Those of you who have grown up on the Final Fantasy
series will notice the battles first. Instead of walking around to encountering random enemies and enter a separate battle sequence, you see the enemies on screen and get to decide if you want to fight or not. In PSO ver. 2
, battles take place in real time and they are fully 3-D, which means that you have to concentrate on finding weak spots more than using different kinds of elements. Enemies usually move in packs and have pretty good AI. The last thing you want is to be ambushed by a group of four wolves and have your back showing, but that is what they try to do most of the time.
One of the most interesting and useful aspects of PSO ver. 2 is the control scheme. Attacks are assigned to the four face buttons which means that you can chose whatever attacks best suit your style without having to sift through menu after menu. Also, the Dreamcast Keyboard is supported for talking with your compadres, and an auto translation feature was included to break the speech barrier when you play with someone from a different country. When you type 'Flank the enemy from the back!,' a kid in Japan will see it in his language.
The Offline Mode is interesting for first time players, but the story is pretty weak and in my opinion, it serves mainly to build levels for the Online Mode. In order to play online you have to be signed up for the Sega.net service and own a Hunter's License. The Hunter's License is actually a three month service you buy to play the game. It costs fifteen dollars (not meseta) in addition to your Sega.net charges and has to be purchased online. It took a lot of hunting, but I found the page and I was on my way. While it's true that tens of thousands of players can be online simultaneously, players are distributed so that you won't see the vast majority of them. After successfully connecting to the network, you're prompted to choose a ship. Don't get hung up on this part; they're all the same. From there you pick a lobby. And that's it. Once you are in the lobby it can be overwhelming to see all of the people walking around, but after a while it becomes very manageable. Character names and levels appear above a person's head to let you recognize them, and it's just a matter of finding a party to join. In addition to playing the actual game with other online players, you have the option of playing several mini-games including the new 12 person soccer game. It's hard to express how incredibly cool it is playing in a party with three other people (provided the three other people aren't obnoxious dorks). It adds a whole new gameplay dynamic when decisions must be made with a group in mind. The party may disagree on what type of quest to go on (the online quests aren't as varied as their offline counterparts; they're mostly about killing large quantities of things) and some kind of consensus must be made. When the game is played cooperatively, players will oftentimes donate weapons that they themselves can't use to the cause, and this can add a sense of camaraderie. The best way to find and keep a good party is to trade Guild Cards with your friends. These serve as little Rolodex cards that can tell you where your friends are instead of having to search through tons of lobbies. While the network rolls along very smoothly at most times, there can be cases of hiccups during the peak hours. Usually they aren't a problem, but during a critical boss fight they can turn fatal. All in all, the online mode of PSO ver. 2 gives it an unprecedented level of replay value.