Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis (PSO2 NGS) launched on June 9th 2021, with the Aelio region available to start. NGS acts as a sequel/reboot for the aging PSO2, which had become increasingly bloated and convoluted over time (compounded by the fact that the localized version crammed almost ten years of content into a year from PSO2’s 2020 Western release). With the next major area on the way (“Retem” is scheduled to release on December 15th, alongside a new level cap), I wanted to reflect on the experience so far.
I’ve been playing PSO games since the original Dreamcast release and followed the series through all its console, PC, and handheld releases. I can honestly say that NGS is the most ambitious iteration of the PSO formula to date, despite the core content not changing significantly since June.
There’s a lot to love about NGS. The series has been gradually improving the fluidity of movement with each iteration (the dodge roll introduced in Phantasy Star Zero on DS felt like a game-changer in 2008, my how far we’ve come) and NGS is the culmination of those improvements. Combat is fast and, aside from some lock-on woes, responsive.
The improved fluidity thankfully extends to traversal, because this is the most open PSO world yet. There is plenty to explore in Aelio once you open it all up (areas are initially gated by your level). Fast travel occurs between ryuker devices, which help you get to different areas quickly. When you’re moving through an area, dashing feels great. There is also a lot of verticality in Aelio, and the new float ability feels equally satisfying when moving across peaks. You’re not just running / flying through empty fields though. There are items, rare monsters, and Breath of the Wild-esque challenge buildings spread throughout the map for the player to discover.
Like its predecessors, the world of NGS has a unique and undeniable aesthetic. I’ve been playing on an Xbox Series X, and after after some tweaking in the settings, the game runs consistently smooth (most of the lag issues from launch have been ironed out at this point). It’s not the most technically impressive game out there, but the art does a lot of heavy lifting in NGS. The anime/sci-fi vibe is as appealing as ever here, and is most apparent in Central City, your base of operations in Aelio.
It’s an approachable world and one I simply love immersing myself in. Unlike some of its peers, NGS does not expect the player to read countless novels, comics, or watch hours-long YouTube lore videos to understand what’s happening. As a hardcore Star Wars fan, I definitely spend a lot of time down these rabbit holes, but I don’t think every fictional universe needs to expect this sort of commitment from the player/reader/viewer.
The story itself in NGS is pretty light so far. The narrative is front loaded, with a lot of cutscenes in the first 10 hours or so, and then nothing. As with most PSO games, the story isn’t terribly compelling, but it serves its purpose in setting up the world and conflict. Thankfully it then gets out of the player’s way so they can settle into the gameplay loop, which brings us to the endgame experience.
In NGS you can level up multiple (all) classes on your character. Once you’re at the current level cap of 20, you’re basically in the endgame. It was joked that fashion was the endgame in base PSO2, and that still holds some truth in NGS. Through daily logins and free scratch tickets you can earn all kinds of new looks for your character.
But if you’re like me and happy with the way your character looks, you’ll likely be focused on battle power. This is essentially the item level stat in many MMOs, and one you can slowly raise (to diminishing returns) through small tweaks and upgrades. There aren’t as many weapons and pieces of armor as some of NGS’ contemporaries, but you have a lot of freedom in how you enhance what you do have. Slotted armor has been around since the original PSO, but now it requires a bit more money and/or grind to perfect a piece. There are an abundance of items that can go into slots, with some slightly confusing limitations around how many of what type of item can be slotted where. The process requires some thoughtful experimentation, but if you have a clear focus on the stats you want to increase to support your playstyle, it’s ultimately a rewarding grind.
To get what you need to augment your gear, you need items and money. As NGS is an action RPG, the predominant way to get this is through combat and completing quests. In the endgame, quests are primarily your daily/weekly tasks. These draw players to certain areas, which gives the game the MMO feel, giving you the sense that this world is in fact inhabited by other human players. For me, it never gets old moving across an area with a loose group of random players from combat scenario to combat scenario. It’s an addictive and almost zen-like experience, one unique to this style of game.
For fans of the more traditional party-style challenges, there are Urgent Quests. These instanced scenarios occur at set times throughout the day, and require a bit more strategy. The more you do them the more you settle into your role, and oftentimes I’ve found there’s someone in the group giving tips and/or instructions. Urgent quests are a nice way to break up some of the endgame tedium and are fairly generous with rewards.
Unfortunately, endgame rewards in NGS sometimes feel more like a hassle than an actual reward. In a typical play session I’d pick up 100 or so weapons/armor pieces dropped by enemies. In most cases, these are all worthless. I never found myself farming for a specific item drop, because it was just easier to buy what I wanted from the player shops. So what ends up happening is you’re constantly unloading your inventory of junk weapons and armor to NPCs for basically no money. It’s not a deal-breaker, but the current system does feel inelegant. Decreasing the number of drops and increasing the value (and maybe the chance of acquiring something you actually want to keep) would go a long way. If you have the motivation/time and pay real money for the option, you can set up a shop of your own to get rid of augments, weapons, and armor at a much better in-game price.
As someone who hasn’t really cared about the cosmetic items you can earn from the paid scratch cards, the player shop is the most compelling reason for me to invest real money into NGS. In this way, NGS is an ideal free to play game- there are perks to paying, but you can play the game without spending a dime and not feel like you’re being held back. I wonder if the proverbial F2P whales will be able to keep the game sustainable, but I’m sure this is something Sega has figured out, with PSO2 being successful using this model for almost a decade.
It’s not perfect, but I’ve really enjoyed my time with NGS so far. It’s a game I have kept coming back to, and one I’m excited to continue to play. The foundations here are strong, and with more content NGS will earn its place as the modern successor to a legendary RPG legacy.
See you in Retem.