Phantasy Star Universe is mere weeks away from launch, and today we took a tour of the online action. As any fan is aware - and if you aren't a fan, now you know - multiplayer is where Phantasy Star Online really shined, and the same seems to be true of PSU. If you'd like extensive details on single-player, check out our recent previews. Otherwise, come take a tour of Sega's online universe.
Your adventure begins with character creation, and there are more options than ever. Outside of your sex and build, most of these can be changed later at various shops. Unlike PSO, character data is stored server-side, which should make it much, much harder to cheat. However, this also means that your single-player character, stored locally on your system, can't be used online, so you'll need to start fresh when you begin multi.
Online players meet up and organize in lobbies, which are much, much larger than before. A hundred players can occupy a single room, giving you plenty of new robo-babes to ogle and allies to discover. If you click with someone, you can exchange guild cards, which make it easy to contact and play with each other in the future. PC and PS2 players will play on the same servers, segregated by continent. Xbox 360 players, a smaller group, will play amongst themselves on global servers, so if you want to practice your Japanese, 360's the way to go.
Wherever you play, it should be easy to meet folks, because the communications options have evolved. The flexible auto-translated, pre-set text messages from PSO return, and now there are no less than 48 emote animations. You can now attach facial expressions to your pre-sets, so your character's face pops up on everyone's screen - sporting the appropriate look of shock, fright, etc. - when you deliver it. However, only the Xbox 360 version gets voice chat, which will work between party members. PS2 players will be stuck with USB keyboards. (Savvy PC players should be able to find third-party voice solutions.)
Once you've got a posse, you can invite them to check out your private residence, complete with whatever decorations you've put up. Besides admiring your interior decorating skills, guests will be able to purchase items you put up for sale in your personal shop. Can't wield that saber you just crafted? Throw it in the store. Players, even strangers, can search all publicly-listed shops for specific items, so a solid, player-run economy should pop up in no time.