Phantasy Star Portable 2 review
Phantasy Star is an acquired taste amongst the role-playing faithful. It's unlike most of the experiences out there, with a deeper leveling-up system and a variety of customized classes to keep you returning for more. On the other hand, however, the strict online settings for the last few games have been a turn off for some, as well as the grinding, engaging in repetitive battles to get the highest stats possible. All of this returns with the latest release in the series, Phantasy Star Portable 2, and while that won’t change the minds of those who aren’t fans, those who are will happily embrace what’s here.
The game's events take place roughly three years after what unfolded in Phantasy Star Universe on the other platforms. The four races that were in combat at that time have since been shut down and removed from SEED. But following their elimination, the land of Gurhal is in great turmoil, with resources dwindling down. The citizens are left to migrate into outer space, under the watchful eye of Little Wing, a military group that your character belongs to. As with any journey into uncharted territory, your team runs into plenty of trouble.
One of Phantasy Star's key points is being able to customize your character, and Portable 2 lets you do just that. You can choose facial types, gender, body types (go for big and girthy or something a little more muscular, your call) and voice settings. From there, you can also assign Photon Points, although they're no longer associated with weapons. They now coordinate with your character.
You might notice less classes in this sequel, which will be a letdown for those who appreciate variety. However, that means the remaining ones get a much better focus, as you can enhance your character's abilities in a much more specific manner, particularly with Photon Points. It's a change for the better.
After you customize your character, you can either choose to take on missions to enhance your skills or try the game's 10-chapter story mode, which will take a few sessions to finish. Either way, you’re in for a few exciting battles, along the same lines as previous Phantasy Star games. Along with traditional attack methods, you can also block incoming threats, roll out of the way, or chain together attacks. If you’re a fan of the Just Attacks that have surfaced in recent games, they also make a return, timing them so they do the most damage. For beginners, there are a few tutorial missions to help become acquainted with the basics.
There's plenty of upgrading to perform, and the normal missions don’t take nearly as long to complete as the story mode, should you be in the mood for quick battles. Still, with the changes implemented and the classes refined, the gameplay still gets a little stale from time to time. You wander, enter a battle, level up, and mostly repeat, with only a few diversities here and there to break up the monotony. It's good for short-term play, but unless you're dedicated, you'll probably be stifling back yawns if you spend more than two hours in this world.
Unless, of course, you have good company. Phantasy Star Portable 2 features online accessibility via a download code (similar to the Online Pass with EA Sports' and THQ's games), so you can hook up with friends. While the method of hooking up with fellow players is different than previous games (rather than wandering around a real-world hub, you access menus), it’s free of charge, a nice change of pace from previous games. Online runs smoothly enough, though chatting is a real pain in the neck without a pop-up cell phone-style keyboard.
For a portable role-playing game, Phantasy Star Portable 2 looks and sounds good. It won't replace the next-gen experience that Phantasy Star Universe has provided, but it's almost at the same level. Character animations are refreshing (especially the larger enemies) and the sound effects and samples do rather well. The music's is rather good too, though we would’ve preferred more classic Phantasy Star tunes.
Although Sega really hasn't gone to great extents to attract casual players with Phantasy Star Portable 2, long-time fans will no doubt enjoy the gameplay tweaks and online features – not to mention leveling up to around 200. If that's your thing, have at it.