Hey Sega, if you're planning on some keyboard support for PSO, make sure you read this first!
Phantasy Star Online will be launching in the United States in just a few weeks, and currently it’s unknown how players will be able to input text. The ASCII Keyboard Controller has only been announced and released in Japan, and hasn’t been confirmed for release yet in the states. If you’re a die-hard PSO fan, should you import this hardware?
After unpacking the keyboard controller from the box you’ll quickly notice the fact that it’s made of high quality materials. The controller parts are almost identical to the Nintendo made controller, if they aren’t the actual same parts. It’s impossible to distinguish the two from each other, outside of the fact that you have a keyboard in the middle of it. The controller aspect feels and performs just like a Nintendo GameCube controller would, except for that it’s wider.
Setting up the Keyboard Controller is pretty straightforward. It takes up two controller ports – one for the controller side, and one for the keyboard. The cable length is the same as the standard Nintendo GameCube controller. The Keyboard Controller does not have rumble capabilities built in, which is understandable because it would make typing even more difficult. Since ASCII removed the rumble, I would have liked for them to at least make this device wireless. After getting so used to being cordless with the WaveBird, it’s almost a no-brainer. Not only that, but since I now have my Q (or GameCube) sitting in my entertainment center (because I’m wireless for everything else), I’ll need to get extension cords so I can use this thing from the couch.
The ASCII Keyboard Controller only works with Phantasy Star Online. I was hoping that it would be compatible with Animal Crossing, but since that game wasn’t programmed for this peripheral, it doesn’t. That’s not the fault of ASCII, since this keyboard currently isn’t made for the US market, but it would have been a nice added bonus.
The keyboard has 81 total keys. 4 of these keys have specific Japanese functions like switching between Hiragana, Katakana, and using English lettering. Since PSO makes English letters the default option, I don’t have to use the other lettering. The buttons are lighter to the touch than a standard PC keyboard, and feel more like a laptop keyboard. The keys are solid, and are generally very responsive.
Unfortunately, the ASCII Keyboard Controller has one fatal flaw: the keyboard itself. The keyboard’s keys are just too small. The keys are smaller than a standard laptop keyboard, and it’s nearly impossible to type a message perfectly. Unless your hands are really tiny, or you’re under the age of 10, you will almost always make typos. Since this keyboard is designed for use in PSO only, when you’re in the heat of a battle it’s very easy to make mistakes. Not that everyone who plays PSO types correctly to begin with, but when you plunk down $60 for the keyboard controller, you’d hope it would work well.
If ASCII (or Sega or anyone else) decides to release this Keyboard Controller in the US, I hope they decide to make it slightly larger. At the least, make the keyboard’s keys the size of a laptop. I understand ASCII is trying to make this device as compact as possible, but a couple inches added would make this controller an absolute dream to use, and a must have for any PSO nut. It would completely change this review’s final score to a 9.0 or 9.5 quickly. With its current design, it’s a pain to use. Just hop in any game of PSO and ask the people who have this Keyboard Controller, they’ll be more than happy to tell you their dissatisfaction, give or take a few typos here and there.