Phantasy Star Online 2: Alpha Article Customization

Disclaimer:
  •  “This review is from “Phantasy Star Online 2 Alpha Test 2″, since this game is currently under development, the contents may not reflect the final version. Additionally, such contents may be improved upon in the future. Phantasy Star Online 2 Official Site http://pso2.jp” 
I managed to get onto the the Alpha2 trial for PSO2, and can provide a review / retrospective / new info for anyone outside of Japan who is interested! Just read on...

Do you remember Phantasy Star Online?
It was the first console ORPG (couldn't call it MMO because it was instanced) and it was on the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast. Whatever the opinion on it, it'll always retain its title of 'first' and  'pioneer'. Created by SonicTeam before their heavily-bashed period of "making Sonic worse", it really was ahead of its time.
In fact, it was considered so much fun by so many people that parts of it are still being played today, right now, online---10 years later. Yes, with all the 10 years ago graphics and the same combat that lots of people put over 1000 hours into. They're still at it. That's really a testament to something special, in gaming.

A popular point in it was character customization.
You could pick your race (human, newman, android) and then male or female, and then customize the face & body as well as clothing color to get a character you could really relate to. It made it so much more fun. People role-played, wrote whole stories & made tons of fan art--because of this great freedom. Every PS game since PSO has at least attempted to expand on the famous character creation system. (the only one that didn't was ps0 for the DS--due to hardware restrictions) Anyone who played PSO will fondly remember their characters.

However, this isn't a retrospective post, it's a future-look at what's to come!
This is a "Part 1" post, with just charcreate since it's so huge a thing, the blog would become too big. There are video & photo links at the end. Other topics will be game play & "Degree of PSO-ness"

Bias Alert:
For any critic/reviewer/reporter it's important to know the biases of the person going in. It lets the reader judge the opinions better, and understand where the writer is coming from. Oddly, most critics don't announce their biases up front, forcing you to guess at what they'll prefer over many reviews. (thus creating critics who you like to ignore a lot, because they'll never agree with what you like & etc)

LOVED PSO * A console gamer at heart * Doesn't know Japanese * Prefers action games * Customization is a lot of the fun for combat/appearance/skills * Over complication/convoluted things is considered an annoyance * Making oddball strange characters that aren't mainstream or normal

The above are my biases going in. So you'll know how the review is 'flavored' by the preferences, and if you agree or not.

Trial:
Contains the nice opening video you can see on youtube.
Once you're in you can use the charcreate to make up to 4 guys. Most people just fiddle with it, make 1 guy, and then jump into the game. The incentive is that "1 level 10 or above char gets you into the next trial, guaranteed" so there's pressure to level RIGHT away.

Charcreate:
As amazing as everyone says it is, so far. Is it complete? NO.
They have 100% confirmed MORE will be added to this, so it's only going to get better. But it's important to know NOW what's in, and what's not.
At this point, most anything here is only a minor nitpick except the cast body issue.
You'll love the charcreate anyway. Anyone can spend hours in there having fun with it.

The first Alpha, CASTS felt like they were really ignored. 
They were missing the 'look' to a whole set of them (Force/cast), and couldn't modify the body at all. They still feel short on 'costumes' as their entire body can only be restructured by mixing and matching 9 different things. (3 arms, 3 torsos, 3 legs) They only have 3 heads to choose from. (plus a plastic face with the full human range of customization) Since they were underdogs in A1, they still sort of are.

What can you customize?
Ears for newmen, any shape, but length won't modify much. (so no 'beast ears')
Boobs for girls
Body width / fatness / height / definition
To a degree arm & leg length 
Eye color / shape / size
Skin color NOTE: Androids get the full rainbow, all saturation levels. It is AMAZING.
Eyelash / eyebrow / facial hair
Makeup & tattoos for everyone, stickers for casts
Hair doodads / glasses / kitty ears / hats (Hat BLENDING)
Facial structure / shape / nose / lips /eye spacing

What can you make with it all?
Kid size to adults, you can basically reduce the boob slider to 'nothing' if you want to, or have giant boobs.
Fat people who are convincingly fat. 
Convincing kids where its not miniature adults or misplaced heads
You can get pretty big dudes, but not like you got in PSO. There can't be like...Marvel vs. Capcom Capt. America / Venom styled guys which is somewhat unfortunate.
No albinos (PSO you could)
No sumos
The "dark skin end of the slider" can have a tad of a 'gray hue' to it somehow
No grannies (yet)

It's great because you're not limited to someone else's bogus "beauty ideal" which in PSU was average slim guys and average slim girls. Yes you can make Johnny Bravo styled mutants, but really, so what. Variety is the spice of gaming. The individual parts sliders are an amazing addition. Facial fine-tuning is present and works well. 

One of my judgement tools is trying to re-create characters from previous PS games. It's an easy way to expose 'downgrades' or if something's missing. Each game should bring the custom options of the one before it, then build on top of that. The first thing to pop up in that area is hair (always...)

Pros: 
Hair physics improved. A lot.
Not so much clipping of hair through the character
More convincing / non blocky hairs
More LONG styles for male & female (long desired by fans)
Saturation slider available for hair / full color range
Hair matches eyebrows if you want it to

Cons:
So far, the hairs (remember, more hairs will be added!) are a tad lacking.
No Asian cuts or styles (blocked off, not whispy- hopefully they're not too obsessed over the new whisp ability that they forget to make other hair textures)
the cornrows are predictably bad (they're immense and look odd)
no afro (it was always really popular with male & female)
no shaved-head/close shave for the guys (you can't have "bald" for men or women because of Hitlerism)
No flat tops
No mowhawks
All the styles are solid here, as opposed to, in that PSU had it where you could mix/match bangs & rest of hair...its kind of a nill point, as that PSU feature didn't do a whole lot for many of the styles


PSU missed the flat top too, but provided loads of Asian cuts & styles, like buns, capped ponytails, looped hair & block cuts/squared ends. As you can tell, I had a guy with a flat top, and another with an Asian style.

The alpha also has less eyebrows & far less cast heads than PSU did, but they'll fix it. It also lacks the solid-color Cast eye that PSU had (it was a delightfully creepy solid color glass bead) Hopefully they fix that too. Giving them the Duman black scalera from PS Infinity would be a nice touch....

Accessories:
No eye covering ranger 'mask'
No helmets
No ninja masks
No bandit or pirate style items / scarves / cloth bands / veils etc
No earrings (yet)
There is an eyepatch, but only 1 & its mechanical in nature

Hopefully, all this stuff gets fixed. PSU had gorgeous female android faces, and loads of them. Everything from creepy dolls to ninja faces, to wonderful styles like the RAcaseals of PSO. Just import the whole set of PSU's female android heads / hairs & a wonderful base will be formed.

Everything here is an easy fix.
Even if the game doesn't launch with something you want (EX. PSO costumes/exact replicas) doesn't mean it won't show up later. This is a PC game, THAT is the advantage of the PC. You can patch in goodies whenever to please the fans. If everyone wails because the afro didn't make it in, well...expect it later. That's not something a console would do until an expansion pack or something.

* you can test the facial expressions before you finalize!
* cut-in chat (comic book style panel with facial close up) still present in-game
* you can choose 'no voice' for your char if you want to keep silent or hate all voices

Videos & photos
See a HUnewm http://www.pso-world.com/forums/showthread.php?t=192999
Screen shots of various people http://www.pso-world.com/forums/showthread.php?t=192948
To see charcreate videos, basically go to youtube & search 'pso2' 
There are too many to link here, but they'll give great ideas.
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