Sega announced today that their upcoming multiplayer action-RPG Phantasy Star Online 2 will be based around a free-to-play pricing structure. They also announced that the game (or perhaps a watered-down version of it) would also be playable on your smartphone.
PSO2 will be completely free to download and play on PC’s and Vita, and Sega plans to support the game via in-game microtransactions for items. This is a smart move on Sega’s part — As much as I love the original PSO (it’s one of my all-time faves,) I think Sega would’ve been crazy to try and charge a subscription fee for it’s sequel (PSO’s Ver. 2 and beyond required a monthly fee,) especially with how crowded the MMO market is nowadays.
With that said, I hope Sega doesn’t turn PSO into a sort of Korean MMO-style grindfest like Maple Story, which required you to spend dozens of hours grinding for one piece of (probably not worth it) gear. The source of the original Phantasy Star Online’s legendary addictiveness came from how rewarding it felt to get a rare drop — sure, it was a grind, but you always felt like you were getting enough worthwhile gear or experience points to make it worth your time. You always knew the next loot drop was just a few dozen enemies away, and it didn’t take weeks of killing cannon-fodder enemies to get one level up. PSO’s perfectly balanced drip-feed of new weapons and rewards was something that all of it’s follow-ups, like the atrocious Phantasy Star Universe and the well-intentioned but ultimately bland Phantasy Star Zero, never managed to achieve. Here’s hoping that the shift to a F2P structure doesn’t motivate Sega to turn PSO into the stereotypical F2P MMO where you have to buy the best gear or grind for months on end before getting any worthwhile items.
Like I’ve said many times before on this site, Phantasy Star Online is a special game to me. I’m glad that I’m finally getting a proper sequel to it, and even happier that I won’t have to pay for it, but if Sega screws this one up (as they did with PSU,) I may end up giving up all hope for my one-time favorite publisher. I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed until PSO2 is released either sometime at the end of this year or at the beginning of 2013.