunter is more on the tanky side of melee and uses swords, wired lances, and the partisan to dispatch foes. Fighter is the big damage dealer of the two, using knuckles, twin daggers, and the double saber to do significant damage quickly at the expense of taking more damage. Ranger and Gunner are your ranged classes. Ranger focuses more on assault rifles and launchers alongside debuffing the enemies, whereas Gunner is quick with twin machine gunners and flashy moves that allow you to do big damage from a distance. Force and Techer are your magical classes. Each gets access to all of the game’s spells, but Techer is more support and melee focused, while Force is ranged and focuses on doing damage.
The best parts of PSO2 New Genesis are the combat and movement systems, which are downright amazing for an MMO. Your character moves around at a quick pace, allowing you to dash, double jump, wall kick, and glide across terrain. Being able to glide endlessly after jumping through any terrain adds so much to make exploration fun in New Genesis. It’s simply a pleasure to run around and interact with the environment. Combat is even better; it’s quicker and more visceral than base PSO2 or any MMO on the market outside of maybe Black Desert Online, but even BDO’s movement isn’t as fluid and quick as New Genesis’. You can spot dodge/block and counter with pretty much any weapon. That leads to another excellent aspect of combat: You can take any class and subclass’s weapons and combine them into a multi-weapon. This allows you to quickly use normal attacks, Photon Arts (special moves), and weapon actions of a pair of weapons and mix and match what you like best. Want to combine knuckles with twin machine guns to attack at range and then do some big damage close up while the enemy is down? You are free to do so. It feels like an MMO version of Ys IX’s combat system, and I am all for it.
The movement system leads to another excellent part of PSO2 New Genesis: exploring the world. The game has a very Breath of the Wild sort of exploration system. You can climb and go wherever you want in the game world with the goal of discovering cocoons and towers that are, by the very definition, the same as finding a shrine in Breath of the Wild. You go into them either solo or as a party and acquire skill points for your classes once you finish them. The trials inside can include jumping puzzles, mazes, combat trials, or a combination of those. They are a lot of fun to run through and a blast to discover while exploring.
Unfortunately, this is where New Genesis stops being great and the potential gets wasted. All the above sounds great on paper, but New Genesis only has three towers and eight cocoons, which take 2-3 hours to complete in all. The game map is beautiful but incredibly tiny for an MMO. Imagine the Great Plateau in Breath of the Wild being the entire game world. You only get two urgent requests every 3-5 hours, which you do not need to have max level to do, and although very flashy, they are straightforward boss fights. New Genesis also has almost no content to tackle with friends or alliance members outside of running around fighting monsters in the field to level up. At best, there are maybe 20 quests from NPCs in the entire game, 4-5 hours of “story” if you want to call it a story, and zero endgame max level content. It took me only about 15 to 20 hours to do everything, and I didn’t rush to make a beeline for the endgame like many MMO players do. There simply isn’t much there.
There is a roadmap for future content, including two new classes, Braver and Bouncer (my personal favorite in PSO2) in August and “Fall,” and a big update in “Winter,” but by then, the player base for New Genesis may be barren since there is nothing to do. Many people will state that this was how PSO2 was at release in 2012; it had no content then, but this isn’t 2012. That was a time before Guild Wars 2, which was released a few months after PSO2, before Final Fantasy XIV relaunched, and a time before the modern gacha games’ consistent content drip. You cannot release a game in 2021 in the MMO market with so little content and hope to compete. It just doesn’t work; you need something to keep the player base coming back when new content comes out. By the time real endgame content comes out during the winter (hopefully), New Genesis will be battling Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker for the market share, and the player base outside of the die-hard fans won’t be coming back. It’s a huge shame because if this game wasn’t rushed with such paltry content, it could have legitimately given Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft a run for its money in the MMO market.
Lack of content isn’t even the biggest issue with the game. New Genesis refuses to get rid of archaic PSO2 systems that are an automatic turnoff for most casual players. PSO2’s horrible old MAG system is gone, but skill trees with permanent choices that don’t let you acquire all the skills because you only get 20 points are still present. That system should be removed or retooled immediately. The skills are so poorly explained that you have to guess what many of them do. You cannot, I repeat cannot, test any of them out before making choices, and you need to hope and pray they do what you think they will because you are stuck once you hit confirm. Not to mention that errant clicks and mistakes happen. And not everyone wants to go look up a guide on building a class or a subclass to do what they want. You get one reset, and that’s all; the resets are very sparsely handed out unless a new class comes along, which makes your choices that much more crucial. If you want to set up one class for use as a subclass, you need to build it a certain way, but that will eventually ruin the class for use as a main class and vice versa. It goes against the concept of allowing the player to switch classes whenever they wish. This issue will only get worse as skill trees get larger and more complex down the line. You can, however, pay real money to fix this issue by buying multiple skill trees, which leads to the next issue in this game: horrible outdated monetization practices.
Like PSO2, New Genesis is free to play, but if you want any of the cool new cosmetics, you have to buy scratch tickets — essentially loot boxes — using real money. At this point, it’s not a huge issue, as it’s a monetization practice that works, even if it is a horrid practice. You can buy those fancy items from other players in the game, but here lies the real deal-breaker: You can use the personal shop to buy anything you want, but even if you sell anything to make money to buy those fancy cosmetics, you still need to fork over real money. There are very few ways to make money outside of this. In base PSO2, you could get three-day personal shop tickets through grinding and using the FUN currency scratch tickets to get them. However, SEGA got rid of those tickets a week before New Genesis launched. It reeks of bad practices and trying to milk players for money. It also doesn’t help that many base character customization options look downright ugly and are a huge step back from the original PSO2 choices. In a game where glamour is a big thing for players, paying real money to make your character look great is almost a given.
Graphically, outside of the nightmare anime faces, New Genesis looks stunning, and you get a Xenoblade Chronicles X vibe from it. Character and enemy animations are smooth, and the terrain is varied and aesthetically pleasing to look at. The particle and lighting effects from character animations and the world around them add a lot to the look and feel of the game. Sound-wise, the game digs into its futuristic setting. Lots of techno beat tracks and sound effects, along with some classic Phantasy Star Online music, add a lot to the game, and the dynamic variations are a treat.
As for the game’s story, it is bare-bones and very short. It lasts 2-3 hours at best, with a handful of cutscenes and a few characters who aren’t memorable in the least. It ends with a “to be continued” after the last cutscene, presumably foreshadowing the new area to be released this winter. It is very uninspired, which is a shame because other MMOs such as Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and The Elder Scrolls Online continue to show how amazing narratives can be done within an MMO. SEGA has some of the best writers in the business to pull from, and the original Phantasy Star games tell some grand stories as well, but it is clear that story is a total afterthought in New Genesis.
I really, really wanted to love New Genesis. It has a solid and fun core, but the game fails to build on it and falls flat in the end. Those problems are compounded by the horrid lag and issues at launch, but what MMO doesn’t have issues at launch? I can’t totally fault them for it, but it seems they were unprepared. This game feels like it needed another 6 to 12 months in the oven before it was ready. In short, Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis is a potentially incredible and enjoyable MMO that is ruined by archaic gameplay systems, poor monetization practices, and a total lack of content. Hopefully, in the future, a lot of these things will be fixed, but at launch, New Genesis is what it is: a game released in 2021 that’s stuck in bad practices from 2012.