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