Saturday, May 26, 2012

Phantasy Star 2

 Phantasy Star 2 takes place 1000 years after the events of the first game. You play as Rolf who has been having a recurring dream about a girl, who resembles Alis from the first game, fighting a demon.  Rolf is a member of the security forces of the planet Mota. What fans of the first game will immediately notice is that the lush greenery and biodomes are a far cry from the desert planet Motavia of the first game. The environment and every facet of life of the three planets in the Algol system are now controlled and regulated by a computer known as Mother Brain. Nobody knows who created Mother Brain or even where it’s located but they are happy to let it control life in the Algol system as long as they can live a care free life without having to worry about trivial matters like having a job. However the paradise created by Mother Brain has started to unravel. A ban has been placed on interplanetary travel. Also the climate control and bio factories of Mota are malfunctioning causing a drought and leading to the creation of dangerous bio monsters. It is Rolf’s job to investigate what is causing these problems. He is joined by his companion Nei, a half human, half biomonster female that he befriended.

Phantasy Star 2 debuted on the Megadrive in 1989 in Japan and during 1990 in the West, making it probably the first RPG on a 16-bit system. In fact it was released a few months before the original Final Fantasy in the US. While now it might seem a bit archaic, at the time it was quite far ahead of its time in many regards. In terms of narrative it was far ahead of anything else at the time to my knowledge. The story seems quite simplistic but holds some hidden depths. The people of Algol relying so heavily on Mother Brain have become quite weak, one NPC even asks ‘why should I work?’. The game also features what is probably the first death of a playable character in a RPG, almost a decade before FFVII’s more famous example. What most impressed me however was the superb twist and ending.  It was quite unexpected and for a game of its era and very brave of the developers. I won’t spoil it but will say it was definitely worth playing through to experience it.

The use of static anime cutscenes was another innovation

If you do want to experience that ending though be warned; Phantasy Star 2 is a frighteningly tough game, possibly the toughest RPG to ever come out of Japan. Just like its predecessor, right from the start of the game you are in danger of being overcome by even the simplest random encounter. You have to grind like crazy to gain enough experience and money to equip yourself and be at a level where you can tackle each dungeon. The amount of grinding required can be painful but it was expected from RPGs at the time. The game is more influenced by western RPGs like Wizardry than the more accessible Dragon Quest type RPG.

The battle system is quite simple but elegantly designed. There’s not much to it other than attacking and healing. Spells are a valuable commodity and are usually saved for deadlier encounters. Most of the challenge comes from the resource management required to survive a trek into the games huge and confusing dungeons. The game operates on an auto battle system whereby your characters will keep attacking unless you choose to interrupt and give the characters an alternative strategy. This makes for an extremely quick battle system that gives the player plenty of control while making fights with less challenging enemies relatively painless.

One thing I really love about this game is how you acquire new allies. While other games have you seeking out new allies on your travels, in Phantasy Star 2 your allies will seek you out. Every so often when you come to a new town or dungeon if you return to your starting home you will meet a new ally that has heard of your exploits and has come seeking you out. There are eight characters to choose from, each with different skills, strengths and weaknesses. There’s a doctor who is good at healing, two characters that are good at either killing robots or bio monster enemies, a thief who can steal items from shops and a hunter who can attack multiple enemies at once. Some characters are more useful than others at different points of the game, for instance there are times when the bio monster specialist becomes useless when killer robots are sent after you, so careful choice of what characters you use is very important. Having characters with different specialities might sound standard for an RPG but at the time it was pretty revolutionary. Even having a choice of which characters to take in your party was unusual at the time. Most other RPGS of the era let you create your own characters or allowed very limited or even no specialisation after the characters role was chosen. Phantasy Star 2 had a lot more depth to the battle system than any RPG at the time despite seeming quite simplistic today.

The party lost in another confusing dungeon

Now for the bad stuff unfortunately and this game has quite a few issues other than being so grind heavy. In ways I feel that the game is actually worse looking than its predecessor on the lowly master system. While the enemies and attack animations during battles are fantastically animated and look much better than the static enemies of even the later SNES Final Fantasy the same background is used during each battle as opposed to the backgrounds changing depending on your location in the original Phantasy Star. Also the gorgeous first person dungeons of the original are replaced by dungeons with a top down view exactly like the world map and are much less visually appealing. I’m not finished with the dungeons however because whoever designed them is an absolute sadist. Each one is a huge sprawling mess of multiple floors and elevators. You can quickly become disorientated in them and it’s not helped by the use of a limited set of tiles in each dungeon making different areas seem very similar. The layouts are so confusing that the game came packaged with a players guide featuring maps of all the dungeons in the game and if you plan on finishing this game I suggest you use them or a walkthrough. Google the maps if you are interested in seeing just how convoluted they are. The original Phantasy Star had some complex dungeons but at least you could map them out using graph paper due to the first person view it used.

One last thing is the ‘bunny’ enemies you encounter later on. They sound cute but are in fact zombie bunnies that have animations of their intestines falling out and them putting them back in their stomachs. Even more terrifying is that they attack with their intestines. Bunnies should be cute Sega!

These guys are just... horrible!

 Phantasy Star 2 was a very interesting experience. It was equal parts fascinating to see just how far ahead of its time it was. However it was also equal parts infuriating when the game reminded you of its archaic ways when you got lost in yet another confusing dungeon or realised you have an hour of thankless grinding ahead of you just so you could afford the latest equipment needed to stand a chance in the next dungeon. I do believe it was a worthwhile experience and the cracking ending was reward enough. I do however plan on not playing this game ever again! One final tip for anyone wanting to take the plunge; once you get the thief character find out how to steal the viziphone item.  It allows you to save anywhere, and trust me, you will need it.

Later Aces!


  1. Ah, I remember this one. I never owned it - but I borrowed it a couple of times from a friend. I did not beat the game, but I have seen the ending on Youtube since, and I have to agree that it was not what I expected - but it was a fun game and one that I have always meant to revisit, but just haven't yet (especially considering I beat the first, 3rd and 4th titles)

    1. It's a tough one to go back to play but since you've survived PS1 I'm sure PS2 shouldn't be too much of a bother. I can't stress how much help those maps are though!

  2. Oh, I believe it. I can't quite recall where I got stuck, truth be told. I mean, this was years ago - I think I was trying to find some dam or something. I felt like I was a good ways into the game, but just never got past whatever hurdle I ran into. back before maps and walkthroughs populated the intertubes. ;)

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