Monday, June 25, 2012

Game 11: Phantasy Star II (Genesis) - Annoying Habits

I don't expect games to have perfect stories or interface, but there are times when certain aspects are plainly illogical or completely annoying.
Two years? Only level 1 after two years?
Phantasy Star II began with Kyle (Rolf is the default name) reporting to his commander for an important mission. Kyle being a level 1 Agent is given the important assignment of discovering the origin of the strange biomonsters roaming the land. It's a little hard to believe such an important mission is entrusted to someone as apparently green as Kyle. Where are all of the senior agents? If Kyle is their best at level 1, then they're truly in a sorry state. He must have been incredibly lucky and not fought any biomonsters during his two years.
Everyone else seems to be level one, so why is Darum so powerful?
Nei's story makes about as much sense. Her origin is a mystery, but at some point Kyle found her and took her in. With her insisting to come, I have little choice in bringing her. North of town is a bridge where a man named Darum playing bridge troll. With no visible law enforcement, I suppose I'll have to deal with him; however, when I attempt to approach him I get warned that this is the man that attacked Nei and we should avoid him. There's no other explanation so far about Nei, but Darum is important since he's blocking our way.
I almost called him Odin
We learn from the town of Arima that Darum has a daughter, Teim. She was kidnapped by a gang of scoundrels (the game's name for them). At this point I returned home to find Rudo (short for Rudolf, renamed to Luke) waiting for me. With his assistance  manage to fully explore the nearby tower of Shure. Inside I find what Kyle assumes (somehow) are three bodies of the scoundrels, mysteriously slain.
Did the game forget to called them biomonsters?
One had a letter addressed to Darum for the ransom of his daughter Teim. It reads:

"'Darum! I have your daugher Teim locked in Nido tower. Pay 50,000 meseta in one month if you ever want to see her again.' To get the money, Darum turned to crime."

This letter doesn't make any sense. It was meant for Darum. It gives the motivation for his crimes. So, shouldn't Darum have it? This still doesn't explain why Darum, a strong burly man who can steal from anyone unmatched, is resorting to crime in order to rescue his daughter instead of... rescuing his daughter. Also, the letter gives 1 month, but Nei was attacked 7 months ago!

With the letter in hand Kyle muses that we should be able to convince Teim to come with us. I'm not sure how a letter showing she's being ransomed gives her a reason to escape her kidnappers, as if freedom itself wasn't enough. I found Teim in Nido where there was a definite lack of scoundrels. She was waiting patiently on the third floor in an open area. The only locked door was right at the beginning. Why is she here--at the farthest point from the entrance--unguarded?
Why defend her ourselves when we can pretend she's someone else?
Common sense lacking, Kyle decides he must hide Teim's identity from people who might seek revenge against her for the actions of Darum; he places a veil over her head. So, we bring Teim back to Darum so they can have their happy ending. The game doesn't see it that way though, here's a video of the exchange:

What I want to know is, where's all the money Darum's been hoarding to pay the ransom? Based on the music, I'm guessing the game wants us to empathize with this crazy exchange, but the moment is completely dulled by the absurdity of the situation. Did Teim want to die? Darum can't recognize his own daughter's voice? The whole event is over so quickly I almost missed it.

The next town is Oputa (shortened to Opta). Located here is a musician who teaches piano. Apparently not to me though, as he's merely a sound test implemented inside the game (no bardic skills for me). Finally, I find someone that tells me where the biosystems lab is located, in the southern part of town. Bad translation aside, I find the lab south of the town.
I want to learn piano, not just listen to you play
Before heading out, I stock up on equipment and return home in hopes of getting a fourth member; I recruit Fera (originally Amy). She's a doctor; it's always good to have another healer in the group. Figuring out equipment what I need took--and continues to take--some trial and error. The only way to tell if a character can use something is by buying it. The same is true for comparing power levels. Adding to the complexity is multiple weapon choices, and the possibility of dual wielding, two-handed weapons, or shields.

Inside the biosystems lab the enemy difficulty continues to rise at a rate where upgrading equipment is necessary to stand a chance. It feels like I'm barely maintaining an equal footing with the enemies in each area, and leveling up hardly makes a difference to attack and defensive powers.
On the lower floor, hazardous material will harm the party
On the very bottom floor of the lab I found the recorder inside a still active computer. Finally completing my first task I returned to the commander, who's apparently been promoted to Mayor. The cause of the biomonsters is determined to be a power surge in the lab. Power is being diverted from Climatrol (the weather system), causing leaps in evolution not seen previously. Evolution makes creatures deadly and aggressive apparently. Since my last mission was so successful, I'm sent to find the cause of the power fluctuations. I receive a key to unlock the tunnel south of the lab.
See, I drew a graph. Sure it doesn't line up exactly, but it's close enough
Beyond the tunnel I find Zema, a mostly uninspired town where maybe of the residents don't know what's going on. Once again I upgrade my equipment. Not 10 minutes later I find Kueri, with better upgrades that I can no longer afford.

A garbage dump is the only other location I can access. Rumors of water traveling vehicles leads to me to believe I'll find one here; however, it turns out other people are rummaging through the junk as well. At the bottom I find two people discussing a jet scooter, but there's no way to ask for it. Making sure I've explored everywhere I made my way back up wondering where to go next as I exit.
I almost left before fully exploring this part of the dump
Outside I find the jet scooter waiting for me. Turns out they've had their fun with it, but digging through garbage is so much more enjoyable. Therefore, I'm free to take it. Well that's nice of them.

Able to travel the seas I decide to search the overland before following my only other lead of an island that's home to a tree whose leaves allow me to breathe underwater after being turned into gum. There are colored dams, which need colored key cards to access according to the manual. The only other location of interest is Piata. Here I find even better armor, at a most premium price.
Damn dams blocking my passage
During my travels I managed to stop by home to welcome various guests. Sean (Hugh) is a biologist and believes even the biomonsters have a right to life, but doesn't regret defending humans. Cana (Anna) is a hunter of hunters. (Where was she when we were dealing with Darum?) Meta (Kain) is an engineer, or tried to be until he realized he destroys every machine he touches. Shir (would have been Kili) is a thief that steals things for fun. As an agent of the law, why don't I turn her in right away?

[Note: I say Shir would have been Kili because I had planned to name her that; however, there's a bug in the game that doesn't allow you to change her name. This was one of the most annoying moments I had in this game, reloading multiple times to ensure I was selecting the correct option. Sorry Killias, I tried.]
Except for the things you steal
It seems the last place to look is island mountain with the tree I need to pick. It turns out the island is home to many different trees that all look alike. I don't know which tree I need to find, but somehow Kyle knows.

Overall the dungeons have been increasing in size and complexity, and this mountain is yet another step up. There are caves to travel through with no clear indication of where they exit. Luckily the tried and true left hand rule overcomes the immensity of the mountain, and I find the tree at last. There's no other features to the mountain, no treasure to find, and the other trees are useless.
I can't tell if that's the sky or water
With the leaves in hand I return to Kueri, and give them to someone that can turn them into gum. The gum, I'm guessing, will allow me to search the bottom of the ocean. I'm not sure what for, as I'm still looking for Climatrol, but it's my only lead.
Sorry Mario, but your princess lies in another castle
To make a long post even longer there are a few things that need some discussion to really understand some of the less obvious annoyances. First up is the cast of characters. I have a full roster now, but I've only used the first four. The main reason is that all characters are level 1.

Why would I take the time to bring them up to an "equal" level with the rest of the group? I can't think of anything unless I'm forced to use them at some point. The extra time to level and cost of equipment is preventative. Currently the party is stuck with Kyle and Nei, so the choice of one or two more members means that Kyle and Nei will always have more experience. I'm not sure there's any reason to have a hunter, thief, or biologist in the group? The wrecker might prove helpful if I'm facing off against a lot of machinery, but techs are a pain to use in battle.

Overall, combat is pretty simple. Most of the time you'll be just attacking. If you want to do anything else, then you're in for a cumbersome experience. The combat menu first presents two options, Fight and Strategy. Strategy leads to Order and Run. Order is used to assign specific instructions to a party member: Attack, Use Tech, Use Item, or Defend. Attack allows you to choose which group of biomonsters to attack (default is the left one). Use Tech brings up a menu of combat magic. Use Item gives the option to select an inventory item for that character. Defend increases the defense of the character.
Selecting Nafoi is a short six button presses away, at least it destroys most things
Attack and Defend remain the standing order for that character between battles. Magic and items are one time orders, and revert to attack in subsequent turns even if defend was the prior action. As soon as fight is selected, the auto-battle takes over for each turn until a button is pressed to interrupt it. It's a very clunky interface, and giving orders to every character each turn takes more time than letting the auto-attack handle it in most cases.

One of the biggest annoyances outside of battle has recently been healing after battle. With increased HP, and increasing damage per fight, healing is a real drain. To heal, I have to open the menu, select tech, select the character, select the spell, select the character to use it on, then all the menus close.

I've been trying to move faster while healing, which has led to another issue... selecting the wrong spell. Both Nei and Fera have Res (basic healing) as their first spell; Kyle has Ryuka (Return to town). Going too fast has caused me to go back to town on more than one occasion.
Healing, only four menus to navigate
Two last pain points have to do with exploration. Instead of keeping the characters locked at the center of the screen, the party has to near the edge before the viewing area moves. I'm not sure why this decision was made, but I hope they correct it in the next game. After a battle, the screen will again be centered on the party, which is the way it should be. Adding to the fault of exploration, most dungeons have a parallax scrolling foreground that often blocks the view. 

There are some good points to the game, so don't take this mostly negative post to mean I'm not enjoying it. I haven't had to go out of my way to grind, as exploring seems to have been sufficient thus far. So far, the way forward hasn't been hard to find, and I'm still anticipating the mysteries to be uncovered.

Session Time: 6h03m (Total Time: 10h25m)


  1. "Note: I say Shir would have been Kili because I had planned to name her that; however, there's a bug in the game that doesn't allow you to change her name. This was one of the most annoying moments I had in this game, reloading multiple times to ensure I was selecting the correct option. Sorry Killias, I tried."

    Haha, thanks, it's the thought the counts.

    A few comments:
    1. You're getting fairly far! A.. lot happens in the next third of the game or so. I'm curious to see how you'll respond, haha.
    2. I agree about the story elements thus far, but, to be fair, I think that was pretty much par for the course in late 80's/early 90's RPGs. Hell, it's still mostly par for the course now. RPG quests typically make no damn sense if you think about them for more than a few minutes.
    3. Yeah, now that you mention it, PS2 is super nested-menu-heavy. I can't recall PS3's too much, although I don't think it's -quite- as bad? Maybe? PS4 gives you a lot more options in terms of controlling battles, such as pre-built macros (preset orders for each part member you can save and edit), but I still think there are a few too many nested menus.

    1. I'm actually questioning how far into the game I am. According to, the fastest time means 20 more hours. I'm guessing I'll be traveling to the other planets eventually, and if there's just as much to do there, then it'll be about that long.

      To be fair:

      Yes, a lot of stories are nonsensical if you think about them too long, but there's little else to think about when wandering through the dungeons.

      Almost every game is super nested-menu-heavy; it's the kicking me out of all the menus when I choose 1 action that's getting to me.

    2. Well, I guess the end portion of the game takes a long time because.. well.. those are some -long-, -difficult-, -grindy-ass- dungeons at the end. Still, being over a third of the way (I'd guess, off hand, around 40%) is significant progress, considering this is just your second post and this is a large game for the era.

    3. Yeah, that's what happens when I play for six hours without posting I suppose. I was thinking about breaking it up, but didn't really know where to do it. I'll probably play tonight, so we'll see just how much the game opens up.

  2. Wow, this is right about where I left off in this game, before my save file got corrupted. Hoping you have better luck on that front, and I'll be curious to see what you think of the game's conclusion.

    1. Thanks, I'm glad to have caught up to you. :D

      I hope you enjoy the rest of the posts.

  3. Hey, Usvestia! The first gay character in a console RPG! ...In Japan. I have no idea who gets that honor in NA games.

    1. Why do you say he's gay? Does it go into more detail on this in the Japanese version?

    2. In the Japanese version, he openly flirts with the male characters and charges less to teach them. They changed that for the NA version to saying the male characters look smart.

  4. Giauz

    That piano teacher will teach some of your guys music (I believe I paid for Rudolf to learn this skill, which as far as I got only was good for doing a little piece of music and I think wasting some TP), but I think he just insults your women if you try to pay for them (could be where he gets the mention gay reputation).

    Also, when I saw the name 'Steiner ' I had to wikipedia Final Fantasy 9 to see if its Steiner is a reference. Sadly, 9's is named Adelbert and it does not appear he is a throwback to FF's old rival, Phantasy Star.

    1. Unless I'm sent back to him later on, I don't think I'd know to visit him again. Maybe I should have selected no when asked if I wanted to listen to him play? I tend to ignore choices when I think it's obvious what will happen.

      Steiner is Adelbert's last name, so maybe you're right. I've seen the name Steiner in Beyond the Beyond as well, used for the dragon companion. It'd be interesting to track names across games, but I'm not sure how many connections could be made.

    2. Adding to this (and hey Blogger isn't being a jerk to me.... for now), I think any chance of Adelbert Steiner being a throwback is even less likely given that the wiki about him mentions Steiner is a German name meaning stone and is quite common in Europe. So the name's presence in pseudo-medieval-European fantasy is not as big a coincidence as I thought.

  5. Ya I was actually watching you play when you visited the musician. I saw that you didn't choose no to get the option for him to teach you the music spell and you went straight to the sound test. I looked and saw you wouldn't need it for awile so I figured you would be back. As when you get to that point I don't think would be confused where to go to learn a music spell. In the Japanese version supposedly he was more overtly gay but they toned down his racy comments for the US. Although he still charges the men less than the women.

  6. Man, I'm a bad person. If it were me, that tree would be on an 'island' in the maze. That is a spot that will be missed by the right-hand left-hand rule. That promises to get you back to your starting spot, but not touch every spot in the maze. There are some simple maze design tricks to add islands this trick will miss. I would have used them.

    1. I don't know of any games that used islands during this era on consoles. Maybe some of the later dungeons will use them. I've heard they get pretty hard.

    2. I don't know of any games, in any era, that use them. I know about them from Dragon Magazine, for tabletop roleplaying games. I hear Gary Gygax, one of the cofounders of D&D liked using a lot of map tricks like them in his games.

    3. I've read on Chet's blog that Dungeon Master: Chaos Strikes Back may use some tricky dungeon designs.

    4. What does a trick matter if you're the type of person who maps every square on a graph and tries everything on every wall several times like CA has done most of the time? It may get tedious, but through (probably multiple deaths) perserverance CA will conquer any tricks a map can scribe.

    5. It'll be interesting to see how much trouble it gives him, but I agree that he hasn't really hit a snag on mapping yet. Even the current game with not drawing side passages or doors unless looking right at them didn't seem to phase him.

      I haven't made any time to play the game since Sunday, so sorry for the lack of updates. I'm hoping to play tonight and have a short recap tomorrow.

    6. It will not work against careful mapping, though there are maze tricks that will (Sliding walls, slopping passages that move you between levels without you noticing, rotating hallways, doors that connect via teleporation). Early D&D moduels were filled with this stuff, and mapping was critical. One of Gary Gygax's early players had perfect visual-spacial memory, so could always map in his head, better then the people trying to keep track on paper, as he could see how each level connected in space, and would do stuff like dig from one level of the dungeon to another, driving Gary nuts.

    7. Does the game use randomized maps? Do those tricks happen without any visual cue (could I turn around an notice the slope? Is there a brief flash when teleporting or on spinner like in Wizardry?) Is there a coordinates or map spell to give you some idea of when the game might have messed with you?

    8. D&D? You can do anything you can think of, it is a tabletop game. The main tricks they used back then were 10' poles, marbles (Set them down and see if they role), careful mapping, and things like that.