The PS Vita version of Phantasy Star Online 2, Sega's free-to-play take on their epic RPG series due out sometime this year Stateside, is set to launch in Japan Feb. 28, about seven months after the original PC version came out over there. It's an odd combination of platforms to launch on, but with both the PC and Vita getting the exact same full PSO2 experience, you have to at least appreciate the technical achievement.
"We had already decided on this platform by the time we made our first announcement at the 2010 Tokyo Game Show," general producer Tomofumi Sakai told Famitsu magazine this week. "We thought about what platform we wanted to release on apart from the PC, and we thought it'd be neat to see how a portable platform could work with the PC version. The Phantasy Star Portable series had a lot of fans, too, so I figured that taking the bold step of releasing this on a portable and giving players more places and opportunities to play the game would help create something really new."
Implementing this cross-platform MMO wasn't easy for Sega. "Our main concern, and our main difficulty, was getting massively multiplayer to work online," Sakai recalled. "We could barely get four players going together at first, but since the multi-party areas are such a major draw for PSO2, I ordered the team to get us at least eight people at once. Luckily, we managed to get it working for up to 12 players [on the Vita], same as the PC."
"We had to cut down CPU load in lots of different ways to get 12 players working," added Hiroshi Suganuma, director of the Vita port. "A lot of the feedback I received was along the lines of 'You aren't going to cut out the jiggling on the PS Vita version, are you?' I mean a whole lot, too! We were able to keep it in the end, luckily, so we've got the full implementation on track here."
Except for a few extras like PSN trophies and some AR hijinks, the Vita and PC versions are practically the same. "That's the biggest draw of a cross-platform release, after all," Sakai noted. We've announced the Toro/Kuro tie-in for the PS Vita version, but that should just be considered a neat little bonus thing. Some story elements will be deployed on the Vita first, but they'll added to the PC version, too, immediately after."
What about other systems? Is a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 version in the cards sometime soon? The way both developers spoke, gamers shouldn't bother waiting. "One of the things I felt when we put out Phantasy Star Universe is that the more platforms you provide support for, the harder it gets to preserve the overall quality of the service," Sakai said. "With PSO2, we want to have the three core pillars, the PC and PS Vita versions alongside the smartphone service we'll be launching in 2013. We'll be providing really extensive support and service for all three of those."
"Some PC users have expressed concern that, now that the Vita version is launching, we'll have extra work to deal with for that and so there'll be fewer updates," Suganuma added. "I'm hoping that we can relieve those fears going into the future, because plans are in the works for a wide range of updates going forward, things for everything from beginners to seasoned players."
It may be a disappointment for console fans, but for many Vita owners getting their first full-on MMO experience, it's nothing short of joy. "It's a free-to-play game, so one of the great things about it is that you can just try it out for a while and figure out if it suits you or not," Sakai commented. "If you like it, just go ahead and enjoy the content; don't get too hung up on it being some massive online game or anything. Meanwhile, PC gamers might find ways to use the Vita version to their advantage, to expand the depth of their experience. After all, online games always get more fun the more players are involved, and I think the expanded community the Vita version allows us will give us something all of us can enjoy."