Reviewed: December 28, 2006
Released: October 24, 2006
Subscription fee required for online play
When the original Phantasy Star Online was released for the Sega Dreamcast back on January 30th of 2001 I was extremely excited. I had been anticipating the game for several years up until that point and I could not wait to play the game that had been extremely delay prone. The long wait was finally over and I could not have been happier. After creating my account and playing for one hour I was instantly hooked.
This game was one of the few that I have become fondly attached to. Over the next several years I played the game constantly, accumulating over 350 hours of total gameplay. What forced me to finally stop playing were the hackers and cheaters in the game that would kill you and then steal your weapon and money. These ďbadĒ players ruined what was a fun and friendly online RPG.
Itís pretty obvious to say that I was extremely excited when I heard about the development of Phantasy Star Universe for the PlayStation 2 over two years ago. I had my first opportunity to try it out at the 2005 E3 Expo. The game had the same feel of the original while adding in some new features that has made the game more interesting than its older brother.
We learned at the 2006 E3 Expo that Phantasy Star Universe would not be a PS2 exclusive like previously stated, but would be released for the PC and Xbox 360 as well.
A good story is one of the areas Phantasy Star Online lacked. The story was so short and uninteresting that it may as well not had one at all. Good news is that the story this time around is immensely improved and is well over 100 times better than the original. It is very apparent from the nearly hour-long introduction to the game, which is full of cut scenes, text, minimal exploration, and simple battles. This game does a great job of introducing many of the important characters while easing you into the story and gameplay.
The single player game has you taking the role of Ethan Waber who is 17 years old. At the beginning of the game he comes across as a punk teenager, but a wakeup call when an alien attack has his sister Lamia in serious danger. Ethan teams up with the well respected law enforcement squad called the Guardians to help his sister despite expressing a lot of resentment toward them. An interesting thing happens along his journey, he has a change of heart and decides to become one of the Guardians. Your goal is to uncover information about the ďSEEDĒ and stop it from overtaking the universe. Along the way youíll meet many unique and interesting characters.
Thatís the basic synopsis, but as you can tell this raises a lot of questions thatíll be explained throughout your journey. Like most RPGís youíve played before, Phantasy Star Universe starts off with cut-scenes to introduce the story, lets you play a little, and then more cutscenes. As in the previous Phantasy Star game youíll have a ďhubĒ to operate out of. This time itís a 5 floor city that has shuttles to various planets and it serves as Ethanís home. Traveling to planets via a shuttle requires you to have the proper license.
Once on a planet you can expect usual exploring, killing, and locating keys to proceed. What is unusual are the various enemies and monsters youíll encounter on each planet. The variety of enemies mixes things up and the characters always look excellent. Not only are the enemies great to experience, but the sheer beauty of each planet will immerse you in the Phantasy Star Universe.
Killing enemies is much like before, but with some exceptions. You still chain attacks together for combos, but this time around youíll need to switch weapons/tools in certain situations for maximum effectiveness. Instead of being able to only equip one weapon like in Phantasy Star Online, you now have up to 6 weapon slots. Iíve heard some people say that the controls are unnatural because of this feature. Itís true that it takes some getting used to, but only about a half-hour. Being able to switch weapons in battle is a necessity and one that adds in an extra level of depth to a game that would otherwise be a replica of the previous Phantasy Star Online.
Another neat addition to the gameplay is a pair of goggles that youíll use to examine objects for clues while on missions. If youíre familiar with the recent additions to the Metroid series then this will be second nature.
As with the previous Phantasy Star Online you can group up with others online to kill enemies and beat missions. Experience goes to everyone in your party and leveling up will allow you to learn new abilities along with using better weapons and gear.
One huge addition to the Phantasy Star Universe is the ability to switch your class (Hunter, Ranger, Forces) at anytime by visiting the Guardian center (which I like to think of as a Customer Service Center). Hunters are physical fighters that primarily use swords. Rangers use melee skills, have some technics (short for techniques), and guns are their primary weapons. Forces are casters that use learned technics and staffs. Not only can you switch between classes, but you can level them up individually.
The benefit to leveling them up individually is that it helps improve your many different types of weapon skills, thus allowing you to use stronger weapons in battle. It goes along with being able to have 6 weapon slots and using the best one for the most effectiveness.
For example, if there is a flying enemy youíll probably want to use a gun instead of a sword. Chasing a flying enemy with a big knife doesnít make since when you can shoot if from Range. If an enemy is walking slowly on the ground you would probably want to use your big sword. These are just a few examples to give you an idea of how the weapon and skills based system works.
Graphically the visuals are disappointing on the PC. I was hoping theyíd do an amazing overhaul on the game given the additional year of development, but sadly it was primarily designed for the PlayStation 2. While the game looked solid, crisp, and clear on the PS2, it now looks kind of blurry on the PC. Itís not horrible and it still looks better than the PS2 version did, but I was really hoping Sega would stray away from just smoothing the game out. One high note is that the particle effects are neat and plentiful so eat your heart out.
Another positive way to look at this game is that it is extremely colorful. Every world you visit has itís own unique them and if really gives you the feel of being in a large universe. The variety of well animated enemies and characters makes this stand above many others. Artistically this game gets a 10, but overall it gets a 7 because it looks outdated in given todayís standards.
The overall audio in Phantasy Star Universe is like that of Phantasy Star Online. What I mean is that it has the similar background music and gives the game a familiar feel. The sound effects for weapons, explosions, slashing, and enemies are all there and well done. Itís the voice acting that manages to be a surprise. In my preview for this game I said that the voice acting was a let down, I was wrong. It is actually much better than I had previously though. However, for all of you hoping for "A+" voice acting you'll be disappointed. Sega hired ďBĒ rated actors for the most part. They are good, but not nearly the best youíll hear in a game this year. The good news is that the voices fit the characters in the game bring each oneís personality to life in the many cut-scenes.
As far as the gameís musical score is concerned, I really enjoyed it. Hiring a profession orchestra for a gameís music is always a great touch and Sega didnít disappoint. Unfortunately the music isnít all non-vocal, and some people Iím sure will dislike some of the vocal tracks. Overall, I really enjoyed the audio portion of this game and it is a great improvement over the last Phantasy Star.
While the original Phantasy Star Online was a game with unlimited replay value, Phantasy Star Universe manages to have even more. It does this by having an immersive single player story mode thatíll have you battling and leveling up for nearly 40 hours. Even after you are done with the single player mode you can go online and battle through it again. There are even new quests to conquer that are continually being added. New weapons are also continually being introduced in the online Universe that is Phantasy Star.
The online fee is $10 a month and Sega promises to make it worth your while. The frequently updated quests, weapons, armor, and many other things are what youíre paying for. If you donít want to spend the money to play online, the engaging and long single player game is definitely worth the gameís $50 price tag.
What was said and still remains true about the last three installments of the Phantasy Star series (minus Phantasy Star Online Episode III C.A.R.D. Revolution) is that its fun-level is similar to that of Diablo II for the PC. Its simple hack and slash formula is extremely enjoyable because of the easy to follow user-interface and its focus on collecting weapons and team based leveling up. It is truly surprising that such a simple formula can be so successful and fun.
What the original Phantasy Star Online lacked in terms of a solid single player story mode, Phantasy Star Universe makes up for it in spades. With its well written story, good voice acting, frequent cut-scenes, and addicting, yet simple gameplay, thereís no denying that this game is a full fledged action RPG that doesnít have to be taken online this time to fully appreciate. If youíre an RPG fan looking for an engaging story and amazing replay value then you canít pass up Phantasy Star Universe.