By Nicholas Fricke . September 21, 2006 . 12:18pm
If you’re reading this article, chances are you want one simple question answered: “Should I spend nearly $100 on a simple wireless keyboard just because it’s branded with ‘Phantasy Star Universe?’”
However, the more important question is: “Who’s got enough disposable cash, is absolutely crazy about the Phantasy Star series, and is willing to spend their own money just to find that answer out?”
That would be me. I spent nearly 500 hours on the original Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast, and was completely obsessed with that game for many months after its release in early 2001. Of course, it helped that PSO had free online play, I had a group of Dreamcast enthusiasts who I played with regularly, and there were almost no PlayStation 2 games worth buying during that period. While on Ragol, I spent most of my days shooting up rappies as a RAmar, was probably fooled by a guy playing as a HUnewearl, posed as a HUnewearl myself to get my revenge back at the world, and did some item duping on the side (I swear I’ll never do it again!).
My interest in PSO eventually faded as did the number of people playing the original game. Besides, I could only play the same four levels so many times before ennui set in, and I was too cheap to buy the new episodes which had instated monthly fees for online play. But my love for the gameplay of PSO was not forgotten, and my interest in the Phantasy Star series was rekindled with the announcement of Phantasy Star Universe.
In anticipation of the American release of PSU which is only a few weeks away, I wanted to get into the mood and import something PSU related. I wasn’t willing to tackle the Japanese release of the game due to the complication of setting up and paying for online play through Sega’s Japanese Web sites, and the recent problems with the Japanese servers leads me to hope the American and European releases will have a much more stable launch. So I decided to import something useful, the Phantasy Star Universe USB Wireless Keyboard, since I intend to buy the Xbox 360 version of PSU if things go well for that port, and it’d be nice to have a wireless keyboard to go with my wireless controller.
But then there was the cost. Approximately $80 to $90 from most online import shops, before shipping costs, makes this a very pricey accessory. And from the screenshots released for the keyboard, it doesn’t look very special or have any advanced features. What makes this keyboard better than some cheaper alternative that you could get from a local electronics store?
Well, for one, it wouldn’t have “Phantasy Star Universe” written on it! On the top of the keyboard, written using the PSU Parum font, is the phrase “Tell me what it is you fight for…” next to the game’s title. On the upper left corner is the emblem for the Guardians. From the low resolution screenshots posted online, the keyboard looked like it may have had a metal strip applied to the top of the keyboard where the logo is, to give the keyboard some added flair, but in reality it’s just silver paint. Ho-hum.
The keyboard is designed like any typical Japanese keyboard, which means the Roman letters are in standard QWERTY layout, with a row of numbers above. However, some of the non-alphanumeric symbols are located in different places than they are on a English-language keyboard, which can be disorienting for some. The space bar is very small compared to those used on English-language keyboards, which can take a while to get used to. The keyboard also lacks any indicators for whether caps lock or number lock is turned on, which is another problem for those looking for a user-friendly keyboard. Beyond these issues, the keyboard feels sturdy and well made, the keys don’t feel mushy when pressed, and syncing up the keyboard to the receiver is simple as hitting the connect button on both pieces.
Aside from the keyboard, receiver and a pair of AA batteries, you also get a driver installation disc for Windows and a “Guidebook for new Guardians.” The driver disc is only necessary if your PC doesn’t recognize the keyboard, although it does include a useful application that displays on your monitor if functions like number lock and caps lock are switched on. The guidebook is a small booklet which explains the different races and their strengths and weaknesses, the different classes you can choose from, maps of the various lobbies in the game and all the different emotions you can trigger using the keyboard. It’s interesting stuff, but as it’s all written in Japanese, it may not be useful to English speakers aside from the pictures. Hopefully Sega will include a translated version of this guide for the American release, as it is a helpful tool for new players.
The final test for me was how well the keyboard worked with the Xbox 360, and in an environment where I also use a wireless controller and use wireless internet to connect my 360 online. I’m happy to say that keyboard worked just fine, with no noticeable adverse affects to my controller input or online gameplay. The 360 recognizes the keyboard as a standard English-language keyboard, which means that even when hitting a key that is labeled with a different symbol on a Japanese keyboard, it will register as the symbol that key corresponds to on an English keyboard. Got that, everyone? For some reason, and I don’t know if this is due to this specific keyboard or how 360s recognize keyboard input, but the caps lock and num lock keys don’t seem to work, which isn’t a huge deal, but it’s worth noting. There also seems to be a slight lag when inputting text into a message window on the 360, but I believe that has more to do with the performance of the 360 dashboard than any lag from the keyboard.
Version Covered: Japanese
Release Date: 08.31.06
+ Pros: It’s a solidly built keyboard, keys don’t feel mushy, it works great with the 360 like any USB keyboard should, and the guidebook is great for new players.
- Cons: Simple keyboard features don’t justify expensive price, design of Japanese keyboards can frustrate those used to English layout, and limited production of the keyboard will make it increasingly hard to find.
Overall: I can’t say that I didn’t get what I wanted, or that I expected something greater from my purchase. I was going to get Phantasy Star Universe for the 360, I wanted a wireless keyboard to compliment my wireless controller, and Sega offered a PSU-branded wireless keyboard that would suit my needs. In this respect, Sega succeeded. But that’s about all they did. Aside from the PSU text and emblem on the top of the keyboard, this could have very well been any generic keyboard from any company. No interesting plastic casing, or options to put different logos or character graphics on the top of the keyboard. Just a very simple, functional design. If you’re all gung-ho over PSU, you’re in the market for a wireless keyboard, and you’ve got money to burn then this keyboard was made just for you. Otherwise, a trip to your local electronics store will net you a cheaper, more comfortable, and possibly more feature-rich wireless keyboard than what Sega can offer. Besides, what’s the point of blowing all of your money on the keyboard if you don’t save enough for the actual game?