Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Game 11: Phantasy Star II (Genesis) - Final Rating

Over half the game is combat, so it's no surprise that the basic combat starts to wear my patience. Tech points are best saved for healing in the early game; it's more economical than casting spells in combat, which left me with one option, attack. It's helped mildly after finding items that give unlimited spell use, but even that gets old by the final dungeon. Having to use items or techs in the late game really drags out the combat, about a minute or two to each one.

Enemies are unique, and vary from robots to dragons, giant owls, mammoths, rabbits, and strange rock or golem creatures. It's a strange mix, but that's expected in these early fantasy games. Boss fights are few and far between, and actually do require some strategy. Once tech points and one-use items are gone though, everything reverts back to heal and stab.
Rating: 5
Enemies continue to be animated, some better than others

The roster is impressive for it's time. When it comes down to it though, the need for this is very limited. The best well rounded fighter is the main character who can never leave the party. Rudo, the tank is also the most consistent damage dealer. Amy the healer comes early and is the best buffer. After that you have your pick of Anna, Hugh, Wrecker, or Shir once Nei becomes useless. Any one will do, as they all have their perks (some more than others). Each character comes with a personal story to give some background.

About the only customization possible here is naming each character as they join, except for Shir... she's bugged or something and wouldn't let me change her name. Each character has a set progression for stats and skills. Controls in combat are cumbersome once there's a need to do anything other than attack.
Rating: 4
If only this continued to show party equipment and techs

There's a main quest, although motivation gets a bit fuzzy as things progress. You could call mapping dungeons a puzzle. The game originally came with a hint book. Forgoing that was my own choice, and seems to have added about 10 hours to game; I'm not sure it was worth it.

There are no side quests and there's only one area in a dungeon I'd call a puzzle (requires a certain skill). That one area really doesn't have a logical reason to exist, and that's a theme oft repeated. Everything is straightforward enough that the only difficulty is knowing exactly where to go.
Rating: 1
Dungeon puzzle: Left or Right?
The story started strong, but seemed to get lost among all the dungeon delving. Speaking to NPCs offer some background, but are not much help in figuring out where to go. Dialogue options are unclear in many cases, and I found myself having to answer both to get anywhere. There aren't any descriptions for items, and any potential lore is not explained (for example, Nei, the character, and Nei, the equipment).

This is the first game to offer a progressive story. We don't get the end goal right away, although we get hints. There's no alternative or way to influence any part of the story. Due to the leaps of logic, I felt disconnected from the whole experience, and was glad to finally be done with the game.
Rating: 3
If Nei means that, what does that have to do with the equipment?
Unfortunately, the game suffers from its interface in both battles and inventory. You must try on a piece of equipment in order to know who can use it, and if it's even worth having. Buying items from a shop will tell you if someone can't use it, but if they can, then you've just bought that item. Each character has an inventory, which is limited to two pages [16 items]. There is a storage container, but it's also limited to 16 items. In addition to the limited space, sorting an inventory is unbelievably difficult. Sorting goes like this: select the item, give the item, select yourself, the item moves to the end.

There is no way of knowing if your collection is complete. In fact, there's a point in the game where you collect items with the prefix 'Nei' and there's no way to see if you have them all other than returning to the quest giver. Some items have a tech/spell effect in combat, but most are low powered and repeated across multiple items. The economy did better than most games. I was running out right up until the last planet where rewards overwhelmed what I needed to purchase.
Rating: 3
Why does this room hold exactly as much as one person can carry?

There's nothing that excited me about exploring the land. While some interesting places were described, once reached, these places looked very similar to any other dungeon. The explorable area is sectioned off into plot locations, with "keys" needed to progress to the next area.

This is the first game where I felt the graphics detracted from exploring. In every dungeon there's a parallax scrolling foreground that often obscures the surrounding area. Also, the view of the surrounding area is a little wobbly since it doesn't center on the party. The music is well done, and there's even a way to listen to each one.
Rating: 3
The majestic final stronghold of the Espers... looks like another dungeon to me
Final Rating: 19 (32%)

Overall I expected more from this game. As a follow-up to the first Phantasy Star, I found it a little off-putting. From the changes to combat to top-down view of dungeons, it didn't quite feel like a proper sequel. The length of each combat coupled with the a sparse story that often left me wondering, "what's the point of that?" sapped my desire to play. I'm not sure the game would have been much better had I used the maps in the hint book, but it would have been shorter.

The rating puts it on par with Ultima: Exodus, but I'd much rather play through that game than take another shot at this one. Even with the possible challenge of playing through with only Rolf (this seems to be a thing), I can't see it offering much more.

Next up, I'll finally get to the poll and the next game, but first I want to clear up the list a little by cutting a few games. Also, I plan to update my other blog. I'll definitely be starting up Final Fantasy this weekend. I'm sorry for not being more consistent with posting and making progress. I think going more than a week without posting is a mistake, and I'll aim for twice a week, but won't let things get out of hand again. Thanks for sticking around.


  1. While I can't disagree with your ratings. They are pretty spot on. This game still holds a special nastalgic value for me I suppose. At the time it was released no other RPG looked as good or had as large a scope. Yes by today's standards it's pretty weak. I think that the game probably suffered from some translation issues as well. And it's one of those old school RPGs that don't tell you anything at all and expect you to figure it out yourself. I can see the logic of Sega of Amaerica including a hint book. RPGs were not. Mainstream and they were probably freaking out that people wouldn't know what to do with the game and return it. I can remember at the time really disappointed they got rid of the first person dungeons of PS1. I don't know what I would have thought without the hint book. It definetly kept the game from getting too frustrating. There are a lot of people out there who like this game but I really don't expect anyone to play it now and find it worthwhile to play. I feel the original was a lot more groundbreaking than this one. This one just added some 16 bit graphics and some crazy story elements that aren't really cohesive but certainly are interesting. I wish they would have kept 3 planets. It feels lazy to shorten the game by blowing up one of the main planets in the solar system that was were the first game predominantly took place. I also feel if you would have kept Rudo and Amy in you party you would have had a better time on Dezo as those guns Rudo has are awesome. I am certainly glad that I could watch you play it though. I certainly would never want to slog through this game again.

    1. I agree with this. The game did seem smaller than the first one. If I had to play this again, I'd definitely keep Rudo and Amy throughout. I've read that Kain is good for the final party since his techs work on the final bosses.

    2. Smaller as in having a smaller number under the world maps category, yes, but.... ugh... those terribly arduous dungeons are murderously huge!

  2. I'm with you for the most part.. but a 2 for the story?!


    1. That's a full point lower than Miracle Warriors and Ys for crying out loud. Seriously man? On what planet?

    2. Look into it more.. this is tied for the worst story score on the site. Dragon Warrior has a higher score. PSI has double the score. Zelda II has a higher score.

      I mean.. honestly man, I don't know what you were smoking. Your biggest critique seems to be that there were too many dungeons between story points..? Basically, the game was too long for its story, even though its story had far more going on than basically any other game you've played?
      It's like you're punishing the game for having too much content (as well as the fact that you didn't use the provided hint book....)

    3. I'm not sure how the story would be helped by having the hint book.

      Part of the story score is immersion, which I didn't feel at all while playing. Maybe I was a bit harsh in not giving it credit for the progressive twisting plot, but a complex story doesn't always make it a good one.

      Originally, the score was a three, but I took a point off to account for my personal taste. I just didn't like it, and there's a lot of subjectivity in this area.

    4. While I stand by my above comment, I feel that the story was better than Dragon Warrior. I do understand the subjectivity. The only thing I would add is that it does try to do things with the story that have never been done before. For instance killing off a main character halfway through the game. Introducing mass genocide of a planet. Earth people. I could maybe see giving it point for originality rather than taking away. But if you didn't like it it you didn't like it. And like I said before I think some of the translation issues didn't help. I feel that the programmers were probably rushed getting this out for the newly released Mega Drive and maybe some cuts had to be made. In any case I just have a question, do you feel that it suffers from having years of experience with better story's and that the age of the game hindered the storytelling? Or we're you not able to get into it because you just didn't like it and found the story unbelievable?

    5. "I'm not sure how the story would be helped by having the hint book."

      My argument:

      "The game originally came with a hint book. Forgoing that was my own choice, and seems to have added about 10 hours to game; I'm not sure it was worth it."

      "The story started strong, but seemed to get lost among all the dungeon delving.... I felt disconnected from the whole experience, and was glad to finally be done with the game."

      "Part of the story score is immersion, which I didn't feel at all while playing."

      Consider this my final thought. I've considered giving a long defense of PS2, but I really just don't care enough right now. Honestly though, if you think DW1 has as good of a story and PS1 has twice as good of a story as PS2, then you and I just have completely different definitions of the word "story."

      Good luck with the blog,

    6. I've been a bit of a mood today, so I will apologize for any negative tone I convey above. But I really stand by the content of my argument.

      In any case, it's your blog and your opinion. Taste is what it is. Sorry if I'm being a downer after you finally finished this monumental pain in the ass, haha.

    7. I think maybe I am being a bit too harsh on the story, so I've added the point back I took away based on general distaste.

      I wasn't even paying attention to how I graded other games, and I was trying to take this on its own merits. I think it reflects more my disappointment in it as a sequel, and based on better hardware with more storage capacity to actually explain the events that transpired.

      Here's my take on the story, hopefully it'll explain a little more about where I'm coming from and my understanding. Who knows, I may have missed vital clues as to why certain things should make sense. Definitely SPOILERS for anyone who hasn't played this.

      Rolf wakes up with nightmares of Alis fighting Dark Force. -- This has very little to do with the game other than hint that Rolf is related to Alis. It's a trope that makes very little sense in reality, especially spanning 1000 years.

      Rolf is sent alone to retrieve the data recorder. -- Shouldn't this information be available at some place other than the computer where it's stored? Rolf is a level 1 Agent, and I'm guessing he's the only one.

      Duram -- So, this guy has his daughter kidnapped, but instead of rescuing her, he blocks passage to a bridge and kills everyone. I mean this would explain the lack of agents, but is no one really able to stop him?

      Kidnappers -- Mysteriously killed, no explanation given.

      Teim -- All alone, unharmed at the top of a monster infested dungeon even more dangerous than the one the kidnappers are found in. Speaking of which, getting into this place in the first place required dynamite instead of some sort of key found on the kidnappers.

      Teim meets Duram -- Really? Duram doesn't recognize his daughter, and Teim purposely taunts him to kill her. This is supposed to show me how crazy the world has gotten? Seems like they weren't victims of circumstance and brought this on themselves.

      South of the Biolabs -- A door, much like the one I blew up with dynamite to get to Teim can't be blown up with another piece of dynamite. It requires a key card (because the dynamite is used on another door).

      Returning with the data recorder -- Power diverted from climatrol is causing the more aggressive creatures, so I have to go there too. No real direction give on how to get there.

      Garbage Dump -- Instead of getting something to fly around in, I get find a Jet Scooter. Actually, someone else finds it, gets bored with it, and leaves it for anyone to take, but first I have to be there when they find it.

      Traveling to Climatrol -- Somehow, I'm supposed to piece together that I need to use the whirlpool to travel to the Climatrol, and that I need some oxygen rich leaves that grow on a tree in the middle of the ocean. From the leaves I bring it to someone who can make gum that allows me to breath underwater. One piece of gum is good for everyone to make the trip multiple times.

      Neifirst -- Nei charges alone and dies, why? Well, we learn she would have been destroyed when Neifirst died anyway, but the reverse is somehow not true. Killing Neifirst causes the world to start flooding, as if she was actively standing there diverting power. Returning the balance of power causes the rain water saved up for two years to pour out endangering the planet.

      Nei is dead -- She can't be revived in the cloning lab because she's not human. I haven't tested myself, but if she dies before this time, I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be a restriction.



    8. Opening the dams -- The key cards for the dams are locked away in a secret tower. The ones in charge know about these emergency cards, but not enough to tell me where they are kept at the top of a secret tower instead of a locked drawer in the commander's office.

      Captured at the last dam -- Enter the unwinnable fight. I'm doing great, hardly winded, and suddenly the robots break out the you're captured command.

      Plummeting into Palm -- Not sufficient to just kill me while blacked out, captured, helpless, all weapons gone and tech points drained, the robots let me wander around as the space station crashes into a planet. Reaching the computer to see this causes everything to go black again, and then suddenly I'm on a pirate's ship. How? Oh, don't worry about that, I'm a plot device to get you to go to Dezo.

      Back at Command -- Did we not mention the space ship that flies to Dezo and back on top of the roof? Am I going to Dezo? I guess Mother Brain (or someone controlling the robots, it wasn't clear that she was) just tried to kill me, so I would like to take her out. Tyler that space pirate said someone on Dezo can do things Mother Brain can't, whatever that means, and it is the only other planet since Palm blew up (speaking of which, that must have been a massive sized space station).

      Dezo -- Magic caps are good, they let you communicate with cats, Mogic caps are bad, they don't let you communicate with cats. Reach a town? Okay, let's reverse our logic.

      Lutz is waiting -- He saved us from an explosion on a spaceship 10 years ago. He couldn't have come directly to us any other time. He also holds back the Nei Sword for no good reason.

      Nei Equipment -- Why is it here? What exactly is its purpose? Why do I need it to face the final dungeon? Who put it here? Why is it named Nei? Especially when the game says, "Nei means, 'human who is not human'."

      Treasure Chest Blocks the way -- Yeah, stepping over it isn't an option I guess (I know I'm nitpicking by now).

      Dark Force -- Why does he show up again? How has he come back? Why isn't there any connection made to the nightmares I've had?

      Mother Brain -- I never understood what exactly she controlled. What exactly was her purpose? She was created to make everyone's lives better so that they'd become complacent to make it easier to attack them with bio-monsters? How is this a good plan?

      Humans -- With all their power, why not change the weather on the planets to become inhospitable? Make Mota more of a desert, then take over when everyone has left.

      Dezo -- What exactly was the poison gas, and what did it do?

      So yeah, I'm left with many questions that I'd really have to reach to answer. I think in the end I'm more disappointed that the storytelling didn't advance further than the game's 8-bit counterparts.

      Compared to Dragon Warrior, the story is a lot less cohesive. The various parts are too disconnected and often tangentially related. In Dragon Warrior things are easier to grasp, and the reasoning behind the various parts of the quest are laid out in a way that the next step (and beyond) is identifiable.

      It's hard to compare and say one is definitely better than the other in terms of being engaged, but I'd rather play through Dragon Warrior over Phantasy Star II.

      No worries about your words, I understand you have a strong opinion to express and I'm going against that. I hope I haven't turned you off completely. Hope you have a better day killias. I still feel bad about not being able to name Shir as Kili, but yeah, game is bugged. I'll get you a character name in Final Fantasy. Would you rather have Black Belt of Black Mage?

    9. My take on the story is that Dark Forces return influenced the earthen to be evil and their Mother Brain computer was their way to change the environment and slowly kill everyone. I think that probably initially the earthen were good when they first built mother brain but dark forces influence put them down the path of destruction. As mentioned by Lutz Dark Force returns every 1000 years. You interpretation may vary lol. As far as Lutz it was mentioned that an attack was made against the espers and he was hiding in hibernation so thus he couldn't leave. Did they say he was the last remaining esper? Anyway you can see him coming out of the sleep chamber when you first meet him. I'm pretty sure the poison gas is what's left after an attack on Dezo but i could be wrong. Didn't one of the computer read outs mention about the changing atmosphere? Anyway most of your above points are pretty valid at any rate. Some of them are a little over anylizing. And some are just straight out actions to advance the story and don't really make sense, but many RPGs are guilty of the unwiinable fight to capture the protagonist to advance the story or have them break out of prison etc.

    10. Sorry I've been gone for a while. To be honest, I've just been away from the computer for various reasons. I see I already have a few articles to catch up on, haha.

      I won't go in-depth on my defense of PS2 here. I'll just list a few things that I think it does better than the other games you've played: 1. Characterization - Although still piss poor in comparison with, say, the best SNES RPGs, PS2 manages to have a large cast of characters and at least -some- character moments for them. That doesn't mean a lot. It means slightly more than PS1, for example. Shir has her stealing thing. A few of the characters have a bit of their background fleshed out (Nei, obviously, but Rudo is more what I mean). They also have their own lines at the end.

      2. Story development. You don't march out the gates to kill the big bad guy or collect the MacGuffins as in.. every other RPG of the era. You look into some attacks and some issues with the biosystems. During this process, you find out that the bio control systems have serious issues, and you're given some information that suggests Dezo might give you more information. You don't actually know the full story and the MacGuffins you need to collect until the end.

      3. Interesting plot points. Nei and Neifirst followed by Nei's death. Palm's destruction. Noah is still alive (depending on whether you think it's a different character or not - this is a big argument in the PS community, as it's clearly the same character in Japan). Mother Brain is evil. Earthlings are involved in its construction and operation.

      Once you put it all together, your character sees a loved one die and the main planet of the solar system destroyed. Then he must destroy the life-sustaining Mother Brain, setting his civilization back a millennium, slaughter the remnants of Earth's people, and almost certainly die, along with his close friends, in the process.

      You can say it's not cohesive. You can say it's overly ambitious for its capabilities. But it attempts far, far, far more than almost any JRPG of the era, and, IMO at least, the end result is at least somewhat impressive as a result. I still find PS2's ending to be one of the bravest in a JRPG. It's not just the 'heroic death to save the world" ending. It's a "heroic death while destroying civilization and wiping out the last remnants of Earth in order to sort of save the remaining two shitty worlds" ending. I mean.. play PS4. They basically speak of the events of PS2 as the "Great Collapse" or something comparable.

      PS3 takes a whole different approach. I like the generational aspect, but there's a lot of weaknesses to the game. Overall, it's mediocre.

      PS4 is a great JRPG, probably the best on the Genesis. Its presentation and characterization are light years beyond PS2. However, IMO, its story simply isn't as brave. It's a much stronger product overall, but it's more cautious and predictable. I'd be the kind of person who would assign them similar story values as a result, but, based on your tastes, I think you'll like it a lot more.

  3. I thought I would add that some of the story elements are hurt by lack of a lot of text. I'll post here about an interpretation you had about the events a couple of blog posts ago that I disagreed with. (aren't comments great to allow discussion of these things!). Concerning the events of Darum and the bridge. Her kidnappers were nowhere to be found because you find them in the dungeon killed by the biomonsters. Her father has clearly been driven mad by the loss of his daughter and has resorted to doing bad things. My take is ya, as a law enforcement official you could clearly take home out, (although clearly he had explosives so maybe he'd take you out with him). But instead you do the right thing and rescue his daughter. The rest of the scene plays out when you return. The whole exchange feels very Japanese. Tiem is outraged that her father has become a bad man and confronts him about it. Another very Japanese thing to take responsibility for the actions of her family when clearly it wasn't her fault. He cuts her down and learns her identity and only then does he see the error of his ways and essentially commits seppuku. Again, very Japanese. I honestly would not be surprised if there were some kind of Japanese folk tale about a situation like this that inspiration was drawn from. The scene worked for me. Maybe from am Western point of view it looks silly. The cops would just take the guy out and move on. I certainly didn't see the inconsistencies you did in the scene. I say again, some of it is the translation but of course some of it is that it just didn't do much for your tastes. That's why I wonder if the age and presentation effected youminvolment in the story. I think if you are playing an older game, high drama is going to be hard to get into with a primitive presentation. But at the time it wasn't as primitive so it worked for me. But like I said before, I can see why someone playing it today would not be able to,get into it. In any case we all have different opinions so I respect that. And again I thought enjoyed your blog posts so I'm not complaining. But glad to have the opportunity to post an alternate opinion.

    1. Is it unfair to compare the story to other 16-bit games? Maybe there's a lot lost in translation that would have seemed perfectly fitting, absolutely possible.

      Coming into this game and series new, I can see why there are fans, but I can't say I'm one of them yet. Even with the first game being my highest rated currently, at this point the series seems to be losing it's charm. I'm really interested in seeing how they handle the multiple generations theme in the next one. I've heard bad things, but I'm still hopeful.

    2. Well I think 3 is a long way off at this point. It's story actually changes depending on what generation you choose. It's kind of crazy but makes more sense. Actually 4 is pretty solid in the story department. It actually wraps things up rather nicely and explains everything really, form the beginning to the end of the series. PSO... Well that story, I have the same opinion about it as you probably have about 2.

    3. Also I believe you had a poll about why you come to the site and I voted I think to read YOUR experiences playing these games. I find it refreshing for someone to take a critical look at a game and read their opinion. Even if I don't agree I really enjoy your responses. So it was nice you gave it a point back, I really didn't think it was nessecary, if that's your view, well that's what I'm here for. It does make interesting conversation. Honestly this is one of the few games I'll have that much to say on. Looking forward to Final Fantsasy. If I can finish it in time I'm sure I'll have something to comment. But I won't be able to comment much on a lot of other NES RPGs but really looking forward to learning about them through this blog.

    4. Well, I figure if someone is that passionate about defending it, maybe I'm missing something. While I didn't like it, I'm not hard-nosed in my dislike. I'm not here to say it's bad; it just wasn't for me, and if these points are going to influence others to try the game or not, then I'll try to be a bit more objective with them. I'm not really sure that makes sense now, but it did at some point in my head.

      In any case, your description of 3 intrigues me more, and I do have a couple years of gaming before I get there so I hope I can approach it with a fresh head.

      I'm sure people will seem to come and go, comment on their favorites, but I understand sometimes there aren't the words (for whatever reason).

      Final Fantasy, I'm expecting to go by quicker than average. I'd be surprised if it took me 20 hours (current average on I played through it multiple times as a kid on the original cart, and in recent years on the GBA I & II version (Dawn of Souls). I'm pretty sure I still remember a good portion. I might be eating my words at the end of the month, but I'll go ahead and estimate now that it shouldn't take me more than two weeks to get through all posts concerning the game.

  4. I think most of the story of PS2 is filled in through the later sidestory games and various other supplementary materials, which of course have never been released in any form in the US.