There is no shortage of online multiplayer role-playing games these days. Whether you’re losing countless hours in World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic, or enjoying one of the many free browser-based games, you have plenty of options through which your MMO gaming fix can be acquired. The original Phantasy Star Online was one of the most popular and influential games of it’s kind, and is credited with bringing the online RPG experience to home consoles. Phantasy Star Online 2, currently in development at Sega, is slated for release this year and news is emerging about what players can expect from it.

The big news surrounding Phantasy Star Online 2 is the fact that it will be free to play, an interesting move considering that other games in the genre make respectable revenue from monthly subscriptions and additional content for sale. In an interview with Japanese publication Famitsu, producer Satoshi Sakai discusses the rationale behind this decision. He points to the growing trend of free online RPGs that are appearing on smartphones and tablets, which creates a competitive market in which a game like Phantasy Star Online 2 might struggle to find an audience.

“By allowing a well made game like PSO to be accessible to more people, we felt that we had a chance to teach people that ‘This is what online RPGs are supposed to be like'” Sakai noted, alluding to the past success of Phantasy Star Online and how a free game will help the sequel reach a broader audience.

The catch that often comes with free online games is that the cost is covered in other areas, as is the case with popular titles like Lord of the Rings: Online and RuneScape. The core game is free to play, however the extras like better abilities, armor and weapons, additional quests and sometimes even premium subscriptions come at a cost. Those getting into the game often find themselves wanting more out of the experience, at which point the money changes hands. Phantasy Star Online 2 is taking a different approach, with the game being free and paid DLC being limited to non-essential items that are “nice to haves” as opposed to “need to haves,” Sakai added

There is nothing that requires payment that will take away from the intrinsic game experience if they are not purchased”, assuring fans that the retail cost of the game will cover all of the essential bases.

Making a high profile and highly anticipated game like Phantasy Star Online 2 free is perhaps a risky move, but then again, tacking on a subscription fee in additional to paid content downloads could also prove to be a bad move. With free MMO and other online-enabled games showing up all the time on PC, console and mobile platforms, it’s a crowded market. In recognizing this, Sega will be giving fans the benefit of getting the game without the added strings, which definitely is not a bad thing.

Phantasy Star Online 2 is currently scheduled for release in Japan on the PC platform, with iOS, Android and Vita releases also planned. There is no confirmation on a North American release or console ports at this time.