I really enjoyed Phantasy Star Online (PSO). I was there when it launched on the DreamCast. I was there for the DreamCast launch as well, but that’s a different story. There was just “something” about PSO that grabbed me. I’m not sure if it was the lineage of the earlier games, the sci fi rpg trappings, or the Diablo II elements. Knowing me, it was a combination of all three.
I got hooked when I started playing the online component of the game. Initially, I was dialing in using the DreamCast’s integrated modem. When I first started playing, it was fine. Then I wanted a bit more.
After savagely beating a roommate for picking up the phone during a run of Caves-2, I ordered an ethernet adapter. I could play without any interruptions.
Now, I need to tell you what MAGs are.
MAGs, are (initially tiny) robots that hover around shoulder level. They are constantly hungry and demand items every eight point two five minutes. They even have preferences, depending on the type of MAG that it is. Eventually, they become capable of restoring life, protecting you during boss fights, and releasing a very powerful Photon Blast attack. They are extremely useful.
That is, if you’ve fed them correctly. You see, if you don’t feed them correctly, they end up not liking you.
Ultimately, they are PSO’s “virtual pets.”
So. I fed MAGs. I bought a DreamCast keyboard to communicate with others in the game. I fed MAGs. I owned CRUSH BULLET, one of the end game, rare shotguns. Lastly, I fed MAGs.
I put an incredible number of hours in that game. I enjoyed all of it. The clunky camera. The occasionally unresponsive controls. The griefer ninja looters (yes, they even existed back then). The obscene emoticons in the lobbies. All the way to the difficult boss encounter at the end, I loved it all.
Then they closed the DreamCast servers. All those hours lost. Gone. Like tears. In rain.
A few years later, it came out on the Xbox. As soon it was available, I booted it up and played the SAME GAME AGAIN. Only this time, I was paying for the privilege of playing it on the Xbox. The hunter’s license, cost eight dollars and ninety-five dollars a month. I even ordered the XBox USB adapter so that I could use a keyboard. This proved to be both silly and unnecessary, considering the fact that there was voice communication.
Once again, the mysteries of Ragol were opened to me. Once again, I leveled. I fed MAGs. I decimated entire boomer populations. This time, METEOR SMASH, a rare shotgun on par with CRUSH BULLET was mine. I fed MAGs. Once again, I loved it despite the clunky camera and control issues.
Then came that moment.
It was a late night run with a Maxson, a friend of mine from college. We were going through the mines with two other teammates. We were midway though Mines-2 when I hear a voice.
“Hey. Praxis!” It’s my in game handle.
The voice again, this time a little more forceful. “Praxis!”
I recognize Maxson’s voice.
I blink a few more times.
I’m not really sure of where I am. I look at the television in front of me and I see a video game character running into a corner of a room.
I realize that it’s my character.
I watch my character for a moment, legs pumping, METEOR SMASH swaying back and forth as he runs, mindless without my intervention, into the corner of the room. I center the thumbstick and he stops. I turn around and see Maxson’s character.
“Uh, What’s going on?”
“We lost track of you about four rooms ago. We need you to step on a button to open a door.”
Now it really begins to hit me. I was asleep. I didn’t know how long I had been playing. I look at the map and realize that we’re about three fourths of the way to clearing this particular level. I don’t remember any of it. I don’t know how many rooms I cleared during the grey moments between sleep and wakefulness. I follow Maxson to the button. The other two members of the party are already standing in place, ready to activate the door.
I take my place on one of the unoccupied buttons. Maxson steps on the other.
The door opens with a hiss, the enemies in the next room roaming about, menacingly, invitingly. Meteor Smash heavy in my avatar’s arms, I hesitate.
I don’t enter.
“I have to go. Sorry.”
Maxson pauses for a moment. “Don’t worry about it. Get some sleep.”
I powered off the xbox for the night, hands shaking from the effort it took to stay awake. I slept until I woke up. The next day, I didn’t log in.
I played for a while after the incident, but I always watched the clock. I canceled my hunter’s license a few weeks later, just to be safe. That was over a year ago.
Last year, I ended up playing the Beta of Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst for the PC. I only played it a few times, enough to have fond memories and flashbacks. It’s the same game, but it no longer has the same hold on me as it once did. Maybe it’s the fact that if I did start playing it, I’d be playing the same game for the third time.
It’s released now, but I’m not playing it. A small victory against compulsive behavior.
Now I read that Phantasy Star Universe is coming. I hear it has a “Robust online multi-player component.”
Someone stop me.