Phantasy Star Online 2 is a game that fans have expected for years to be localized outside of Japan by Sega and Sony. At E3, we can all agree that there was a collective shock to learn that the game will finally be coming West in 2020, but on PC and Xbox One with crossplay. To say that fans have received the news positively is an understatement, and it feels equally surprising to see that Sony squandered the potential to have it for themselves.
The Original Phantasy Star Online
Phantasy Star Online 2 is a game from a series with a long, complex history and a dedicated fanbase who are finally seeing the game localized in the West. The way to play the original Phantasy Star Online, developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega in 2000, was on the Dreamcast console, which we know was doomed to fail from the beginning. It holds the distinction of being the first online RPG for game consoles where parties of four could quest together. Of course, in the year 2000, internet access was still in its infancy and the Dreamcast was ahead of its time, with the console ending production and support soon after.
Afterwards, the way to play the game was on the original Xbox, but players needed to pay for both an Xbox Live Gold membership and also Sega’s “Hunt Pass.” The cost and complexity to enter the game were high for the time when subscriptions for gaming were a new concept, but still, the game had a fantastic following.
Despite the challenges, the original game was considered a massive critical success, scoring mainly 9 out of 10 from most professional reviewers.
The Launch of Phantasy Star Online 2
The sequel Phantasy Star Online 2 was published by Sega in 2012. Sony entered the scene to replace Microsoft with a version of the game released first on the PlayStation Vita in 2013, and then the PlayStation 4 in 2016. However, there was a major issue here, and that was that localization seemed only to be moving forward in Japan.
Video game localization refers to the preparation of video game software and hardware for sale in a new region or country, and in many cases has much to do with translation and region locking. Officially, Sega announced their plans to translate the game and localize it in the West during the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle in 2012, but the work was delayed and informally canceled in 2013. In 2017, the English website for the game was removed, leading most to believe that Western localization was completely abandoned.
No Localization in North America? “No Problem!”
If Sega and Sony were not going to move forward with the localization, the most dedicated and technologically inclined fans had the answer. To play the game in North America, you either needed to acquire a launcher that could be used here, bypassing the regional restrictions, or “hack” the PlayStation Vita through a number of steps. These included downloading custom software and installing it via homebrew, adding files to config.txt files, rebooting the console, downloading the game, installing more software, all before finally having some form of the game.
Whenever firmware updates came to the Vita, which was often, the process would need to be redone in order to again bypass whatever updates have been added to the console, which would have added another layer of difficulty.
Of course, the game was not in English either, so you either needed to speak the language, or have a translator ready to go. Again, dedicated fans did this, but it was not for everyone.
How Did Microsoft Pull Off This Deal?
On the surface, it feels as though Sony missed the mark on the localization of the game, but this is only half true. Sega ultimately was responsible for the localization work, and their decision to abandon the initial statement in 2012 was theirs to make. Since then, we have not seen Sony publicly pursue the issue, so whoever oversaw that subject must simply have considered it a dead issue not worth spending resources on.
And then, as if from nowhere, Phil Spencer, the current head of the Xbox brand, seemingly talked his way into the agreement with no formal plan to do so in the first place. It sounds ridiculous, but to listen to Spencer speak in an interview with Jeff Gerstmann, as it genuinely sounds as though the deal began with nothing more than a friendly chat in Japan.
After speaking with the Phantasy Star team, Spencer casually asked if Microsoft could support them in some way, and states, “It was really just, I wanna do something with Sega. They were very receptive,” and from there, everything began falling into place.
That is basically it; a few casual chats turned into something tangible, and eventually solidified into a fully localized North American release for 2020. Of course, some fans are upset that this is not extending to Europe for now, and considering the past seven years, there is a good chance it never will, but this is certainly a step in the right direction. Will this story be optioned into a major film by Hollywood? Probably not, but still, it is fascinating.
For now, we must wait and see how the process goes. As the game has such a die-hard following, there is no doubt that the North American launch will do well, but whether it meets Sega’s expectations is another matter. If it does, we can no doubt expect to see both ongoing support and a higher likelihood of localization to Europe in the future.
Phantasy Star Online 2 will be releasing on PC and Xbox One in the Spring of 2020.