One of the biggest games for the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast, Phantasy Star Online was an amazingly addictive online role playing game in which millions of players spent hundreds of hours roaming the universe in search of adventure. For years now, fans of the series have been clamoring for a true sequel to the Dreamcast hit, instead of mere expansions and offshoots, and Sega has finally answered with the recently released Phantasy Star Universe.
Unlike Phantasy Star Online, which included an offline, single player component almost as an afterthought, Phantasy Star Universe will offer a fully realized offline adventure to compliment the series' classic online play. Players will assume the role of Ethan Waber, a young lad tasked with saving the galaxy from an alien invasion. Throughout his adventure, Ethan will encounter several AI controlled characters to aid him as he travels from planet to planet, hacking and slashing through dungeons, exploring cities and and more in his altruistic quest to save...well everybody. Instead of merely taking the online adventure's main quests and locales offline, Phantasy Star Universe will take a more traditional approach to single player RPGs, with a unique and self-contained plot including full voice-acted cutscenes that further the story.
However, any real fan of Phantasy Star is going to be buying PSU for the online adventures, and Sega is certainly aiming to please with plenty of additions to the forumula, as well as some fine tuning. Gone are the character classes that many felt restrictive. Now, players will choose between four different races. Along with the standby human, Phantasy Star Universe will feature Newmen, elf-like people with a talent for magic, Beasts, who come with the ability to morph into werewolf-esque monsters, and CASTs, robots who can summon massive weaponry to assist them in battle. Each race comes with their own inherent strengths and weaknesses, but how you actually develop your character will come down to the choices you make throughout the game. When first starting out in Phantasy Star Universe, you'll have a wide variety of ways to customize your character's appearence in addition to race, right down to their clothing patterns, facial structure and bust size (if you choose a female avatar). The level of customization both in appearance and ability should make for a sense of freedom throughout the game.
Once you've picked your character and begun your adventure, you'll find yourself on the huge, five story space station known as Guardian Colony. Before you go jetting around the galaxy, you may want to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with this station, as it acts as a hub for all your adventures. Here you can go shopping, dancing, even grab a drink at a bar with a friend, as well as access your own private quarters, as every player in the Phantasy Star Universe gets their own digs at Guardian Colony. You can also spruce up and customize your living quarters with your own assortment of furniture, plants, trophies, etc.
After familiarizing yourself with Guardian Colony, it'll be time to strike out on your adventure, but don't worry, you won't be alone. Phantasy Star Universe allows parties of up to six people, as opposed to PSO's four player limit. You can meet up with friends or just random people you encounter along the way, teaming up as you go about your quest. The party leader in Phantasy Star Universe also has a lot more control this time around. Not only will party leaders pick which quests to go on, using the game's all new map feature, they will have the ability to boot troublemakers from the party as well as play mediator when it comes to sharing the loot you're sure to find; if party members can't play nicely when it comes to loot, the party leader can simply select and option that makes sure all treasure is spread equally among the party.
With your party formed and your quest chosen, you'll soon be off to one of Phantasy Star Universe's three massive worlds, each controlled by one of the three non-human races in the game. The barren, desert world of Moatoob is controlled by the Beasts, whereas the CASTs dominate a highly industrialized city reminiscent of Earth known as Parum, while Neudaiz's watery landscapes are firmly under the control of the Newmen. Each world will have a huge central city for you to explore, not to mention plenty of dungeons, forrests and other areas of interest to investigate. Of course, no matter where you go, you'll run into trouble, the kind of trouble that only classic Phantasy Star hack-n-slash gameplay can solve.
However, even this aspect of the Phantasy Star franchise has been given an overhaul, as you'll now be able to wield both a gun and a melee weapon simultaneously, as well as take multiple weapons into combat with you. You can upgrade these weapons using orbs known as Photon Arts that give your weapons different magical abilities. Just be sure to carry a good variety of weaponry into combat, as all magic is tied directly to your weapons; your actual character does not learn any magic throughout the game. Luckily, with all the new additions to the weapons line up, such as twin daggers, longbows, spears and more, variety in combat should be easy to come by.
Another change to the gameplay in Phantasy Star Universe is the elimination of Mags, those little robots that used to boost your stats, among other things. In PSU, they've been replaced by what Sega is calling Partner Machinery, which sounds a lot more useful. For the most part, Partner Machinery will stay in your living quarters on Guardian Colony, tending to all the stuff you've collected throughout the game's universe, but they definitely serve more useful purposes. You can give your Partner Machine certain items to turn into new weapons, upgrades for weapons you already have, or armor. Not only that, your Partner Machine levels up just as you do, and when it reaches a certain level it will be able to join you on your quest and assist you in battle. An ass-kicking robot sidekick isn't the only motivation for leveling up in Phantasy Star Universe, however. Upon reaching certain levels, players will gain access to specialized classes that provide new abilities, weapons and armor.
Phantasy Star Universe is currently available on the PS2, Xbox 360, and PC. We've given you some in-depth details about the game, knowing full well you wanted some info even though we haven't yet delivered a review. If this doesn't help you decide to make the purchase, nothing will.
12/18/2006 Ryan Hartmann