This week, the Xbox 360 version of Phantasy Star Universe surpassed its fifth year of operation with the Japanese PC version having done the same not too long ago. It's been a ride to say the least. Click on for a letter from your editor.
Metacritic: 64 out of 100 ~~~ GameRankings: 65.19% ~~~ AOTI reviews: n/a
I have to say that I am very pleased to be able to report on such a significant milestone for the Gurhal series. Phantasy Star Universe has been running for a full five years on PC in Japan and Xbox 360 internationally. These versions continue with a good level of strength as we approach the release of Phantasy Star Online 2. We've seen a full expansion, portable games, and supplementary downloads to further enhance what has more or less become a flagship title in its own canon. Our reception of this material in the west can feel limiting, but we continue nonetheless.
What follows is a list of the good, the bad, and the debatable from the last year of service:
The Xbox 360 version continues to benefit from last year's Games on Demand release as well as free AOTI with GAC. Microsoft has also added PayPal this year as a billing option. PSU remains the only game of its type that features full integration with Xbox Live. The subscriber base and activity levels have seen periods of peaking since last year, even despite some of the more unfortunate events. Most notably, the demo version of the game had to be pulled from Xbox Live after certain bugs cropped up that were deemed unworthy of correction. The game currently does not feature any sort of free trial or mode. Earlier this year, SEGA Pass also had to go offline after being compromised. While many of Sega's sites and forums have returned, their support system remains down as well as the English PSU website. Fortunately, this has not prevented the game from seeing new content or major event websites. It also did not affect game accounts.
Content has become an exceedingly discussed subject in the past year. While the Xbox 360 version has not been subject to microtransactions themselves, it continues to wait on releases of content from Japan's GUARDIANS Cash system. Content from this system is planned to be implemented in alternative ways, however only a few weapons have gone out so far as event rewards. Additionally, this version has been treading well into content released after Japan's Update 2nd, however does not currently contain graphics for many of the newer weapons released during it (and must rely on older weapon models in those cases). Until some sort of download finds its way through Microsoft, the newest available graphics will be of Phantasy Star Portable weapons and clothing.
Despite these factors, a lot has been released over the past year. The Xbox 360 version has seen more major events and GBRs than in any prior year. Along with the GBRs have been AOTI/S3 upgrades, S2 rare missions, and even a few new free missions as well as a side story mission. It's also been updated with a couple of GAMs and several GAS releases. We've even had our first viewing of the Party lobby. It's also notable that the game has not seen any title updates since the release of GAC. While the client could always use more tweaks and fixes, we haven't been subject to major rollbacks, bugs, or exploits in some time. Many of the issues with content releases continue to be corrected on the server itself.
On the Japanese side, there have been some very significant items from this past year. The lingering JP PS2 version of AOTI finally saw its support fully cut, resulting in more freedom for PSU from that platform's limitations. Update 3rd was released and presented players with the start of a stream of content including more weapons and clothing from the recent portable titles as well as areas, music, PAs, and SUVs from those games. It's by far the most significant addition to PSU since the release of the expansion. The GUARDIANS Cash system continues to provide more revenue while the game's free mode attracts new players. Many of these have been players outside of Japan hoping to get a jump on new content and features. A notable change is that the server's population has been consolidated into eight universes (down from sixteen). This was originally done as a result of the devastating events in Japan earlier this year, however this seems to have become permanent.
There is one more matter to list that has come up most recently. Sega has mentioned that they have no current plans to release more PSP titles in the west due to factors such as low sales and piracy. This puts into question the localized releases of such titles as Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity and Valkyria Chronicles III. As an expansion to PSP2, Infinity further connects the PSU series to the PSO series via story and content additions. It was intended to a degree to cap off the last ten years of Phantasy Star in the same way that PSP2 was originally said to cap off the PSU series. While my own time with the portable games has been limited, it is highly unfortunate to see the western release of such a title be put into question. Without a doubt, there are few instances where a title for Sony's portable is given so much care.
Through it all, both the Xbox 360 and JP PC versions of PSU have seen more support over a longer period of time than any version of PSO. The former carries an uncommonly stable population for the franchise and the latter has seen the benefit of its modified business model. This past year we've surpassed the server life of PSO on the Gamecube and in a few days will surpass the server life of PSO on the Xbox. JP PSOBB holds the record at around six and a half years, however it did not benefit from such a long period of new content releases as the current versions of PSU already have. However, I am sure that we all hope that an even greater level of support will be possible with PSO2.
When I look at the current state of the game and I see that those most vocal are hoping first and foremost to be on the receiving end of more content, I can't help but come to a rather satisfying conclusion. If the most frequent complaint about a game is that the players wish to see more of it...that's not such a terrible thing.
To everyone involved in Phantasy Star, especially those few that maintain the community AND have put up with me far too frequently:
Your faithful assistant,