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Microsoft botched the Phantasy Star Online 2 PC launch, thankfully modders fixed it

It’s such a shame that a game so eagerly awaited had such a rocky launch.

phantasy star online 2
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft doesn’t seem to catch a break with its Microsoft Store. The Windows Phone was a flop, stopping the dream of a unified Windows app ecosystem dead in its tracks. And just last year, their short-lived ebook marketplace was such a disaster that Microsoft refunded everyone who purchased a book.

That’s just what makes it into the news. Check any review site and you’ll see hundreds of users ranting about bugs, apps not working as intended, slow download speeds, and utterly terrible customer support. It’s as if Microsoft doesn’t know what a software QA company is.

Microsoft might not be ready to call its store a failure, but developers still prefer Win32 to the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Also, one can see Microsoft games getting published on Steam as a quiet admission of defeat, at least as far as gaming goes.

The latest blunder to make the news is the botched American release of Sega’s Phantasy Star Online 2 for PC. The bugs went from the rather mundane like random crashes, stuttering, and installation issues, to the game just deciding to uninstall itself or flat-out refusing to run.

One could blame Sega’s lack of testing, but the game has been out in Japan for 8 years for every conceivable platform. At this point, QA seems like overkill. Even the American Xbox version was released a few weeks before the PC version running flawlessly.

Fortunately for Sega, Microsoft, and fans alike, a dedicated community of modders saved the day by bypassing the Microsoft Store entirely, fixing almost every single issue players had. But who are these modders? And how did they fix the game so quickly?

Phantasy Star Online: A brief history lesson

First released in 1987 (the same year as Final Fantasy) Phantasy Star was Sega’s answer to Dragon Quest, an RPG for their console, the Master System.

The game was revolutionary in many ways: 

  • It was set in a science fantasy setting (in contrast to the more common fantasy setting)
  • It featured battery-backed RAM for saving games
  • It had first-person dungeon-delving
  • And most importantly, it was the first JRPG game to have a woman as a protagonist.

After releasing six different games over six years, the series would go into hiatus. Phantasy Star quietly faded until the year 2000, when Sega decided to release a new iteration of the saga on their short-lived Sega Dreamcast.

Phantasy Star Online would be one of the first console games to feature online play. And while Sega may have discontinued the Dreamcast in 2001, PSO would live on, getting releases on Windows, Gamecube, and the original Xbox.

The PC version would keep getting support up to 2010 when the servers were finally shut down. The game never did have a big fanbase outside Japan, but it gathered a cult following of passionate gamers who kept the game alive even to this day.

When Sega finally announced that Phantasy Star Online 2 was in the works, the fanbase worldwide eagerly waited for the new addition to the series. Asian fans got their release in 2012, although Sega did promise a North American and European release.

The PSO2 Tweaker

Sega never officially canceled PSO2 outside of Asia, yet, the silence surrounding the project and the lack of interest from publishers was a dead tell that the game wasn’t going to come out. At least not anytime soon.

So… fans did what fans do, instead of waiting quietly for a release, a community of modders got together and created an English patch and a launcher, called PSO2 tweaker, to go with it. Players worldwide got to play PSO2 as early as 2013. Ever since Arks-layer (the team behind the PSO2 tweaker) has been actively developing their launcher and translating the game as new patches came along.

The tweaker is nothing short of a labor of love. A project that has been going strong for almost a decade. So, when the game finally hit the Microsoft Store, the crew behind the tweaker already had the know-how to fix most of the issues. It was just a matter of finding a way to circumvent the store, and so they did.

The story of Phantasy Star Online 2 and the Arks-layer team is a reminder of how much games can improve with an active modding community (as any fan of Elder Scrolls can attest to). A passionate fanbase can keep a game going for decades.

Case in point, another one of Sega’s big franchises, Sonic, has seen it’s a fair share of bad releases until a fan was hired to make Sonic Mania, a game lauded as the greatest Sonic product since the original games for the Sega Genesis.

It’s such a shame that a game so eagerly awaited had such a rocky launch, especially when a lot of these issues could have been prevented with QA outsourcing. On the plus side, Sega has been hard at work fixing the game. Also, with the recent announcement that PSO2 would be coming to other PC platforms, it seems like the North American release has a long journey ahead.

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