Since the first Phantasy Star game on the Sega Master System way back in 1987, there have been several additions to the franchise. The latest of which, is Phantasy Star Portable 2, an extension to the Phantasy Star Universe series and sequel to Phantasy Star Portable. With players from the first game able to transfer over their data, this provides an instant impetus to dive right into the world of Phantasy Star, a world which would rival some MMOs in sheer size.
Players will begin their journey by creating a unique character. There are a ton of customisation options, which is great as it prevents seeing perfect clones of your own character elsewhere in the game. It's even possible to change the outfit your character wears, along with their race. The races range from Human, Newman (a form of elf), CAST (androids) and Beasts. There are also 4 class choices: Hunters, the melee specialists; Rangers, gun specialists; Forces, tech (magic) specialists; and Vanguards, a Jack of all Trades class.
From here, players can either opt to jump straight into the story or multiplayer. If players opt for the story they will be shortly greeted by a character called Emilia, who has been left behind by her boss and has become trapped in the ruins. From here, the player ends up on a big space ship called Clad 6 and working for Emilia's boss, a man called Kraz. The story is well developed it is presented to the player in short dialogue sequences with loosely translated expressions. Longer conversations are also fragmented by requiring player input with optional answers.
Expect plenty of plot twists and softer moments as Emilia's character develops, but only when the game doesn't stray away from the dialogue. This is because the voice acting and cutscenes feel very forced. Fortunately they are also rather sparse.
Initially understanding how the story comes into play can be a little perplexing, as it requires speaking to the various people on Clad 6, the hub of Little Wing. Once the right people have been spoken to a mission becomes available. But in the mean time players can actually participate in Open missions instead. These enable players to gain experience and to hunt for new items/equipment. What's nice though is that doing these won't reflect on the story at all. Missions are scaled based on the player's current level, which means they should always represent the same challenge.
The format of story missions is much the same throughout. Players navigate areas, kill monsters, open doors, obtain keys, open more doors and avoid traps. Some missions do introduce other objectives such as preventing equipment from being destroyed, but don't expect missions to differ too much from the norm.
Fortunately, the combat prevents the experience from feeling stale. Players attack with Square and if timed correctly, can to do more damage. Performing combo attacks on enemies also allows players to do a finisher for a lot of damage using triangle. Triangle moves can be performed at any time, but because they drain PP, using them randomly is extremely ineffective. Finding a perfect balance allows players to be extremely destructive. When perfect blocks, counters and Special Race specific moves are thrown in as well, it adds a lot more diversity to the experience.
Finishers can also be interchanged with several variables for each weapon type and there are 28 different weapon types. Some are twin and single variations of a similar weapon but they have their own special abilities. Enemies also have weaknesses to certain elements and weapons have their own elemental affinities too. To compliment this, the game allows players to activate several weapon sets at once and swap between them using circle. In turn this actually makes combat really fun, and when you consider that certain weapons allow for techniques as well a form of magic, players have a lot to experiment with.
The enemies themselves also have a lot of variation to some degree. Most can be just dealt with using frontal assaults, but as the game progresses more tactical approaches are required. Status effects can really be quite crippling. Online this isn't as bad because playing with others means it can actually be removed, however, in the story AI partners unfortunately don't understand how to remove these status effects and will often stand bewildered while the enemy pummels you to the ground. This can be quite frustrating in the later parts of the game when adverse status effects are much more frequent. The AI also seems to get hit by traps and certain attacks far more than they should, which can be aggravating. It is possible to leave AI out of missions completely, but taking them along for the ride will reduce damage incurred, which at the end of the day is the most important thing. It would be nice if they were more than just a meat shield though.
Overall the game looks pretty good. Some of the weapons and the effects produced look very cool, especially the rare weapons which have unique appearances. The environments are also attractive to look at, although some of the more corridor and indoor structures can look a bit bland in places. The draw distance is a little short, but the important things are still able to be seen, such as enemies and doors. The music and sound design is also complimentary to the gameplay and sci-fi anime theme and it's a testament to the team that the sound effects associated with weapons don't become repetitive. With the amount of customisation available too it's extremely fun to step online and just see how other people look.
The game has a lot to offer with regards to longevity, but the majority of it requires players to be online to fully appreciated it. The level cap is 200 and while the story can be finished without getting anywhere near this, there are a few different endings based on player performance. The real fun from the game comes from doing the open missions and the difficulty of these advances as the player becomes stronger. The difficulty also scales in these missions, but the harder ones obviously offer far more unique rewards. Couple this with challenge missions and it reinforces that this game can last for a considerable amount of time. There's always something to do, however, the majority of this is much better experienced online.
Phantasy Star Portable 2 is a decent RPG, but it doesn't really bring anything new to the table. The story is presented well enough, but it becomes fragmented by long missions and cutscenes/voice acting that feels forced. The visuals also don't seem that much improved from the last iteration. However, where Phantasy Star Portable 2 shines is with its content offering. There is a substantial amount of content available, especially online, and this will keep players busy for a ridiculous amount of hours. Hardcore players will really want to explore all the options available to them.