December 27, 2012

Phantasy Star II - Ranking

Story & World

The combination of high tech and fantasy aspects found in the first Phantasy Star are still prevalent here.  Swords and other melee weapons are used just as often as laser guns and people still prefer to walk everywhere rather than take vehicles.  The game makes good use of its sequel status, with many references to the events that took place in the first part.  The merits of its own storyline, however, is something of a mixed bag.  For the first half, the story moved along at a brisk pace.  Starting after Nei's death (sniff), it began to skid to a halt by forcing the completion of multiple dungeons just to advance a single plot point.  Slogging through the remaining dungeons though is worth it just for the cliffhanger ending.  My own personal epilogue has the group immediately being destroyed by the hundreds of humans and then fading to Lutz.  Lutz has an astonished look on his face.  He regrets both telling the group about the humans and then teleporting in the other members to their inevitable destruction.  Single tear.  Fade to black.

The game world feels much smaller than in the previous installment and having one planet destroyed didn't help with that.  In order to make the world appear bigger, paths between cities are extended by blocking the most direct route with a maze of twisting barriers.  This does achieve the desired effect but comes at the cost of making the entire world feel very linear.

Though most NPC dialogues are less than stellar, having a different language for Dezo was a nice touch.  When I first got to Dezo, I was so hurt up that I ran directly to the medical centre and brushed past any citizens.  Imagine my surprise and anger only to find I couldn't communicate and therefore couldn't heal (or buy new weapons).  I ended up warping back and finding each of the three Dezo cities thinking I'd be able to find at least one person I could talk to.  Nope.  It was only after finding out that the magic cap allowed telepathy with animals that it clicked.  I had had the magic and mogic caps all this time but didn't realize what they did.  Hot damn, I'm such a pro.  11/20

Character Creation & Development

No creation or development options at all.  Each character gains preordained stats and techniques with many techs overlapping multiple characters.  Luckily, the characters are still quite distinctive (in combat) due to restriction of weaponry and differences in technique sets.  For example, Anna uses slashers that hit a single enemy group but otherwise does below average damage, especially against robots (which tend to show up in single groups).  For robot-heavy areas, it's much better to take Rudo or Kain armed with their laser cannons.  Beyond combat, though, and each character becomes a blank follower after joining (until the end scene anyway).

Each piece of equipment bought or found is pretty much restricted to being equippable by just one or two characters.  It also would have been nice to know which character can equip a particular piece instead of using trial and error.  Some items have ability invokes that copy a technique but have infinite charges.  It's a hassle to use them in regular battles (due to interface) but came in handy during boss fights.  4/20

Combat & Monsters

Combat is predisposed to being automated; a single button press from the default position and the entire round plays out with zero input from the player.  To do anything different requires navigating through layers of menu to get the desired action.  After spending a minute or two getting everyone programmed in, the battle will begin automated and continue as such unless interrupted by the player.  It does make grinding that much easier but clunks up the more enjoyable combat scenarios.  Techniques are useful mostly for healing and getting around; combat techs tend to be too expensive for anything other than boss battles.

The switch over from organic monsters to metallic robots at midgame not only made sense story-wise but changed up the combat dynamics as well.  Hugh's bio-based techniques became useless and Kain's dormant robo-wrecking powers were brought into play.  Most monsters lacked any special attacks; there was the occasional poisoning or paralyzing.  Also lacking was number of boss fights — just three (Neifirst, Dark Falz, Mother Brain).  4/20

Graphics & Sound

The graphics overall look like slightly better than most offerings from the 8-bit clan but are fairly poor for a 16-bit console.  With it being so early in the 16-bit era, however, there will be some forgiveness as developers unlock the mega power of the Genesis hardware.  The colours are bright and vibrant and monster sprites are exceptional.  The sprites have to be decent enough to distract one from the complete lack of a background during battles.  The parallax scrolling of the rafters (or fog) in the dungeons is initially impressive but after obscuring a dead end wall for the umpteenth time, it gets real old, real fast.

Making up for the subpar graphics, the music is great and the Genesis provides a decent bass range that has been lacking up to this point.  The two best tracks, Pleasure (Mota town) and Restoration (Mota overworld), are both laid down on yo ass early so those who don't finish the game at least won't miss out on these gems.  Sound effects, in general, are okay although battle sounds didn't seem too appropriate for the weapon being used.  14/20

Gameplay

Weapons and armour are quite expensive on both Mota and Dezo.  Even after all the meseta gained due to unintentional grinding while being lost in certain dungeons, each new set of stores would drain all our cash.  Part of it was my fault, however; I was keeping all the characters up-to-date on equipment instead of just focusing on three.  Of course, extra grinding isn't such a big deal for the manchine, what with my Time Dilation Transmorgifier always loaded in my upper memory area and all.  Overall, the economy seems well-balanced.

The pacing in PSII suffers from a bell curve complex.  It starts off alright, keeps getting better and better until midgame, then nose-dives for the rest.  The second half contains up to four times more dungeons for each plot point and man, does it draaaaaggggg.  Making a map is pretty much required for most of the later dungeons as the sticky-wall technique loses its effectiveness.  At least there's pretty decent loot in those dungeons.

Having experienced all that the different characters have to offer, I don't think a replay would be in order.  The enjoyable atmosphere of Phantasy Star II just isn't enough to gloss over its shortcomings.  7/20

Final Ranking:  40/100

December 23, 2012

Phantasy Star II - End Game

Though the dams thought they were hardcore with all their dead ends and loops, they all fell to the might of the sticky-wall technique (eventually).  After doing four of these damn things, I was initially pleased as something other than more wandering happened.  The pleasure soon subsided, however; we were promptly captured by three of Mother Brain's Army Eye robots and then knocked the fuck out.  Things kinda got chaotic at this point.  We woke up imprisoned aboard the satellite Gaila — in spaaaaaace.

Death sentence, eh?  Guess I have
no reason to not try to escape.

Instead of a regular door made out of some sort of solid matter, the cells in Gaila are barricaded by row after row of extremely weak energy fields (one HP damage).  Felt kinda nice, actually.  After wandering a bit, all hell broke loose with alarms blaring and explosions rocking the satellite.  In an attempt to correct its orbit, we raced to the control panel, enduring many of the tickly fields.  We had to run from any enemy encounters as we were each surrounded by restrictive energy coils, preventing any attacks.  Arriving at the control panel, we were horrified to see that Gaila's orbit was decaying right into the planet Palm!

Oh wait, it's going to hit Parma
instead.  Nevermind.

More explosions followed by some daydreaming on my part and all of a sudden we were in some space pirate ship.  He somehow got us out of the Gaila before it smashed into Palm.  He showed us what happened after the satellite hit Palm.

Holy crap, was the Gaila made
out of nitroglycerin or what?

He dropped us off in Paseo on Mota, our heads still collectively reeling from the past few minutes.  He mentioned something about going to Dezo, the other remaining planet.  Ugh.  A whole other planet that I'm sure will not be lacking in mazes.  To get there, we get access to the very last spaceship on Mota which takes us directly to a maze on Dezo.  *sigh*  At least this one is more rigid in its layout and was quite easy to map.  It is also home to a bunch of cats who all look like Myau.

Seen here behind ALL THIS DAMN FOG!

This labyrinth dumps out to the surface of Dezo in three different locations.  Each location has one city filled with denizens who spew gobbledygook until I put on my mogic (yes, mogic) cap.  The group has acquired quite a lot of meseta and I was looking forward to checking out what sweet new weapons were available.

Merchant jackassery is not bound
to a single planet apparently.

I ended up blowing through our whole wad of meseta outfitting everyone.  Not just those in the immediate group but also the others back home in Paseo.  I've been keeping everyone rotating in and out of the group to ensure a fairly even spread in levels (though I definitely have favourites).  With the way the level system is designed, it is quite easy for a character with a lower level to catch up with the rest of the current party.  This has proved fruitful as certain characters are more useful in particular areas.  For example, Hugh, the biologist, has techniques that were useful against the biohazards but are now worthless against the machines of Mother Brain.  Nowadays he's pretty feckless but I still break him out from time to time.

The new equipment came in quite handy against the monsters of Dezo.  Two group regulars, Rudo and Anna, were armed with spread weapons doing decent damage.  I, of course, was my regular hardcore self, getting up close and personal with my Sword of Ang.  Leaving a path of now defunct robots in our wake, we found a hidden passageway leading down into a crevice which housed the next dungeon.  We knew from the Dezo citizens that somewhere in here was a man who may hold the key to finding Mother Brain.  This man apparently does not age and originally came from Mota (Motavia in PS I).  Much to my chagrin, it turns out to be Noah, who now goes by the much funnier name, Lutz.   He lays down the whole descendant deal that sequels love to do so much and then orders us to find some legendary equipment to deal with Mother Brain.  I can't argue against getting better weapons, so we were soon off.

I did it for the Lutz.

A prism given to us by Lutz unveiled four previously hidden dungeons.  Yay.  Each one holds two of the eight items we'll need.  All the items are prefixed with Nei, leading me to believe that my precious Nei was going to get resurrected.  Furthermore, I thought since Nei would be the one to use these items, that there would only be four of them (one weapon and three armour slots).  So after finding a Nei-item in a dungeon, I would warp out and go on to the next.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that I'd only done half the work and would have to hit up every dungeon again.  And some of these dungeons are just murder.  One has a multi-level pitfall theme where if the correct sequence of holes aren't taken, you end up having to warp or climb out and try again from the top.

Oh, and did I mention all the fucking
tower climbing as well!?!

Even though I had to revisit the dungeons, I was looking forward to having Nei resurrected.  I didn't know how she was going to use eight pieces of equipment but maybe they combined or something.  Returning to Lutz, I waited with bated breath for him to cast a spell or use a gizmo of some kind to bring Nei back to me.  Instead, Lutz just gave us a "Good job!", threw me a Neisword, and teleported us to Mom Brain's house.  Well, it was just about this time that I started to realize that Nei wasn't coming back.  In fact, after her death, she's never mentioned again.  So what's this damn Nei equipment for?  I'd been just carrying it around all this time, so as not to tarnish it for Nei.  Inspecting the equipment closer, it was soon apparent that they were just really good items meant for us.  Well, having those equipped probably would have helped during the second run on the dungeons.  Ugh, feels like amateur hour over here.

The final dungeon's layout is simple compared to some of the most recent but only the toughest monsters are worthy of wandering Mother Brain's hallways.  We eventually found a chest that was blocking a doorway, making it so that we had to open it (unnecessary, it's a bloody TREASURE chest.  It's going to get opened.).  The treasure in this case was a battle against evil incarnate.

Any meseta kickin' around in there?...  No?

It looked like a descendant of Dark Falz from the first Phantasy Star and was just as rough as well.  His special ability is to make one of us "evil", after which control is lost and they sit there moping until the Neisword decides to emit some light and cure them.  His other ability is a spread attack for near 100 damage to each of us.  The loss of character control and reliance on luck to regain it made this by far the most difficult encounter in the game.  After many attempts, we finally caught a break when the Neisword decided to be fairly active during combat and Dark Falz spent more time trying to curse us than doing damage.  Beyond Dark Falz, Mother Brain still needed to be dealt with.  I was dreading what special abilities she may have over Dark Falz's.

"Here's a little trick I learned
from my pet cuttlefish!"

She ended up being far easier, doing manageable amounts of damage and little else.  Without Mother Brain to run things for them, the people of Mota will have to learn to fend for themselves again.  I'm sure things will fall apart again in another thousand years or so.  Before leaving Mother Brain's ship, Lutz telepathically told us that there were people in the back of the ship.  Heading there, we found rows and rows of beings standing in lines.  Their leader told us that they were humans from the planet Earth, which they had rendered uninhabitable due to their exploitative nature.  They had come to the Algo to find a new home and created Mother Brain to slowly take control of Mota.  If that wasn't bad enough, they also admitted to destroying Palm.  They were pretty pissed about us wrecking their plans.  Just as they were about to attack, Lutz teleported in the other characters not in the core group (why couldn't he have just teleported us directly to Mother Brain then?).

Y'all fought together and y'all'll die together.

As the human horde approached us, we all took a turn to pose in a sweet stance and quip a defiant quotable (except for me, I just gave a stoic, badass stare down).

They have to have at least
-2 Morale after all that.

I never found out whether we won or lost as my essence was torn from my avatar at that moment and returned to my regular manchine interface.  Perhaps I'll find out when Phantasy Star III rolls around.


December 12, 2012

Phantasy Star II - Long Distance Runaround

All of our wandering didn't amount to finding Climatrol but rather a large garbage disposal facility inhabited by native Motavians.  They apparently love sifting through garbage and making little gizmos and crafts.  Blessing their child-like innocence and wonder, we continued to look condescendingly down on the Motavians.  To our surprise, we soon ran into one who had constructed a fully functioning, four person jet scooter complete with tinted windows and chrome finish.  Even more to our surprise, they get bored with it immediately and get back to picking through waste, leaving us to jack their ride.

Never mind that, stupid conscience!
Go go go!

With our sweet new ride, we set about to cruisin' the open oceans and fightin' sea monsters.  We came across a whirlpool of sorts and made note of it.  The jet scooter isn't airtight and can't dive worth a damn so we need something to help us breathe underwater.  Well, we live a high tech world so there must be something available to help us brave the watery depths.  A submersible?  Haven't seen one.  Scuba gear?  None around.  Oh!  Of course!  How about some gum that generates oxygen as you chew it?!  It doesn't exist yet but we know someone who is working on that completely insane invention.  All he needs are some rare Maruera leaves located on a mountainous island called Uzo.  There's only a few islands on Mota anyhow but the entrance is hidden and took a bit of searching to find.  Climbing up the mountain was a bit rough but we stumbled upon the tree on our first attempt — or so we thought.

I'm surprised I can tell the difference.

After finding about five more of these fakes (in as many days), we came across, what I'm sure was, the last plant on the entire mountain range.  With foot blisters the size of small turnips, I invoked my Hinas-Ryuka technique combo to return to the city.  Navigating Uzo was a real pain, with multiple dead ends and tough enemies.  And so the trend continues.  There weren't even any unguarded treasure chests lying around, which was odd.  Anyway, the crazy inventor actually made his oxygen-gum invention work and gave us an unlimited supply.  Gum in mouth (mmmm... oxygeny), we could now enter the whirlpool and, presumably, Climatrol.  With the Uzo maze fresh in my mind, I decided to actually try to map Climatrol using a simple line system roughly connecting teleporter locations.  Well, this turned out to be a disaster as my maps somehow made me even more lost.  I need a grid-based dungeon, dammit!

Can't we just slash / shoot
our way through here?

Climatrol required around five visits to finally get through; my crap map was abandoned and I opted to use the tried and true method of keeping left.  This resulted in immediate success and the map was treated with a one-way trip to the recycling facility.  For the party, we were also treated with a boss fight as well as some plot development to shake things up.  A duplicate of Nei, called Neifirst, has been responsible for generating the biohazard monsters.  She was created by an experiment mixing humans and monsters but she was deemed too dangerous and was slated for destruction.  She escaped, stole DNA data, and proceeded to generate monsters to get revenge.  Our Nei somehow split off of Neifirst and has been trying to stop her ever since.  I guess Nei had amnesia or something because any of that information would have been useful before now.  Hearing Neifirst's words now, Nei flips out and attacks Neifirst solo, getting killed in one hit.  With her last bunch of breaths, Nei gives a heartfelt speech about goodness and then dies, leaving me inconsolable.

*sniff* I'll just nibble on those alluring ears
once more — for old times' sake.

Rudo and I proceeded to beat on Neifirst while Hugh threw Dimates (healing potions) into our mouths.  Neifirst didn't last long and soon we ended her monster-generating reign of terror... as well as her control of Climatrol.  With no one controlling it, Climatrol runs haywire and a global flooding of Mota begins.

Did I do that?... Whoopsie daisy!

In order to prevent the flood, four dams must be opened (though shouldn't just opening one work?).  Of course, these can't be opened remotely and so we'll have to enter each of their undoubtedly maze-like passages and find the switch.  Unfortunately for us, Mother Brain has issued an order to have us captured for the Climatrol incident.  Instead of fighting biohazards, we now have to contend with security robots who are only programmed to bring the pain.

Our healer proving that she's
got some big brass ones.

I'm sure that each of the dams will feature long, convoluted paths and multiple attempts but hopefully the keeping left or right method will hold up.  If not, I guess I'll have to... *shudder*... draw up a more detailed map.

December 06, 2012

[Game 030] Phantasy Star II (GEN - 1989)


While the Master System is sorely lacking in turn-based RPGs, the Genesis begins to pull up the slack with a decent number of releases (though still nowhere near the NES or the SNES).  The Phantasy Star franchise again gets to break the proverbial cherry for RPGs on a Sega console (the first was done waaayyy back at Game 003).  In proper sequel fashion, the look and sound of PSII is immediately reminiscent of the first installment.

I can see not giving Noah a
name-drop but Myau?

After this short overview of the last game, the current situation on Mota unfolds.  Due to the arid conditions of the planet, civilization has been forced to build domed cities and landscapes.  Proper maintenance of these domes are handled by a gigantic computer called the Mother Brain.  Everything was going fine until monsters (known as Biohazards) started showing up (story of my life).  I, the somnolent Nung, awaken from dreaming about the first Phantasy Star and begin to ramble to myself.

I was also head of my exposition
class three years running.

My commander tells me that I should go investigate the Bio-Systems Lab, where the outbreak of monsters is believed to have started.  As I start to ask for backup or perhaps a weapon better than this pocket knife I have, the commander stops me with a wave of his hand and tells me to "Just git 'er dun".  Seriously considering retirement, I head home to prepare to leave.  Nei, a foxy lady who is part biohazard herself, refuses to let me leave without her.  She showed up seven months ago and has been staying with me ever since (Hey, Shen ain't no speciesist).

Just me, baby... just me.

Luckily, the commander didn't give me any kind of deadline on this assignment, so Nei and I spent the better part of this week with me killing monsters with my knife while she hid in the bushes and cast RES (healing) spells at me.  Classic tank-healer combo.  Flush with meseta, we scurry into town and buy some headgears before heading into the weapon shop.  We run into a bit of snag here dealing with the world's worst salesman.

Ouch!  Emasculation damage x2
coming from this guy.

Well, his sick burn must have had some impact on me as, after purchasing the dagger anyway, I was unable to wield it.  I'm quite the agent if an off-hand rib from a local merchant can completely destroy my ego.  I am so despondent that Nei has to drag me back into the wilderness where all the monsters I slay now seem to be topped with a thick mat of voluminous red hair.

NO, YOU MUST JOKING!  YOU MUST BE
JOKING! UHHHH-HUH-HUH-HUUUH

My confidence returns after we reach the next town and I manage to purchase a new weapon from a clerk who isn't a jerk (though they have the same terrible hair style).  Our path to the Bio-Systems Lab is blocked by a bandit named Darum who is known to be robbin' folks.  His daughter, Teim, has been kidnapped and he is trying to raise the 50,000 meseta ransom.  Rather than help him raise the cash, we elect to just rescue Teim our own damn selves.

We'll have to find another way
around; there's no way I'm jumping
over these tubes or whatever.

Since the ransomers will no doubt be on the lookout for Teim, she puts on a veil to hide her face.  Unfortunately, she forgets to take it off before meeting Darum and also forgets to identify herself after Darum demands meseta from her.  We watch the drama unfold from the sidelines, not wanting to get involved in family quarrels.

K, way is clear now.  Let's go, gang!

We now have an open path to the Bio-Systems Lab and waste no time in exploring its vast, monster-infested corridors.  Well, we waste a little time in order to grind out a few levels for Amy, a doctor who just decides to join us after hearing about our biohazard investigation.

I have a different idea for a sign of closeness.
*wink*(k, I gotta stop hitting on all the females)

We also have a gun-toting brute named Rudo in the group but he's fairly quiet and I had forgotten about him up until now.  Amy proves to be quite helpful while exploring the Lab; we now have three party members who could heal.  Amy also has access to better healing techniques than Nei or me.  The Lab itself is quite the labyrinth and has contamination spills that hurt us (especially those wearing sandals and not boots).  A few retreats back to a city are necessary after our healing pool runs short.  Hopefully this trend doesn't continue in other locations we may visit (Future Shen: "It does.").  Our efforts pay off, however; we now have the MacGuffin we came for!

Sweet!  Now you guys can hear my
rendition of Canon in D Major!

A detailed analysis of the data we acquired shows that the biohazards are a result of too much energy being dumped into the system.  This caused a rapid evolution of unnatural lifeforms which are now interfering with the planet's natural cycles somehow.  They break out the charts at this point so I take the opportunity to activate my doze mode.

You'll need at least a 3D pie chart
to hold my attention, lady.

Nei kicks me in the shin to reactivate me and I learn that we have to find and investigate Climatrol, the facility that obviously controls the climate.  I don't know where it is but perhaps I missed its location during my nap.  No one else is forthcoming with that information so I'm just going assume none of us know.  Tales of our investigation must be spreading as two more people are interested in joining our group.  One is a biologist named Hugh and the other is a guardian called Anna.  They're pretty decent folk; they both like to dual wield pointy things just like me.

I've got something you can
concentrate on right here in my
pa — dammit Shen, cut it out!


Well, it's time to randomly wander around in hopes of finding Climatrol.  If anyone calls me on it, I'll just say that we're using this time to test out Hugh and Anna in combat; that oughta hold 'em for a bit anyway.