Phantasy Star II - Retroview

Still crazy after all these years

By: Leonard Dawkins

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 9
   Plot 9
   Localization 7
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

25-40 Hours


Phantasy Star II

   The original Phantasy Star, released for the Sega Master System, was the first true rpg to grace consoles in this country. It impressed gamers with its innovative, open-ended gameplay, epic story line and strong science-fiction atmosphere, a departure from traditional pen and paper role playing games which featured primarily fantasy settings. A true classic in every sense of the word, Phantasy Star II had some pretty big shoes to fill. And fill them it does, expanding on the mythos established by the original while adding 16-bit graphics and sound in a game that clearly respects its predecessor but is not derivative of it.

   The original used anime-inspired characters to tell a story in graphically impressive cut-scenes, and the sequel is much the same. You control a young hunter named Rolf, whose job it is to search out the cause of the recent monster attacks in his area. While this may seem to be the most used cliché in RPG history, it must be noted that this game preceded most others of its kind, and thus paved the way for such storylines. Regardless, there will be several twists and changes in objective before you reach your goal, and seven friendly characters (of whom you can control three at any given time) who will lend a hand.

   To accomplish these goals Rolf will travel throughout his entire planet, and as fans of the original know, another planet or two in addition to this. Along the way, you will traverse towns and dungeons, and here is where the sequel departs from the original. Eschewing the first-person maze view of the first game, Phantasy Star II adopts a top-down approach to dungeons, allowing the player to survey their surroundings before proceeding. Gone with this view switch is (for the most part) the need to map every area before finding the correct route, a fact which might alternately please or infuriate fans of the original. And while this change might seemingly simplify exploration, the fact is that the dungeons can be ridiculously complex, often doubling back on themselves or forcing the player to travel from floor to floor multiple times.

"...and my eyes get really big when I'm excited!"  

   Still, each area, however large, has a distinct graphical feel. You will face dank biological or technological facilities, complete with eerie neon lighting, and tropical forests that contain colorful trees and mist. The graphics are all pleasing to the eye, ensuring that while you might be spending some time in a dungeon, you won't be offended by drab surroundings. Battles, unfortunately, are not quite the same; one of the games' few shortcomings is the fact that all fights take place in front of a simple blue grid. While animations for enemies' and characters' attacks are generally fluid, the lack of any real background can be somewhat disheartening.

   That gripe aside, Phantasy Star II contains a wonderful musical score that suits the game perfectly. Much like the original Phantasy Star, almost all the tracks in the game do something to add to the experience, changing in mood from futuristically upbeat town music to a quietly frightening boss track. Many of the tunes will stay in your head long after shutting off the system, a testament to how well the soundtrack fits the game. While sound effects tend to be simple and unoriginal, they suit their purposes and do not irritate or detract from the gaming experience.

   The game play itself is fairly simple, in both exploration and battle, playing like almost any RPG on the market. Run, sail, and fly across a map from town to town, facing enemies along the way, and brave the aforementioned dungeons. In this respect, there is very little variety, with no bonus areas to be found. Still, there is never a question of where to go next, and helpful townsfolk will also point you in the right direction if you should get confused. The interface suffers, if you care to call it that, from the same lack of variety, featuring simple drop down menus that are easy to navigate.

   Another topic which should be discussed is difficulty, which depending on how patient you are, can range from moderate to near impossible. As mentioned earlier, the later dungeons can be mind numbingly complex, forcing the player to take notes as so not to get lost. Getting your hands on a copy of the hint guide that comes packaged with the genesis version of the game can make things infinitely easier in this regard, as they contain full maps of each area, but if you can't…prepare to spend some time shouting at your television screen. The boss battles, though few and far between, are nothing to scoff at either, often demolishing your party; sending you back to the nearest town to lick your wounds and travel through their dungeon again. Level gaining can be required at these points, and acquiring the hidden visiphone (a handy device that will let you save anywhere) is a must.

Arch Dragons are indiginous to the blue grid region of Dezoris.
Arch Dragons are indiginous to the blue grid region of Dezoris.  

   All in all, this review might not seem to warrant the score given, but there are intangibles that make the difference. Simply put, there is no game out there that can match the 'feel' of the Phantasy Star II. It is a game which immerses you in its world, and will stay in your head until long after you've beaten it. The rewards for sticking through the rough parts will more than make up for the simple frustration that some might get from the exploration-heavy dungeon crawls. While there are what you might call some minor discontinuities, (clone grandma's sudden refusal to help you, shortening of planet's names, lack of control in a critical later battle) the translation and story line are certainly serviceable, and in the case of the latter, unforgettable. It should then be mentioned that this game contains, in the reviewer's opinion, one of the two greatest ending sequences in RPG history, an amazing twist which should shock and delight anyone who plays. While the slow pace may put off fans of newer, 'flashier' RPG's, for those who wish to invest in a game of impeccable overall quality, few games will satisfy more than this. Phantasy Star II is a game which may not get the highest marks in any one area, but does everything properly, creating an atmosphere which has yet to be duplicated in the fifteen years since this game was first released.

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