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November 4th, 2004 · No Comments · Customer Service, Gaming, Reviews, Stupidity, Xbox

Two word review for Phantasy Star Online for Xbox: don’t bother.

Since I’m always on the prowl for games which support cooperative play, I picked up Phantasy Star Online in the used bin for $12. The price alone should have been a big tip off. A fellow hack-n-slash buddy also got a copy, and we gave it a go.

Phantasy Star Online is currently unique for Xbox Live game in that it requires a separate $9 monthly subscription to play, with the first two months free. In two months, I should know whether or not the game is worth it. The first time you go online, you have to sign up and agree to the fee after the second month, which will automatically be charged to credit card used for my Xbox Live subscription. The sign up is all done via the console, and it was rather easy, taking less than five minutes.

The game itself is rather simplistic. You run around killing monsters to get experience and stuff so you can improve and kill stronger monsters and get cooler stuff. Pretty familiar territory. The implementation is pretty basic, though the controls are a little clumsy. Monster AI is primitive and tactics consist of running in and out of rooms (which monsters won’t leave). As a single player game, it’s pretty moronic.

As a multi-player game, it’s worse.

First big problem is the voice chat is hugely lagged. If I yell “look out behind you” to my team mate, he will hear it in about 3 or 4 seconds. Conversations and communication is very awkward when there’s a large delay.

Not that yelling “look out behind you” would matter in game play, though. It turns out there’s huge sync issues, so what you see your teammate doing is not even remotely related what he is actually doing at that moment. I’ve witnessed my teammate swinging at empty space, while he insists he’s fighting a monster.

In other words, the multiplayer aspect is poorly engineered. So whatever possible fun could be had from playing a mediocre hack-n-slash as a team is destroyed by a lame multiplayer implementation.

The game isn’t much of an adventure, but trying to cancel the trial subscription is. I signed up via the console, but now I have to call an 800 number to cancel. (It’s 800-4MYXBOX or 800-469-9269, and dial 3.) I can tell the Xbox customer care is staffed with hip, young people because on my 10 minute wait for a representative, techno music so loud it is nothing but distorted noise is being blasted into my ear. Finally I get a human, who in a voice not so different from the pimply adolescent on the Simpsons, asks me something I cannot hear, because I’m deaf from my earlier hold rave party.

Turns out he wants my name. Then he wants my Xbox serial number. Where would that be? Conveniently located on the very bottom of the Xbox. I must be unique among callers, because for some reason, I don’t have my Xbox in my lap upside down. Instead, rather inconveniently, it is installed in a dark hifi rack, with things on top of it. I suggest to the hip youth that perhaps that the soulful Issac Hayes sound-alike who loops periodically over the blasting hold music with the advice to check the Xbox web site might also mention that first time support callers will need to fetch a serial number printed in miniscule print in the most inconvenient place imaginable. So because of this, the lad has to listen while I curse and mutter and wrestle with a flashlight and a pile of gear that was not meant to be moved around or lifted on a whim.

After this five minute quest is completed, and I ask to terminate my PSO account, I’m informed that I’m dealing with Xbox Customer Care, not Xbox Live Customer Care. I have wrestled with my gear for nothing. Did I misdial? Are the directions to cancel on the Xbox site wrong? Nope. Sometimes the phone system just sends people the wrong place when the call volume is high.

Support Phone Line Of Fortune, it seems: try your luck! Sorry! Try again.

He offers to redirect my call, but in my naivety, I didn’t anticipate the call taking fifteen minutes, and dinner is waiting. Is there a direct line for Xbox Live support I can call later? Alas, everyone must take a spin on the Phone Line of Fortune. Perhaps I will get lucky next time!

The second call, placed today, is a repeat of the first call, except at least they now have my serial number. But again, the Phone Line of Fortune directs me to the wrong place. I am transferred to the almost-right-place. A woman listens to my request and takes my information, only to inform me that she must redirect my call to another person. She implies that somehow, I must have misdialed.

Listen, lady, I know how to dial a “3”. I inform her this is the second instance where their phone system has ping-ponged me to the wrong support person, in case she cares. She backpedals. “Oh, I didn’t say you misdialed, I said you may have misdialed.” Ok, lady, and you may be brain damaged, like your phone system. She gives me a “ticket reference” and transfers me along on my magical journey through supportspace.

At last, 20 minutes later, I am on my third person for this call, and I am able to cancel my Phantasy Star Online account. He bids me farewell with “Thanks for choosing xbox customer care” which has to be the dumbest way to end a customer care call. Like what the hell else could I choose? To bang my head against the wall or pray for divine intervention?

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