Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Design flaws in PSU

I've been playing Phantasy Star Universe since launch. I was a big fan of Phantasy Star Online. Personally, I think Sega did a good job with the overall game / balance / environment. I like playing the game even if most of the people I started with have stopped playing.

All that said, there are some pretty grevious design flaws that I'll wish Sega will address (but I won't hold my breath). The set of flaws I'm covering today all stem from the game's mission structure and how rewards are provided upon mission completion.

The mission system in PSU calculates a completion score at the end typically based on the number of enemies killed and the number of times players die. For some of the story missions, the amount of time spent is also considered. The top rank which usually requires killing all monsters and having zero deaths is S-rank. Any deviation from this will drop to A-rank. 2 deaths will usually drop to B-rank and 3 deaths will drop to C-rank. Rewards for A-rank are roughly 60% of S-rank and C-rank gives no rewards.

  1. Moon atomizers are useless.
    Moon atomizers are resurrection items. Using one in the vicinity of a downed player will bring him back. The problem is that if a person dies and is brought back with a moon atomizer, it still counts as a death and lowers the completion rank. This also applies to the resurrection spell giresta.

    Now that's not to say you have no margin for error on a mission. There's another item called the scape doll that will sacrifice itself upon a death and bring a player back with full health. Dying and resing in this manner doesn't affect completion rank.

    The overall effect of all this is that moon atomizers (and in theory, giresta) are pointless and noone ever uses them. For any mission where death is possible, everyone is expected to carry scape dolls. I typically collect moon atomizers until I hit the stack limit and then sell them.

    I don't mind a design that encourages people to play carefully. I've never liked the gungho player that rushes off to death. But a design that renders a historically useful item and spell to be totally pointless strikes me as a serious flaw.

  2. 98% isn't 100%.

    Another problem with the mission system is that it penalizes late arrivers. If a person joins a mission in the middle, his personal completion rank will be roughly prorated depending on when he joined. This is to prevent someone from jumping in at the very last moment and collecting a full reward.

    The problem is that if someone joins 1 second after the mission is started (in other words, was not part of the party when the mission was selected), he gets 98-99% prorated. And anything less than 100% will immediately drop a person down to the second A-rank which typically is about 60% of the reward of the top S-rank.

  3. You can't disconnect.

    The game will automatically remove a person from a party when he disconnects whether intentionally or due to lag. Leaving a party eliminates all record of your involvement and if you rejoin later, it is as if you were new. This will again impact your completion rank. And there's nothing people enjoy more than getting disconnected from lag right before the boss and then ending up with a C-rank for their efforts.

    This one really bugs me as it implies no one at Sega considered the possibility that people might legitimately get disconnected over the internet. Plenty of games just hold your spot if you go link-dead and then it can be the party leader's discretion whether to boot you or not. When the situation happens, it's frustrating to think that Sega didn't follow this course.
Now all this having been said, I enjoy the game. These problems are the occasional annoyances that I feel should never have seen release. Of the 3, #2 bugs me the most as it discourages people from joining mid-mission.

In my next post at some point in the indeterminate future, I'll go over ideas I have for different mission types.

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