Phantasy Star Universe Exclusive Preview - The Early Chapters

We get an exclusive look at the first three chapters in Sega's latest entry in the Phantasy Star series.

by

Sega's Phantasy Star Universe has been taunting fans for quite some time now. The upcoming original entry in the beloved Phantasy Star series was first announced in May 2004, with the platforms it was slated to appear on not being revealed until almost a year later. While we've had the chance to get brief tastes of the forthcoming game at the past two E3s and Tokyo Game Shows, Sega hasn't done much to give us a feel for what the proper game is going to be. Thankfully, we finally got our hands on a work-in-progress version of the game and have been able to log in a good chunk of time with the first three chapters in the single-player game. As longtime fans of the series since its days as a simple 2D Genesis RPG and through its evolution into a groundbreaking online RPG, we've been curious to see what's next for the series. The three chapters we've played through so far haven't cemented our opinion just yet, but one thing's for sure: Phantasy Star Universe is definitely changing things up for the franchise.

To those who haven't followed the Phantasy Star series, don't sweat it. While you probably should have played some of the previous entries in the series as they're quite cool, knowledge of the previous games isn't a requirement for PSU. The original game draws most heavily on the look and feel of the last two good entries in the PS series Phantasy Star Online (yes, we're glossing over Phantasy Star Online Episode III C.A.R.D. Revolution). However, as far as story goes, PSU is its own unique beast. The game's single-player experience casts you as Ethan Waber, a 17-year-old kid who, when we meet him in the game's first chapter, is, frankly, a bit of a punk. However, Mr. Personality gets an attitude adjustment when an alien attack endangers his sister Lamia. Despite his unexplained hostility to the local law enforcement, known as the Guardians, Ethan winds up working with one so that he can help his sister. As he makes his way to help her, he has a change of heart about the Guardians and decides to become one.

The remaining chapters we played find Ethan finishing up his enlistment process by engaging in some field work with fellow cadet Ryu Hyuga and his teacher, Karen Nerra. In the midst of his training, Ethan gets a better understanding of the trouble caused by the mysterious and hostile aliens, called the Seed, who attacked at the game's start and are continuing to stir things up. It seems the unfriendly E.T.'s are causing all sorts of trouble by mutating wildlife and generally disrupting the natural order of life in the Gurhal solar system. As if all that wasn't enough, the creatures appear to share a bond with the mysterious ruins of an ancient civilization.

At present the story is obviously setting things upso a lot of questions are being raised, and information on Ethan and his crew is being laid out to give you an idea of what they're all about. So we now know that the chip on Ethan's shoulder toward the Guardians is due to the fact that his father used to be a member and died while on duty. His teacher, Karen, is the same age, having become a Guardian at 14, and is an orphan. On the more shallow front, Ryu is a walking hormone who tries to pick up anything female. We expect the unlikely trio to bond as the game progresses.

As far as the gameplay goes, PSU is taking a fairly rigid linear path, like most old-school RPGs. The story unfolds via a copious amount of cinematics that pop up as you play. At present, Ethan operates out of a Guardian colony in space--a massive five-floor city that serves as a hub. Besides housing the Guardian barracks where Ethan lives, the colony features shuttles to the planets in the system, which you can only access if your license is cleared for travel to that particular location. At the moment we've been venturing to the planet Parum, which is where the first three chapters take place. Parum's main city features its own regional Guardian base, as well as several different shops and useful spots like the flyer base, which you'll visit to select missions and travel to their specific locations on the planet. The game is broken up into seriallike chapters, complete with narration to set up and close the action, which play out roughly the same. You'll get a mission, head to the planet, go to the flyer base, head to the specific location, do your mission, and then return to the colony. So far the missions we've played have been pretty standard stuff and involved a lot of killing, exploring, and finding keys to let us progress.

Trendy hoodie...glow sticks...is this Phantasy Star or a warehouse party?

The mechanics in PSU are, for the most part, very accessible and owe quite a bit to the user-friendly scheme introduced in Phantasy Star Online. You'll have a collection of attacks that you can chain together for combos. Depending on the situation, you'll need to swap out weapons and tools as you play in order to best deal with a situation. For example, you'll have to toggle between your weapons and goggles to examine objects for clues while on a mission. As far as weapons go, you'll find several different kinds on the adventure that you can swap between on the fly depending on the situation. For example, we've been switching between a massive (though slow) two-handed sword that's extremely powerful and a dual-wield set of a handgun and saber.

Though not as powerful as the sword, the gun-and-saber set is faster and lets us use a special "photon arts" attack. An "action palette" lets you toggle between your different gear pretty quickly once you've set it up properly. You'll basically need to slot in weapons, equipment, and items to it. After your palette is set up, you can call it up during combat and use whatever you want. Gear such as your goggles will have to be swapped with weapons, as you can't use both at the same time. Items are quick-use items you'll need to restore health or photon energy.

As with any RPG, you'll level Ethan and his group up by killing things and accomplishing missions. Increasing everyone's level makes them sturdier, lets them learn new abilities, and allows you to use better gear. The new twist on leveling that fans will notice is the ability to level your class. In addition to the normal leveling you'll do on a mission, you'll also be able to level the class you're playing as. So far we've seen the typical three PSO classes in the game: hunters, rangers, and forces. Hunters are strictly physical fighters, while forces are the opposite and rely mainly on casting different technics (pronounced techniques). Rangers are a blend of the two, possessing solid melee skills but also having the ability to cast some technics. Unlike PSO, which required you to permanently pick a class to play as, PSU lets you switch between them by visiting a desk at the Guardian center.

We're pretty sure you won't be fighting these guys on every planet you visit (just most of them).

The various missions you take will level up the class you're currently using. Class levels, given each one's unique focus, radically affect your stats. So, for example, hunters have higher physical attacks and armor, while forces are obviously skewed more toward intelligence and the stats geared for casting. It's an interesting system that we've started scratching the surface of in these early chapters. On the one hand, we appreciate the flexibility, but the old-school PSO player in us feels like this might make things too easy for players. We'll see how the mechanic evolves through the game.

Since we're still early in the game, we haven't been able to fully explore a number of mechanics that are being introduced in these early chapters. The shop system seems similar to that of the previous games. We've seen shops for armor, items, and weapons that let us spend our hard-earned meseta on gear. The new wrinkles we've been teased with include a new way to upgrade your weapons by purchasing items called grinders. While this is somewhat similar to the previous games, you won't actually be doing the upgrading yourself. You'll have to buy one of three grinders in a shop and take them to the weapons counter. The new wrinkle is that the process may fail, resulting in a busted weapon you can't use. Before anyone panics, the success rate of the process hinges on the grinder you buy. If you use +1 or +2 grinders there's a chance of failure, but +3 grinders are guaranteed success.

Another new feature is the synthesis shop, which isn't open to us yet. From the sound of it, the shop will let you use materials you'll pick up on a mission to create new weapons, armor, and items. We haven't been able to do much with the party system, aside from exchange cards with our teammates and form a group. The system seems to be a pretty exact replica of the guild card system from PSO, which lets you tap people to group without being near them. We also haven't seen anything on the mag system in the game. In previous games, mags were useful creatures that tagged along with you. If you took care of them properly they would assist you on your adventure by offering up different support effects or attacking enemies. So far we've just seen "Pete," a mag-like automaton in Ethan's room who serves as his personal assistant. Speaking of Ethan's room, we've been briefed on the option to customize it but haven't messed around with that option yet.

From what we've seen so far, PSU's gameplay seems like it's got a lot to explore. As of right now the game doesn't quite have the same pick-up-and-play feel of PSO, despite the similarities in appearance. We're hoping that as we spend more time adventuring, the various systems become second nature.

The visuals in the work-in-progress game we're trying out are looking uneven across the three platforms it's appearing on. The game looks most comfortable on the PlayStation 2, which is a good fit for the graphics on display. The game uses the angular art style seen in the PSO branch of the series and gets a lot of mileage out of few polygons. The catch to this is that the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the game could be prettier. To be fair, the PC game looks a good deal better than the PS2 game, thanks to a higher resolution. However, the Xbox 360 game is lacking that sparkle right now. The game relies a bit too much on assorted filters on the 360, which give the action a blurry look that's distracting. However, despite its low-poly characters, PSU tosses in a generous helping of special and particle effects to show off its unique world. The game's frame rate is generally stable, though it hitches when the action gets too hectic.

Hey, remember when they used to make Phantasy Star games? Here's a new one!

The audio in the game attempts to take advantage of the roomy DVD medium, with mixed results so far. The voice acting in the game is sounding like it's going to be retro, in the sense that it's not going to blow anyone away with its subtle nuances. What we've heard so far is reminiscent of the voice acting you'd hear in a so-so anime. There's a hefty amount of speaking and a whole lot of overemoting in places. The game's soundtrack fares a bit better; the in-game tracks we've heard are a good mix of modern-sounding tunes with some traditional orchestrated bits as well. The only "love it or hate it" twist to the soundtrack we've heard are some of the vocal tracks, which you'll hear pretty regularly.

So far, the first three chapters of PSU are getting off to a slow start but certainly leave enough loose ends to be dealt with in the rest of the game. The cast of characters and the offline story haven't hooked us yet, but these early chapters are still setting things up. The gameplay takes some getting used to, especially for those used to PSO, and hasn't won us over just yet. Right now the experience is feeling a little dated. We're curious to go through a bit more of the game to see what the experience is like when we're fully tricked out with a mag and the ability to synthesize things. Look for more on Phantasy Star Universe in the coming weeks. The game is slated to ship this October for the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox 360.

Discussion

64 comments
SteveTwo
SteveTwo

abarrera956 is correct, you don't need a gold live subscription to play this game, you can play on a silver account. It's completely hosted on SEGAs own servers.

hepcat00
hepcat00

LAME.....why do I have to pay $10/month IN ADDITION to my xbl gold membership? besides, already played the original phantasy star universe on my sega saturn, good story, but not worth subscription pricing.

abarrera956
abarrera956

PSU is going to be 10 bucks a month and it may be a port for next gen however the graphics are very smooth and if you got HDTV it looks even better. You also don't need Xbox live Gold to play. This was only for the beta. Sliver will do just fine. I played the beta and it was really fun. Even though it did lag, and had some bugs but sega iron out some of the lag by adding more uinverses and I am sure it will fix the bugs soon. I really recommend this game if you like hack/slash with a hit of RPG. You can also use your Voice during parties only. Also if you get PS3 you can always buy the PS2 version since its has backward compatiblity.

buzzguy
buzzguy

Actually you can use voice-over. Only in parties, though, and it makes the fights easier to co-ordinate.

darknight570
darknight570

I wonder how the game mechs are. Is the fighting good?

Rvpf133
Rvpf133

this game sucks. please dont buy it. i know i only played the beta but still they better work on the lag and u cant talk wit ur voice; u can only talk to ppl by either irritatingly typing wit the controller or using a usb keyboard. also, u gotta pay 10 bucks a month AND have xbox live gold (which i have) AND pay a full 60 bucks for the game, so it's not worth it. and hopefully the graphics are smoother in the real game

liquid789
liquid789

can u use your ps2 headset? and do i have to pay to play online?

Kn0w0ne
Kn0w0ne

AWESOME!!!!!! Can't wait. Phantasy Star rocks. Those of you who havn't played the previous installments cannot truly call yourselves gamers. However... This will be the perfect tool to open your eyes. This is gonna rock. Again... keep it up Sega. Two thumbs way up.

overcode
overcode

Aw yeah. PSO had the best combat in an online RPG ever. @liquid789 - the online is gonna be awesome. It looks alot like the original PSO style which was insane, except way more of it. This is gonna be TIGHT!

tsickenboi
tsickenboi

For the online thing can two people play together with the same xbox 360???? plz answer me anybody

liquid789
liquid789

how is the online on these PS games ?

addtheninth
addtheninth

Given the past moderate to high success of PSO on the dreamcast and its successive ports to the Gamecube and Xbox, having this game on multiple systems is only natural. Offhand I haven't heard anything about the online play and whether different systems will be able to intermingle, which I'm quite curious about. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the game were released on the Wii some time in the future, specialized specifically for it... Just think about it: Motion Sensitive Controller One controls the weapon in your right hand...Motion Sensitive Controller Two controls the weapon in your left...duel wielding gun/sword/dual gun/dual sword/partisan/headless chicken bonanzas...*drool* As for "the awful camera angles and targeting system" in PSO, while the games controls are a bit ackward for maybe the first...2 minutes...of playing the original PSO, I've yet to meet anyone that hasn't mastered the controls in no time. While the camera could be a bit funky at times, it's far better than having a "mind of it's own" camera wobbling and weaving every which way behind me. The camera in PSO was the key (and easiest) way to line up your shots when entering a room...and it doesnt' come more straightforward than "hit to move the camera behind you" As a side note: I would love to see Episode 3's card game some how tied in as a mini game like final fantasy's 8 & 9. It would offer a nice breather from the action for the online game.

DaMachinator
DaMachinator

i didn't mind the camera issues i mean if u can complain about these issues, try working for the development team for SEGA it's not an ez job

Joemo
Joemo

lol $9k Alienware. you got totally ripped off. and yeah to have it only for 360 is kinda stupid; that's a very biased thing to say. XBOX 360 players are more into their racing games and shooters. and on top of that there's still not TOO many people with 360s out there. a whole new XBOX 360 version... and "why they made this for PS2." PS2 is obviously very popular, easy to get online with, and has proven to be popular amongst people who enjoy RPGs. why you would say such a thing will forever confuse me.

Darthjango555
Darthjango555

Because some of us who want to play this game don't have a 360. Seriously, they were working on this game since 2004, originally for the PS2. It would be dumb to drop all their PS2 work, just to remake it for the 360. If they did that, you wouldn't be seeing it until 2008.

crashlock
crashlock

Make an Xbox 360 version from the ground up and make us happy people. Why they made this for PS2 will forever confuse me.

esk1m00k
esk1m00k

As much as i loved PSO on D.C and xbox i'd agree with thevillaelaine,the camera was godawful accross both platforms.I would hope an increased draw distance would help with this so heres hoping..

evezina007
evezina007

I'm glad to see that franchise on the Xbox 360.

ice_rocman
ice_rocman

Maybe because you're the only one who had that problem, The villianlaine? Been waiting for this game for a LONG time. Thought it had gone the way of DN3D. Funny thing is, this comes out on October 24th and on October 22nd, I'm getting my new $9k Alienware. Couldn't be more perfect.

thevillaelaine
thevillaelaine

i just want to know if they still have the same horrible camera controls and lock-on that PSO had. clearly the author is in love with this series so much he fails to address these issuses.

Soul187q
Soul187q

Man the release date couldnt be worse for my since I plan on getting a PS3 nov17. It really sux ill have to miss this game when I loved PHO so MUCH!!!!!!!!!! Ugh i guess life just isnt fair.........till nov17. Not to mention both FF13 and Splinter Cell:DA come out in the same month.

irun4fundou
irun4fundou

October 24th can't come soon enough :)

likosda
likosda

i cant wait.i think it is gona be great.about the online thing.they must tell more.i want to play with my friends.

bossjimbob
bossjimbob

Not a phan of Phantasy Star Online. Har har.

taytizzle
taytizzle

I CAN'T WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

UltimaCloudX
UltimaCloudX

I haven't heard much on the online play yet... I hope its at least as fun, and hopefully more so than its predecessors. I can't wait to play with a bunch of friends.

Kodai_kun
Kodai_kun

I really hope that there's a Japanese voice option. Unlike here, their voice actors are actually trained professionals, and not community theater refugees

Mercutio89
Mercutio89

Huzzah for another PS game. After C.A.R.D. this better be good.

KYOGRE
KYOGRE

I have been waiting to darn long for this game. I cannot wait for it's arrival here in the U.S.

caveturd
caveturd

awesome....wonder which system its better on

ChronitoX
ChronitoX

Great, when its coming out for 360? and we must paid for play?

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

graphics dont look that great for 360 or pc hopefully gameplay rocks like previous pso games

megablueblaster
megablueblaster

this game is gunna be GREAT! its like monster hunter but.....BETTER!

Thanos_of_MW
Thanos_of_MW

Looking forward to play this game. I am a long time fan of the series and played all of them, even though I didn't like CARD revolution. Now I just have to decide which platform to play it in :D

TintedChimes
TintedChimes

This should be great! Its on the PSP as well, well not this game but on the compilation!

ebonyflame
ebonyflame

PSU should be a spiritual successor to PSO. In PSO you could customize the appearance of your characters and join in groups online to complete a mission. I don't think it should continue the story as that was ruined with the CARD games. Plus the graphics on PSO still stand up to games released now. They are nowehre near as flashy as games of today but they are very solid.

Inde_
Inde_

Yeah I liked in how PSO you could customize your characters and play multiplayer with your friends. Do you think it will be like that in this game? Because if not i'm not buying this.

DeathKing81
DeathKing81

this is gonna suck on pc. If you have to pay monthly fees on a gmae, you play WoW. They gotta work on the graphix or it will be another 360 FFXI. On the ps2 it probably will be good.

Sonicgod
Sonicgod

I want to see the character creation not just these same 4 guys in all the screen shots all the time.

jasper1989
jasper1989

WoW wouldnt work on consoles, Romanticide, but i would love it if it did. I'm sure they could do it though because Microsoft said that developers can put support for keyboard and mouse into their games if they want to. I hope Blizzard decide to do this because it would be amazing and it would make the library of games on the 360 much stronger because other games like Guild Wars may come to the 360 if WoW worked.

fisneo
fisneo

Very much I wait this game, I Think SEGA will not miss this time.

VicMackey
VicMackey

Gamecube is dead and has been dead for a long time. Nintendo sealed its own fate with regards to online games by making the broadband adapter some kind of friggin collector's item. But there's no reason this shouldn't come out on the Wii, seeing as how the graphics are pretty simple. Seems like it would HAVE to make use of a HDD, but I haven't been following the PS2 version.

Romanticide
Romanticide

WoW would never work on consoles. Blizzard know this thankfully :) I hope PSU is a lot like Phantasy Star Online, I loved that game to bits.

FatHead
FatHead

stuff this game it will be pants and will look no better on the 360. World of Warcraft is the only mmo the 360 needs.

e1viento
e1viento

PSU!!! oh how i've missed you...