Phantasy Star II

The desert planet Mota has been transformed into a thriving, flora-laden planet thanks to a computer named Mother Brain. In the planet’s capital, Paseo, an agent named Rolf is tormented by nightmares of a girl battling a giant demon. After he awakes, Rolf is sent to investigate the sudden appearance of monsters on the planet. His investigation, however, will ultimately lead to far greater events in the Algo System. Phantasy Star II, originally released on the Sega Genesis and ported to the Gameboy Advance as part of the Phantasy Star Collection, proves to be a worthy and challenging sequel.

Combat is turn-based, and poses some changes over the original Phantasy Star. One is the presence of more than four playable characters, with the player able to have a variety of party formations, changeable at Rolf’s home in Paseo. New characters typically show up at his home whenever the player reaches a new town on Mota, with all characters having their own advantages and weaknesses. Some characters even have really helpful abilities; for instance, one character, Shir, can occasionally steal items from shops if her levels are high enough.

In random battles, players can input a variety of commands for their party, including normal attacks, magic, items, and escaping. Most characters can wield more than one weapon, which can allow for up to two attacks against the enemy party. Moreover, characters can use certain equipment for various effects in battle, which can really come in handy against the toughest bosses near the end of the game. Phantasy Star II also makes it easy to execute commands, since changing character commands before each round begins is optional, with battles largely being automatic until the player decides to cancel continuous execution of commands during a round.

Battles are mostly fast-paced and provide a good challenge through the game, though the last two bosses will certainly require a bit of leveling; thankfully, a certain skill Rolf acquires when his levels are high enough can make the last bosses easier. There are some flaws, moreover, such as the typical unpredictability of turn order present in most turn-based RPGs of the time, but otherwise, combat is one of the game’s highlights.

Interaction could’ve used some improvement, though. Players will undoubtedly have to refer to guides to see the effects of items and spells, and the shopping interface leaves players clueless as to how new equipment will affect their characters’ stats. Players, moreover, can only manage characters currently in their party. Granted, there are some redeeming factors such as spells that exit dungeons (which, even in 2-D, can be fairly complex) and teleport players back to the last save point as well as instant teleportation among visited towns, although the developers could’ve certainly improved interaction.

As with its predecessor, the futuristic setting of Phantasy Star II sets it apart from other RPGs of the time, as do aspects such as the advanced visuals, the new setting, the change from first-person to third-person dungeons, and so forth. The sequel does contain links to its predecessor, although it’s still fairly distinctive overall.

Even the story is a little better. Going to headquarters or Rolf’s home in Paseo can reveal a little backstory on the characters and the worlds in which the game takes place, and there are nice links to the original Phantasy Star as well as a few good twists and slightly emotional moments. The plot, does, however, suffer from poor pacing and the general brevity of its cutscenes, but is otherwise a step up from the first game’s story.

Even the music is better than the first game’s, featuring a number of catchy techno tracks albeit with somewhat lackluster quality and redundant sound effects. The visuals, as in the first game, are nice, featuring nice coloring and reasonable diversity among the many dungeons, though the character sprites could’ve used a bit more detail. There are some nice anime character portraits and occasional cutscenes, though, and characters and enemies in battle are nicely animated. Overall, Phantasy Star both looks and sounds decent.

Playing time, finally, is largely a matter of luck depending on how quickly the player makes it through the complex dungeons and how much he or she needs to level to defeat the bosses, ranging somewhere from twenty-five to forty hours. All in all, Phantasy Star II is a solid, challenging sequel, continuing the decent presentation of its predecessor while featuring an enjoyable, fast-paced battle system. The controls and dungeons might alienate certain players, though the sequel evokes decent nostalgia; it would receive a remake on the Playstation 2, which, unfortunately, is unlikely to reach American shores.

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