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Phantasy Star II (Genesis) artwork

Phantasy Star II (Genesis) review

"This game will break your heart just as much as the hearts of the characters in this game will break…"

There are many adjectives that can be used to describe Phantasy Star 2, my favourite one is “heartbreak”, This game will break your heart just as much as the hearts of the characters in this game will break… I have a love/hate relationship with this game as I suppose many others may as well.

First gameplay, PS2 is a fairly simple old school JRPG at it’s heart, unlike many RPG’s from say the mid 90’s onwards, there are no dilutions of the classic formula: many random encounters, simple turn based battle system and no bells or whistles. It’s essentially an 8-bit style RPG but on 16-bit hardware, really it’s nothing to write home about, you travel the overworld, you get equipment and heal in towns, you go to a dungeon, you go to the next area, all whilst battling and grinding in between. Wash, rinse and repeat. This basic approach (though really it’s because so little innovation had been done at the time) also adds one unfortunate problem, the difficulty.

Difficulty: anyone who has played the original Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy or even Phantasy Star remembers how difficult these games were, between dungeons or even the (nearly nonexistent) story points you would need to grind sometimes insane amounts just to keep up with the level progression of the many beasts you will encounter on your journey and this game is no different, unlike Final Fantasy 7 or Chrono Trigger where I very rarely see a game over screen over the entire game, when I played PS2 for the first time I saw the game over screen nearly 20 times in the first hour!! And this is at the very beginning of the game when it should be going easy on me! Not a chance!

Another source of difficulty is the dungeon design; the maps are too large and too complex! I recommend looking up the map designs of maps like the island of UZO or of the control tower and gaze upon their enormity, the maps are multi levelled (some have as many as 7 or 8 levels) complicated labyrinths of walls and teleports which mean you WILL get lost and with the frequent random battles they often become an endurance trial, I tried to get a particular Macguffin called the Maruera leaf on an island…what island you are not really told you have to find out, you also find out that the real leaf is mixed in with a dozen other fake leaves spread throughout the map, it took me hours to wade through this.

Thankfully the game originally came with it’s own strategy guide containing all maps in the game meaning that if you ever wish to play the game you don’t have to feel guilty when you look up the maps online (and you will) and for hints on where to go next.

Overall the gameplay is nothing special; the game was released after the major 8-bit RPG’s established the basic gameplay style of RPG’s and this game uses their basic tropes, but the game was released before the major 16-bit RPG’s came in and made RPG’s more friendly an expanded their gameplay and frankly PS2 doesn’t do much to innovate, in fact it is almost a step back in some ways from the original Phantasy star, gone are the 1st person dungeons, the detailed background graphics in menus, when speaking to NPCs and in battles. But what the game still does do it does well…just in an aggravatingly difficult way.

Graphics and sound: graphics are a bit of a mixed bag, on one side the character portraits and enemy art are really detailed and the cutscene art is really good and has an animé flavour to it, sound is again somewhat of a mixed bag, the tunes are excellent, the main battle theme is pulse pounding and really get’s you in the mood…that’s a good thing because you will hear it all the time, some tunes have strange instrument choices and often sound like that the person composing didn’t really know what could be done with the MD’s admittedly fairly poor sound processor, again this reminds me of a game that was released using new but unproven technology.

Setting and story:
This is where the game truly shines in my opinion, like all other numbered Phantasy star games the game takes place in the Algo solar system, made up of Palm, a world of green, Mota, originally a world of desert, terraformed in the interim between PS1 and PS2 to become an agricultural planet due to the machinations of the mother brain computer system and Dezo, the inhospitable world of ice.

In the beginning of the game you walk upon a changed Mota (formerly Motavia) gone is the sand and the Antlions, the native Motavians instead of being outright enemies are now cute trash loving marginalized Ewok like 2nd class citizens…kind of a shame they gave good experience points.

You play Rolf, an agent for the Palman government on Mota and the main character of the game, he is given an assignment to investigate an explosion at the local biosystems lab that led to horrible genetically engineered monstrosities running wild all over the world and these are the enemies you meet for roughly the first 1/3rd of the game, he is joined in this endeavour by Nei, a genetically engineered woman who he raised like a sister, protecting her from an intolerant society, from there the game begins.

As you explore the world and the various towns you are visited by new companions, some are really interesting like Kain and Shir, others are less so like Amy and Hugh, each of them fit into the various generic RPG specialities like the mage, heavy weapon user and so on and you must choose between 4 of them.

As for the story overall I tend to split story between storytelling and story line, in video games I tend to love one and hate the other, this game is no different. The storyline in this game is wonderful, it is a dark, tragic tale of loss, intolerance and an ancient evil with a twist ending like you wouldn’t believe, it also had an Aerith like death nearly a decade before FFVII, I cannot rave enough about this story I love it.

However the storytelling leaves a lot to be desired, anyone who has played an old style RPG knows what I’m talking about, back then there simply wasn’t enough room to allow for particularly deep storytelling, often with the quality of writing (like I should speak) it is difficult simply to understand who is speaking sometimes and some areas feel underdeveloped though this really is due to space and technical limitations, no RPG of the time had good storytelling, it wasn’t until the mid 90’s that RPG’s with good storytelling like final fantasy 6 and Phantasy star IV, my complaints about this game are actually very like my own complaints about final fantasy 4, great story, poor storytelling.

Overall PS2 is a really good game if you are a fan of old school RPG’s, but it does show it’s age, the game is too difficult, it has poor storytelling, the dungeons are way too large and complex and the graphics and sound are nothing special most of the time. However persevere and you get a very enjoyable experience, great story, high challenge, 2 huge worlds to explore, many references to the first game and an amazing ending.


maboroshi's avatar
Community review by maboroshi (January 15, 2013)

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