Microsoft stopped by today to let us try out a near-final build of Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II for the Xbox, which offers all of the functionality found in the GameCube version of the game plus voice chat support on Xbox Live via the Xbox communicator. The game is currently undergoing final testing and polishing as its release nears.
The voice chat feature will be implemented in the lobbies as well as in individual games. When you're in a lobby, speaker icons will appear above the seven players who are closest to you to denote who you're able to talk to. Once you get into a game, you can freely talk to up to three other players with any of the current Xbox Live voice masks. The voice chat worked fairly well when we played the game, although there was some sound dropout at times and a tinny quality to the audio. In addition to the voice chat options, the game will feature a soft keyboard that will let you enter sentences into the game manually. As far as a real keyboard goes, Microsoft representatives would only say that a solution is currently being worked on, but it's currently not known if it will be available at launch.
The game's overall performance over Xbox Live was respectable, although there were some moments of weird lag that resulted in characters teleporting to different spots as they moved around the environment. The performance issues in the game are currently being addressed in this final phase of work and hopefully won't be issues when the game ships. The specifics on the game's downloadable content are still being kept under wraps, but Microsoft states that Sonic Team will release new quests, weapons, maps, and items on a regular basis.
Based on what we played today, Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II should shape up to be a solid online experience on the Xbox. The game's graphics are on par with the GameCube game, and the gameplay remains as accessible as ever. Look for more on the game soon.