Tag Archives: Phantasy Star II

Some JRPGs demand you grind from the get-go

grinding early in RPGs GD

I finally got around to trying out that free and standalone-like 3DS demo for Bravely Default: Flying Fairy last night, but this post is not going to be explicably about that game. I need more time with it to both figure out my thoughts and overall opinions, as well as to decide on whether or not I’ll pick up the full retail copy, which drops today. I suspect I will, whether I love or loathe the demo to pieces, because these kind of strange JRPGs are far and few between, and my thinking is that by supporting it with a purchase, I’m helping to make strides towards a North American release for Fantasy Life. Wishful thinking, sure…but it’s better than doing nothing.

But Bravely Default got me thinking about the various RPGs and JRPGs that really make you grind for levels and money from the very start, because, at least in the demo, it downright demands you do it. The very first fight outside of town resulted in one character in my party of four dead, two badly hurt and poisoned, and the remaining member okay at half of his HP. I’m on the default–pun intended–level of difficulty, and I’m pretty good at turn-based combat, but I don’t think I have the whole brave and default techniques down just yet. That said…yowzas. The combat is brutally tough, and so for my first hour and change with the demo, I’ve just been going back and forth to the inn to heal up, fight monsters in the desert, and rinse and repeat until my eyelids grow too heavy to keep playing. It’s honestly not terrible, as I’m used to grinding, but I always find it strange when a game makes it impossible to progress without it at the very beginning of the journey. Let me list a few other examples.

One of my fondest gaming memories, just in general, always comes back to Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. See, when I moved out of my parents’ house and up to northern New Jersey for my newly acquired post-college job, I lived off the grid for several months, relying on previously purchased videogames and DVDs for nightly entertainment while I held off on getting cable and Internet. DQVIII filled that space greatly, but it’s a slow game, and you do have to grind for a little bit in the very beginning at the Waterfall Cave section, otherwise the final boss of that area can wipe your party out quite quickly. If I recall, there’s a small section of healing water you can keep drinking from to restore your team’s health, making this place perfect for grinding, and, at the time, it certainly seemed necessary.

Dragon Fantasy (Book 1) is made up of three different storylines and a strange one-off inspired by all things Minecraft. Ignoring the latter and focusing on the former, of the three separate but connected plots, one storyline, by its very design, requires you to grind a whole bunch before you can even get to the first dungeon and safely explore it at a decent clip. In Ogden’s storyline, he is an old, washed-up man out to make a name for himself again, but that means fighting all the battles by himself, which is slower and more grindy than the other two campaigns. It meant fighting battles until Ogden was nearly out of health, run to the nearest inn, spend some gold to heal, and go back out to do it all over again. Not the most exciting time, but I ended up playing a lot of Dragon Fantasy (Book 1) while watching Netflix or Giant Bomb videos.

The first hour or so of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is both magical and devastating, and not just because something terrible happens to Oliver’s mother. I’m talking about the area just outside the Golden Grove. It still gives me the shivers to this day. The monsters here are so powerful and aggressive that your small team of nobody really doesn’t stand a chance, and so you have two options: run and hope to avoid every fight, or go back into the woods and grind a bit for levels, money, and health-restoring items. Naturally, me being me, I ran for it. Which was not very successful for the first few attempts, though I did eventually get out of the area, only to find myself in an even more dangerous spot, though much more suited for grinding.

Oh boy. Now, truthfully, I only stopped playing Phantasy Star II because the cold weather is here, and the Xbox 360 is in the living room, which gets no heat for the whole horrid season, and so it must wait until the snow melts before I can get back into it. And by it, I naturally mean grinding for levels and much-needed moolah while trying to figure out exactly where to go next. Thankfully, the music is so good that it makes grinding more pleasant than not, but it took me forever just to reach the first Bio-Systems Lab areas.

Hey, remember Eternal Sonata? I sometimes do. Beautiful grass in that game, and it’s not every day you come across an RPG so heavily themed and dedicated to that theme. I mean, really…Polka is a terrible name for a young girl. But whatever. Every now and then, I think about going back and playing it some more. But that would mean starting over because I got to that ghost ship section and found myself severely under-leveled with no hope of gaining enough levels quick enough to defeat…uh, the boss Captain Dolce. From reading up some walkthroughs, it sounds like I messed up and didn’t spend enough time aimlessly grinding when I could. Oh well.

I’m sure if I spent some more time looking through my collection I could come up with another five to ten RPGs that are grind-heavy early on, but I need to end this post somewhere. If you have one I missed talking about, let me know about it in the chat! That is, if you can spare some time away from your efficient, but meticulous level-gaining strategy.

Life in Phantasy Star II is peaceful until Biomonsters show up

phantasy star II early thoughts copy

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.