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Phantasy Star Online was a dreamlike experience of unimagined multiplayer possibilities. Along with the demise of its Dreamcast platform, this pinacle of my 90's gaming marked my departure from videogames for some time.
There was never a warning; a word, an image, a video, anything to tell me, and many others about the dangers of Phantasy Star Online - how addictive it truly was. Time spent not playing Phantasy Star Online, was, well, time spent not playing Phantasy Star Online. And that, I'm afraid, would always be time wasted.
Phantasy Star was about the hunt. Little did my adventuring quartet care about the next level, the next wave of enemies, or those out-of-the-way, break-your-brain to find secret areas. We didn't care about hunting rare monsters, or human opponents. We were about the red boxes - those bold, beautiful, rare item shrouding blood-red boxes. This is what we did, this was our religion.
The gameplay part in most instances, was a means to an end. A way of aquiring items. If we were interested in the mindless slaughter of thousands of incarnations of Dark Falz - Episode I's last boss - it was entirely for the sake of acquiring bigger, better things. As a group, we were the poster children for consumerism with one obvious difference: time was our currency, and something that we were all-too-happy to part with.
That unquenchable thirst to find the next big thing could've been spent on academic work, learning an instrument or developing those ever-important social skills.
Our addiction was rivalled only by our dedication. That unquenchable thirst to find the next big thing could've been spent on academic work, learning an instrument or developing those ever-important social skills. And once we had reached Phantasy Star's 'ceiling' we started to do so. Slowly but surely we began to disappear one-by-one back to our real lives.
But then we discovered the challenge mode and its -Rank items. If Phantasy Star Online was our religion, this was undoubtedly its holy grail. Despite having clocked thousands of hours into the game's dated content and mechanics, we continued. The more we played though, the more we argued. The more we argued, the more we died, and the more we died, the more we argued. Our foursome soon became a triad, which became a duo, which dwindled to one. That's without mention of hacking, item cloning, and the vast amounts of money spent on the monthly subscription fee.
Tragically, we stopped playing.
Tragically, we stopped playing. And if there's a lesson to be learned here, it's to remember that co-op gaming, despite what numerous marketing campaigns might tell you, is all about the people, not the game.
Our addiction was fuelled by each other, rather than the hunt itself. Red boxes were meaningless without being able to the share the experience - even if it was just to brag.
And believe me, we did brag.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: