Phantasy Star Generation: 2

Videogame remakes in some cases can be hit-or-miss opportunities. On the one hand, they give developers a chance to allow contemporary gamers a chance to play an enhanced version of an older title, but on the other, changing things significantly, particularly with regards to the gameplay, risks offending the fanbases of the original versions, and supposedly being inferior. During the PlayStation 2 era, Sega set about remaking the first, second, and fourth (skipping the third) Phantasy Star titles, although they only got up to releasing an updated incarnation of the first sequel, titled Phantasy Star Generation: 2, which mixes up things compared to the Genesis version.

As in the Mega Drive iteration, battles are randomly-encountered, although an item can temporarily nullify encounters, although the game gives no indication of when its effects are gone aside from an encounter with foes, with the escape option not always working, even against weaker antagonists. The player’s party of up to four characters squares off against up to a quartet of adversaries, with each character able to execute a normal attack. New to the PS2 version, however, is the ability to select one of three different levels of attack, with increased power at the cost of decreased accuracy.

Odds are that most players will wish to attack enemies with the most powerful levels of attack unless they’re low on health (with HP against normal enemies displayed, alongside a flowing circle indicating elemental weakness), or certain characters just aren’t powerful in terms of physical strength. Since MP-recovering items are scarce, moreover, players won’t want to rely on magical abilities too often, although a new feature that is actually welcome are limit breaks for each character that become available after a gauge fills via certain commands such as defending, with some of these actually being pretty handy, a few hitting all foes for sizeable damage (although one has low accuracy).

As in the Genesis version, characters and the enemy, once the player has inputted the former’s commands, execute their actions depending upon agility, with victory obtained once all foes have been vanquished, another new feature being the ranking of fights based on performance that dictate bonus experience points for occasional level-ups. Yet another new feature is timed defense to reduce damage from enemy attacks, although successful defense can be a struggle in many cases. The remake raises the level cap to ninety-nine unlike fifty in the Mega Drive incarnation, making the upgraded port a tad grindier than the 16-bit iteration.

The battle system works decently for the most part, although the aforementioned grindiness is a bit of a detriment, and many players will likely dread getting into battle, wishing to use the mentioned item to reduce encounters. The game, furthermore, can become borderline unplayable unless the player acquires an item that allows them to save their game anywhere, especially since death takes players back to the title screen without a chance to restart the lost battle or revive at a checkpoint with money lost. It’s not a bad system, but could have definitely been better, in spite of superfluous features such as the varying levels of physical attacks.

Interaction is superficially decent, given easy menus, although while shopping, the player can’t see item effects or how equipment increases or decreases character stats, and saving, unless the player acquires the Visiphone, is only accomplished in towns. Switching playable characters, moreover, necessitates that the player revisits the first town in the game. Most damnable, however, is the convoluted dungeon design, which wouldn’t have been a problem had automaps, a staple of even older games such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, been present, and as dungeons have been redesigned, Genesis version maps are useless. In the end, control is one of the weaker aspects of the game.

The story is still weak and thinly-spread out as it was in the original, with most of the playable characters being blank-slate, although there are occasional twists and connections to the first game.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of the remake is the enhanced soundtrack, with plenty of techno themes that always fit the mood, and variable beginnings of the main battle theme if the player surprises the enemy or is taken by surprise by foes, although more diversity, particularly with regards to boss themes (with the standard “The Place of Death” still being good, though), would have been welcome.

The graphics also look nice, with vibrant hues and well-proportioned character sprites alongside gorgeous art direction and fully-animate enemies and characters in battle, although said sprites outside battle only face four directions and don’t show much expression, with the anime art doing most of the work. Even so, a beautiful game.

Finally, playing without the aid of walkthroughs can take two days’ worth of time total, although using guides and maps (with those for the remake unfortunately of little help due to not indicating which elevators and stairs connect), can expedite playtime. After beating the game, the player can save clear data allowing them to start from the beginning, although there really isn’t much difference in a secondary playthrough.

Overall, Phantasy Star Generation: 2 is a remake that hits many of the right marks with regards to things such as the touched-up battle system and upgraded audiovisual presentation, although it does leave room for improvement regarding aspects such as its grindy nature, the difficulty without the helpful Visiphone, the convoluted dungeon design, and lack of lasting appeal, even with clear saves. Although by no means a perfect remaster of a classic, it certainly didn’t deserve to kill a future remake of the fourth game. Fortunately, those without knowledge of Japanese will be happy to know that a complete translation exists for the remake.

The Good:
+New features in battle welcome in most cases.
+Item can allow players to save their game anywhere.
+Nice updated soundtrack.
+Pleasing graphics.

The Bad:
-A little grindy, with some new features somewhat superfluous.
-Only playable with Visiphone.
-Needs dungeon maps badly.
-Little reason to replay.

The Bottom Line:
A good remake, though other kinds of enhancements would have been welcome.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 4/10
Difficulty: Very Hard
Playing Time: ~2 Days

Overall: 6.5/10

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