Phantasy Star Universe is the spiritual successor to the Phantasy Star Online series of games. Developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega, Phantasy Star Universe is an action RPG where players take on missions as Guardians to battle monsters and enemies threatening the Gurhal System. The battles are in real-time and your character develops by leveling up his or her level and character class, upgrading his or her armor and equipment, and acquiring new attacks. The combat system consists of standard attacks and Photon Arts, special attacks that consume points associated with each weapon, that can be evolved to include multiple hits chained together to form powerful combos.
In some of the game modes, custom characters created via a detailed character creator are the only playable characters and can be customized by equipping different clothes items available in the various in-game shops. Players also have access to their own room, called the "My Room" feature, and can create common and unique items through the Item Synthesis system as well as selling their own items through their player shop in online mode. The game features three modes of play: Story Mode, Extra Mode, and Network Mode (online mode).
In Story Mode, you follow the adventures of Ethan Waber in a single player game. The story revolves around a deadly new force, known as the SEED, that attacks the Gurhal System galaxy. Ethan Waber, and his companions must make their way through the planets cutting through the SEED. The game consists of 12 chapters that are presented with an opening and closing scene similar to standard Japanese anime. Cutscenes and dialogue boxes move the story forward in between the actual missions where the battles occur. By completing chapters, players will unlock optional side missions known as Free Missions. These will be available in the cities on the three planets and the Guardian's Colony and can be accessed through the various Mission Counters present in said cities.
Extra Mode becomes available as you progress in Story Mode; specifically after the fourth chapter of Story Mode is completed. You can create your own character, form parties with characters from Story Mode, and set off on your own adventures. Extra Mode is basically a stripped down version of Network with some differences, such as it being single player only, the Common Box feature is not present and neither is the player shop feature. More Extra Mode quests become available as you reach certain points in the story.
In Network Mode, the character you create becomes a member of the GUARDIANS, stationed in the Gurhal System. Players can tackle Free Missions in parties of one to six players and play additional single player Story Missions that advance the story past Story Mode's conclusion. Network Mode is constantly updated with new missions and areas to explore along with special events, shop updates and game balance tweaks. Unlike the other two modes, Network Mode uses server-side saving and on PC, "nProtect" software to prevent players by cheating and using modified content. To access Network Mode, players have to purchase a Guardian's License (see Guardian's License below for more information).
The universe is the Gurhal Star System, which consists of three planets. Each planet has its own unique culture formed by its inhabitant races. The history of the Gurhal Star System is filled with conflict amongst the different races. However, after the Final Conflict 100 years ago, a union was formed between the three planets. This led to the birth to the Allied Army, and ultimately to peace for the Gurhal Star System.
At the start of the game, Ethan Waber, the main character, and his little sister Lumia Waber, are at the celebration of the 100th year anniversary of the Alliance Space Fleet on the GUARDIANS Space station. The celebration is interrupted when a mysterious meteor shower almost destroys the entire fleet. During evacuation, Ethan and Lumia split off of the main evacuation route, and collapsing rubble separates Lumia from Ethan. Ethan then meets up with a veteran Guardian named Leo S. Berafort, but they are attacked by a strange creature. The creature paralyzes Leo, and Ethan takes his handgun and kills the creature. Leo then tells Ethan to find his sister, and that a rescue team is on the way.
After killing multiple creatures and saving people, Ethan finds Lumia, and they both leave the station. After a conversation between Leo and Ethan, Ethan reveals that he dislikes GUARDIANS because his father died when on a mission. Leo, impressed with Ethan's abilities, convinces Ethan to join the GUARDIANS.
Ethan and fellow Guardian trainee Hyuga Ryght are trained by a female Guardian named Karen Erra, who leads them against the SEED, the strange monsters that came from the meteors. After being hired to accompany a scientist to a Relic site of an ancient, long-dead civilization, they find out the SEED are attracted to a power source (A-photons) the ancients used and that the solar system has just re-discovered.
Karen finds out she is the sister of the Divine Maiden (the prophet of the Holy Light) Mirei Mikuna and takes over that position when Mirei dies at the hands of her estranged father, Dohgi Mikuna, who intended to kill Karen to increase Mirei's power. After befriending rogues, Guardians, and CASTs alike, Ethan angers Renvolt Magashi, a CAST who heads the Endrum Collective and has been kidnapping scientists who know about the ancient power source. After Ethan and a infamous rogue named Alfort Tylor kill Magashi, Ethan helps activate an ancient weapon the prior civilization used to survive the SEED before they were almost completely wiped out.
Ethan then gathers allies against Guardian orders to attack the last SEED outpost standing where two of his friends and the scientists are being held. In the outpost Magashi claims to be brought back to life by the SEED, where in reality he is a CAST incarnation of Dark Force who controls the SEED itself and controls whatever they infect. With the help of Karen, Leo and Tonnio, Ethan defeats Magashi once and for all.
Phantasy Star Universe uses a combat system that is similar to the combat system of its predecessor, Phantasy Star Online. There are three types of weapons: close-range striking weapons like swords and sabers, long-range firearm weapons like handguns, and magic-casting wands and other magic weapons. The standard attack with a striking weapon can be performed up to three times in succession for a 3-hit combo while firearm and magic-casting weapons fire and cast in succession with a slight pause in between each attack. Players can have two different types of weapons in each hand, like a one-handed striking weapon or a TECHNIC (magic) weapon in your right hand and a firearm weapon in your left hand. With ranged weapons like the handgun and the longbow, you can aim and attack with a first-person view. If you aim well, you can attack enemies that are higher than can normally be reached and shoot at enemies that are difficult to attack.
There are also special attacks available known as Photon Arts. Photon Arts are a powerful form of magic attack that consume photon points. Photon Arts are named differently depending on the weapon class: linked to striking weapons they are called "skills," ranged attacks are called "bullets," and magic weapon-linked attacks are called "TECHNICS." With striking weapons, such as swords and sabers, a skill can be used as a follow-up attack after a normal attack. There are numerous Photon Arts for each type of weapon. Aside from increased damage, ranged attacks and TECHNICS can have attributes, such as fire and ice. Also, Photon Arts have their own levels; the more you use them, the more powerful they become.
My Room (Guardian Barracks)
As either Ethan Waber or a custom character, players will have access to that character's room dubbed the "My Room" feature. Each room starts out somewhat plain, but you can accent it with decorations, or you can remodel it using a remodeling ticket item to change the entire look and feel of the room. There are special seasonal themes and room decoration items that are available for only a few weeks each year. They can be purchased in the Guardian's Colony Variety Shop.
Another My Room feature is the "Common Box." A single online account can store up to four created characters. Each character will have their own room and Partner Machinery. In each room, there will be a common storage box, and by placing an item in the Common Box, all characters on that account will be able to access that item. In the player's room, there's an information terminal called the "Vision Phone." Accessing the Vision Phone in Story Mode provides Ethan an updated list of the new Free Missions that have become available on the different planets. In Network Mode, the Vision Phone allows players to move to other player's rooms, search for shops, check to see who has visited the player's own room and access the Help menu (Play Guide and glossary).
In the player room there is a dressing room where players can customize their characters and make them unique by changing clothes. You can also change clothes at the clothing shop in each city and try on clothes on your character before purchasing them. In your room, you can only put on clothes that you've already purchased. Also available in each room is a Partner Machine (see Partner Machine below) and a player shop. The player shop is only available in Network Mode once the player purchases a Open Shop remodeling ticket item and uses it in the player room by accessing the player's Partner Machine.
A Partner Machine, often abbreviated as PM, is a support machine assigned to each Guardian (player character) and can be found in each playable character's room. The PM provides the main storage box, access to basic tutorials, performs Item Synthesis, acts as the cashier for a player's shop and can join the player in battle once it has been fed a large amount of items and has evolved to its fourth stage. Feeding a PM items increases and decreases four different ite m production stats: Striking, Ranged, TECH and Armor. As the stats rise, so does the PM's efficiency at making items of the matching stat. For example, a high Striking stat means that when synthesizing striking weapons the potential success rate of the synthesis is higher than normal.
The Production Level is another Partner Machine statistic that is the sum of the four item production stats and caps at Level 100. For maximum efficiency, players often create PMs that have one stat at 100 and the other three at zero. Also, when the Production Level reaches 20, 50 and 80, the PM will evolve into a new form. When a Partner Machine reaches its fourth stage at Production Level 80, it will be able to join the player character on missions as an NPC. There are 20 different forms that vary in combat style, weapon load out and AI behavior. Which form the PM evolves into depends on which of the item production stats you've increased.
Guardian's License and Differences between Platform Releases
To access Network Mode, players have to purchase a Guardian's License which is a subscription of $9.99 monthly (in the U.S.) that is paid through a dedicated billing site, PSU-Billing.com, for players who have the PS2 or PC version. Players of the Xbox 360 version can purchase a Guardian's License subscription, also $9.99 monthly (Microsoft Points are not applicable), through the Xbox Live Game Marketplace under the Phantasy Star Universe listing.
Differences Between the Different Platform Releases
There are some minor differences between the three platform releases of Phantasy Star Universe. The PS2 and PC versions share the same servers, subscription accounts and billing system for online play (Network Mode). Characters created for Network Mode in the PS2 version are therefore available in PC version to the same user/account and vice versa. Furthermore, the game servers used for the PS2 and PC version are regional only (U.S., Japan, Europe) so you can only player with players that reside in your own region.
The PC version of Phantasy Star Universe uses a cheat protection program called "nProtect" which protects against any program changes and attacks from computer hackers. This system needs to check through the internet each time a user wants to play the game in order to make sure it has the most up to date information, therefore the PC version of Phantasy Star Universe can only be played whilst connected online.
The Xbox 360 version is independent of the others and its billing services are handled by Microsoft and Xbox Live; an Xbox Live Silver account is required to purchase a Guardian's License subscription for online play (Network Mode). Xbox Live Gold is not required. The Xbox 360 version has been known to have the largest player population among the three releases and its servers are not region-locked so players of all regions can play together.
Ambition of the Illuminus
Phantasy Star Universe has received DLC in the form of the Ambition of the Illuminus add-on for the Xbox 360 and is available on the Xbox Live Game Marketplace. It originally launched with a price of 800 Microsoft Points but was made free by Sega on July 21, 2010. Players without the expansion can no longer play online without it. The expansion is available on PS2 and PC but as a separate retail release titled Phantasy Star Universe: Ambition of the Illuminus which includes the updated Network Mode with numerous changes and additions, and an enhanced Extra Mode that contains the Episode 2 Story Missions that were originally only accessible online through the Phantasy Star Universe's Network Mode.
Ambition of the Illuminus on Xbox 360 consists only of the same large update to the Network Mode; the original Extra Mode remains unchanged and no other new modes are available. The updated Network Mode includes new missions, new weapon classes and weapons, new lobbies, new enemies and bosses, and new single player Story Missions that advance the Phantasy Star Universe plot even further.
GUARDIANS Advanced Content
The GUARDIANS Advanced Content update was originally called the "Supplemental Update" in Japan and was made available on March 26, 2009 for the Japanese PC/PS2 versions and on July 21, 2010 for the Xbox 360 version in all territories as an updated build of the Ambition of Illuminus expansion. To access the new content, Xbox 360 players have to delete original download file of the expansion and re-download an updated file from the Xbox Live Marketplace.
GUARDIANS Advanced Content introduced a variety of new features, items, and missions. The following is an abbreviated list of changes and additions.
- Class Changes: All melee and gun-wielding classes received an increased in the base attack strength stat and all TECHNIC-focused (magic) classes received an increase in their base TECHNIC strength stat. Some classes received additional base stat increases such as Accuracy and Evasion.
- Invincible "Just Counter": When performing a "Just Counter" parry move, the player character cannot be interrupted by an additional enemy attack.
- SUV Weapons and Photon Arts Balancing: SUV Weapons were balanced to be more useful while the Paradi Cataract SUV weapon's damage was decreased. Photon Arts were re-balanced; some received additional power, had their PP usage reduced, and received a boost in firing speed (Bullets for Rangers) or casting speed (TECHNICs for Forces).
- GUARDIANS Advanced Style: Available only for players that have reached the level cap, GUARDIANS Advanced Style (or GAS) allows players to customization their characters further. For example, players can increase their character's resistance to status ailments, specialize in a single weapon category to increase the damage dealt with weapons of that type, add additional attack bonus to the "Just Counter" move, and much more. Players much purchase these moves using "Advanced Points" which are converted from earned "Advanced EXP" (EXP earned after reaching the level cap).
- GUARDIANS Advanced Missions: GUARDIANS Advanced Missions (or GAM) are missions with restriction limits placed on player such as restricted character levels and weapons usage. They are similar to the Challenge Mode that debuted in Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2.
- GUARDIANS Colony Resident Security Department: A new area in the colony hub city where players can use "Advanced Points" to customize their characters and take on GUARDIANS Advanced Missions.
- New Items: New items have been added and some favorites that debuted in Phantasy Star Portable have been added. Not all of the items will be acquirable immediately; some will be drops in new missions that will be made available over the coming months.
- Customizable Online Stats and New Chat Commands: Just like with current instant messaging programs, players can now customize their online status with a typed message. New chat commands were added as well.
- My Room: Items that can be stacked can now be sold and stored in bundles, the common storage box item limit was increased from 32 to 100 and players can now easily access the room of their other characters.
- Other: Equipped units will automatically be re-equipped when switching Line Shields and items in the player's room cannot be locked so their not accidentally placed for sale in their store, drop it, sell it, or grind it.
Xbox 360 Game Installation
Phantasy Star Universe requires 6.8 GB of space to be installed on an Xbox 360 HDD. If installed after the August 11, 2009 Xbox 360 Dashboard update, it requires only 6.4 GB of space.
PC/PS2 Server Closure
Due to low population, the US PC/PS2 servers of Phantasy Star Universe were shut down on March 31st, 2010. PC/PS2 users may still play online if they wish to join the Japanese game servers.
Xbox 360 Server Closure
Sega of America has announced that the Xbox 360 servers for Phantasy Star Universe will be closing on September 7th, 2012.