The difficulty level is a recurring element to the online action RPG entries in the Phantasy Star franchise. All games start the player on the normal difficulty, and as they progress and level up, extra modes begin unlocking that provide greater challenges the higher one goes.
The changes between levels vary depending on the game. The simplest changes buff mob stats by a certain degree or increase their attack and movement speed. Perhaps the most drastic change comes in the form of the ultimate difficulty, wherein mobs not only are much stronger and faster, but also sometimes take on a whole new appearance on top of adopting new attack patterns and resistances.
Perhaps the greatest motivation to challenge higher difficulties is the chance to obtain stronger weapons and better gear that would normally not drop on lower levels.
Phantasy Star Online
In Phantasy Star Online Episodes I, II and IV, there are 4 difficulty levels that can be undertaken by the player: Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and Ultimate. When playing a single player campaign, these modes can be unlocked freely upon beating each in succession regardless of player level. If the player decides to play online, however, they will have to follow strict level requirements regardless of how much of the offline game they have played. These requirements change based on the version that is played.
Normal mode is the default difficulty that a character automatically unlocks upon creating a save file. Since it is easing the player into the mechanics of the game, it is without a doubt the easiest difficulty to beat. The mobs at this level are at their native movement and attack speed.
Hard mode is the second level of difficulty to challenge. It is unlocked as soon as a character defeats Dark Falz in Episode 1 or Olga Flow in Episode 2 within the offline single player campaign, or achieving level 20 or above. Monsters have a slightly increased attack and movement speed.
Very Hard mode is the penultimate level of difficulty to unlock. In order to challenge it, the character must have achieved a level of at least 40 or above, or have defeated Dark Falz or Olga Flow in their respective episodes on hard mode. Mobs are now much faster and are capable of swarming players that are caught off guard or are not paying attention.
Ultimate mode is the greatest challenge available to Phantasy Star Online and is accessible to all characters at level 80+ or, if offline, by defeating Dark Falz or Olga Flow on very hard. Nearly all monsters in Episode 1, in addition to receiving upgraded stats and rarer drops to accommodate the new difficulty, receive a graphical makeover. Some monsters gain entirely new characteristics, or existing characteristics change. For example, Chaos Sorcerers will become Gran Sorcerers, which, instead of attacking with Rafoie and Gibarta (or Gizonde in the Spaceship), will now attack with Grants and Megid. Additionally, all areas in Episode 1 have also received a graphical change to their environments. Monsters and locations unique to Episode 2 and 4 remain the same visually. Mechanically, they change as much as those from Episode 1.
The always-online Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst expansion changed the requirements needed to unlock ultimate. Since it introduced the all new government missions to tell the story of the ill-fated Rico Tyrell, the player is required to beat all of them within the episode and meet a specific level based on said episode in order to unlock. The requirements are as follows:
- Episode 1: Complete all Government Quests on at least normal, and the player must have a level of at least 90.
- Episode 2: Complete all Lab Quests on at least normal, and the player must have a level of at least 100.
- Episode 4: Complete all G-General Quests on at least normal, and the player must have a level of at least 110.
These requirements apply to the official releases of the games. Private servers adhere to their own unique policy.
Phantasy Star Zero
There are 3 difficulty levels in Phantasy Star Zero: Normal, Hard, and Super Hard. Much like its predecessor, Phantasy Star Zero allows players to challenge the next difficulty if they either meet a level requirement in multiplayer or successfully complete a quest (in this case, the Eternal Tower) on the preceding difficulty.
Normal, the default difficulty, is immediately unlocked upon creating a character. Mobs are at a relatively tame movement and attack speed at this level in order to allow the player to become accustomed to the game's mechanics.
Hard is the next level of difficulty. It can be unlocked offline if the player completes the Eternal Tower on normal mode, or achieves a level of at least 30 in online multiplayer or local coop. It provides a slight boost in challenge in preparation for the ultimate test.
The final difficulty level in Phantasy Star Zero is known as Super Hard mode. Unlike Phantasy Star Online, monsters and locations do not receive a graphical overhaul here. They do, however, receive the same makeover with their stats and resistances. Super Hard must be challenged if the player wishes to obtain the most powerful gear in the game.
Super Hard mode is unlocked when the player completes the Eternal Tower on hard mode offline, or achieves a level of at least 60 in online or local multiplayer.