Like a man dressed in scuba gear wandering aimlessly behind a pawn shop, people often ask what on Earth I am doing. When I tell them I am hooking up my Gamecube to the internet router, their reaction is somewhere between a why and a how, not unlike your reaction when you find out what the scuba guy was up to. Yes, while you were likely off playing Super Smash Brothers Ultimate or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or spending time with family this Easter, I decided to spend my day playing the Gamecube MMO from Sonic Team, Phantasy Star Online Episodes I&II. And the thing is, I think my Easter is going rather well, but that might just be because I am completely insane.
You know how the Gamecube has several ports on the bottom that you basically never use? One of those can plug in either a dial up modem or an Ethernet adapter. But don’t be so quick to open your wallets, dear readers, as there are only eight compatible games in total. Three of those just use Local LAN functionality, one only connects online to download DLC, one is Japan exclusive, and one is just an updated version of another game. This leaves a grand total of two games you can play online: Phantasy Star Online Episode I&II and Phantasy Star Online Episode III. I haven’t played much of Episode III, and I don’t see people online play it either, so even then, the only game most seem to have online experience with is PSO Episode I&II. Granted, there is software out there to where you can play the LAN only games online, and you could always import that Japanese game (Homeland). But as far as the only real games designed for online that doesn’t require learning Japanese, you’ve got the Phantasy Star Online titles and that’s it. Unless you plan on hosting regular mass Mario Kart Double Dash LAN parties (and while you’re at it, hire a gardener for that money tree), it doesn’t seem worth investing in Gamecube internet for two games. I guess it depends how much you enjoy those games, and 200 hours on just Episode I&II says I certainly did.
Phantasy Star Online Episode I&II is a dungeon crawler that’s all about killing monsters, looting the area, getting the best equipment, and maxing out your levels. You can do this offline, where you can do the dungeons and do a variety of side quests for money, or you can go online and do the same things with friends (these days via a private server). Just a few DNS changes in the settings is all it takes to connect you to a world where people still play their Gamecubes online. When I play online though, I usually just boot up a locked party before anyone in the lobby notices the stink of noob on me and quest by myself. But I gave multiplayer a shot by asking in the lobby if anyone would fancy a game, like I was an undercover officer loudly infiltrating a gang. This is when I was informed that I should be using Discord for these things, and under that small, obvious hurdle did I observe the PSO Gamecube community.
The server I played on was called Schthack, which hosts various versions of the game. While I have played on this server mostly on my Dreamcast since 2010, I don’t consider myself a part of the community because I rarely talked to anyone or took part in any discussions online. I regret that in hindsight, because the Schthack community is among the most respectful, helpful, and all around nicest communities I’ve seen for a video game. The majority of the players seem to be long time PSO fans, getting their start on the official Sega servers before they shut down in 2008, but they aren’t intimidating or standoffish to new players. Even though I consider myself competent in a given battle, I was learning new things about playing with a team. It’s an entirely different experience than playing solo, and that experience shows me why there is still a following for this game online. The community seems to like the corner of the internet it carved out for itself here. A community that welcomes new faces wholeheartedly, but is content to be in their own world. I am reminded of an offline quest where you are paired with a robot named Kireek, who is tall, over-leveled, and says very little. But the fear of him sort of dissipates as he teaches you about the game. He doesn’t think less of you, or view you as an inconvenience. He simply thinks of you as a partner. Maybe even a friend.
I enjoyed my time overall with the people over at Schthack. Hooking up a Gamecube to the internet is about as convenient as building a sofa on the back of a dump truck (which would probably cost less), but it’s rewarding because I get to play with a superb group of people in an equally superb game. That said, it’s hard to recommend that for any normal person. If the cons sound more like a challenge to you, then you might be the right person to try it. But I think even if you don’t want to play with the Gamecube Schthack community, I still think you can look through their window and appreciate their work. Right now, the online lobby is decorated with Easter baskets and Easter eggs, and I can’t help but smile at the group of people still dedicated enough to see to it that those decorations are up for those who are still willing to venture into the world of Phantasy Star Online.
You can find the Schtack Server website here to see more from these lovely folks. What do you think? Do you think it’s crazy that you can play the Gamecube online in 2019? Let us know in the comments and in the community forums! Thanks again for reading folks.
HautDeForme is a collector, a self proclaimed historian, and most of all, a player of video games. When he’s not writing about that, you can find him writing music for no particular reason and advocating for the localization of Mother 3, whether people listen or not.