How I came about playing Phantasy Star II recently probably says too much about my personality, but I’m going to explain my reasoning nonetheless. Because it is not often that I dip back into the Mega Drive/Genesis era of the early 1990s to play a 16-bit Japanese role-playing game that just about tells you nothing as you go from futuristic building to building, fight to fight. See, some time ago, somebody asked Giant Bomb‘s Jeff Gerstmann what his favorite JRPG was, and his response was a flat, non-emphasized Phantasy Star II. I’m forever always interested in people’s answers to this question and–despite that JRPGs are such a niche, often dismissed genre–preferences can surprisingly run the gamut.
First I had to see if I had a copy of Phantasy Star II somewhere in my collection. The name certainly sounded familiar, but maybe only because I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling online about how Phantasy Star Online II–totally a different game–is probably not ever coming to U.S. shores. Evidently, Jeff’s favorite JRPG is available on a number of platforms, but it turns out it’s included in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, a gathering of Genesis titles for the Xbox 360/PS3 that I played through some years back, eventually unlocking all the Achievements, too. At that time, I was embarrassingly more crazy about Achievements than I am now, and I only played the games included in the collection that were tied to a ping-able digital award, and Phantasy Star II was not part of that big bunch. Either way, it was fun to discover that I already had a copy ready to go, ready to be experienced blindly.
I have no idea what happened in the first Phantasy Star and if II is an actual narrative sequel or more like the Final Fantasy franchise where every story is separate and unique. Anyways, it begins with a nightmare. The embodiment of evil called Dark Force has returned to the peaceful Algo Star System. Mother Brain, a computer system built to control and maintain order, has began to malfunction, and the main character, a blue-haired boy named Rolf, has to figure out why.
And that’s all I know so far because I’ve basically spent my first two to three hours in Phantasy Star II grinding for essential experience points and Meseta, walking back and forth between the town of Paseo and the wild grasslands just outside its walls. Rolf’s commander has ordered him to visit the Biosystems Lab where Biomonsters are created and bring back a recorder, and I’ll get there soon enough, but it seems impossible to survive the trip unless Rolf–and his purple-haired, pointy-eared friend Nei–are both around level 5 or 6. Something I wasn’t prepared for when going into this JRPG was just how little it told you: I’ve had to learn the combat, what the items do, how the menus work, who can equip what weapon and armor, and so on all by my lonesome. It’s all about self-discovery, but for those struggling, there’s also this fantastic website: http://www.phantasy-star.net/psii/psii.html. A great example of this is that Nei has a technique called RES, which I stupidly assumed had something to do with raising a character’s resistance, but it actually restores health, a spell I should have been using from the first step into the wild.
I walked away early on in Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light because I found the hands-free combat frustrating, and I’m unfortunately seeing similar trends in Phantasy Star II‘s battle system. Combat is continuous, meaning you press a button to have your party members begin attacking/defending, and they’ll keep doing that until they defeat the enemies or you step in to change something up. If you want to change any character’s actions for the next round, all you have to do is press a button before the current round ends. Right now, Rolf is my main attacker, and Nei handles healing and being a tank, taking a lot of damage. Thanks to writing this post and doing some light research across the Interwebz, now I know that Nei can attack too if you equip her with Steel Bars. Will do that pronto, for sure.
So far, the music is devilishly catchy, worming its way into my brain and looping for hours. The two tracks I’m loving and hearing the most are, naturally, Paseo’s town theme and the jams for exploring the overworld map. The bass is bouncy warm, and the cheery town tune is so dang cheery that I don’t ever want to go into a shop and have it stop playing. First-world problems, I know. However, I’m not actually sold on the battle music, and considering you are not actively involved for most of the battles and are just sitting there listening, that’s a bummer. And according to Wikipedia, everyone’s favorite website to trust, snare drums are much louder in the Japanese version of the game.
I’m definitely going to keep playing Phantasy Star II because I don’t think I’m still seeing it. Whatever it is. I mean, in truth, I’ve barely started this sci-fi journey to save a realm from monster invasion. I just hope I neither find myself overleveling the characters or stuck grinding to make it safely ten steps across the map. I guess once more people join my party and I can better equip everyone, progress will be much smoother, but until then I have to take things slow because I have no clue what anything is, money is tight, the threats are real, and without coddling learning is a poky process.