In the great console wars, I often leaned towards the side of Sega. I mean really I was playing games on all kinds of consoles back then. But I just totally loved Sega. And over the years it's been Sega systems that have delivered the most nostalgia for me. I probably think of the Master System way more fondly than might be considered normal. I could enjoy all games by all publishers, but if I had to make some choices I'd go with Sonic over Mario. And when it comes to RPG's I have an adoration for Shining Force and Phantasy Star games that I just never quite felt for Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Don't get me wrong - those NES games were my introduction to the genre, but there was something extra cool about those Sega RPG's.
I didn't actually get to play the original Phantasy Star until maybe a decade ago, but I grew quickly in love. While it was a contemporary to the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games mentioned above, it immediately became my new favorite 8-bit RPG. Not only did the setting and art style (snatches of elements ripped from many a sci-fi works like some kind of futuristic mixtape) appeal to me hardcore, but it was also extremely ambitious. You think getting a boat is cool in an 8-bit RPG? Well this game gives you a spaceship! And you can travel to multiple planets!
Not long after I also became insanely addicted to Phantasy Star Online. Like I mean super addicted. For years. I was playing with multiple groups on multiple servers spread out across both Dreamcast and PC versions. Even now, I'd probably rank the original Xbox version of Phantasy Star Online as my Most Wanted Backwards Compatible Game on Xbox One. Don't even get me started.
I originally started playing Phantasy Star II like five years ago. I got a few hours in and was having a great time and then I happened upon a major plot spoiler that crushed me. I had a bit of a temper tantrum about it and stopped playing the game out of annoyance. But this month I decided to grow up and revisit this one. The results were fairly mixed for me.
At first I felt warm and fuzzy. Even though I hadn't gotten all that far last time I played, there was this sense of nostalgia here all the sudden. It felt comforting to be revisiting something familiar like this. And honestly the game looks great. The visuals may be the one thing that the sequel has a leg up on over the original. Although the battle backgrounds are just blank here whereas in the first Phantasy Star they actually looked like the overworld terrain. Hmm. The music is good, but there's not really enough of it. Given that you'll be spending a lot of time grinding - more on that later - you'll grow tired of the music fairly quickly. My wife has commented a couple of times now at the monotony of the music. And she's not even the one playing the game.
The skeleton of the game itself would be great. I love the setting, love the story, and love the characters. The overworld is nice and big and fun to explore. The battles are... pretty good. I mean I'm not a fan of the thing where you don't manually target each enemy. There is technically a way to do it, but actually doing it would be a lot of work really. But the battle system works fine here, and is really just a carry-over from the first Phantasy Star. Speaking of which, those really hard to figure out first person dungeons from the first game? Gone! And really that is the best thing about the sequel. Granted, each dungeon now uses weird layers so that you're like peeking through "the roof" or something. It's kind of distracting, but nothing to get upset about.
Do you sense a "but" coming? There is one.
It's the excessive grinding, you guys. It's just so much. It felt like for every hour of progress I might make, I'd need to then spend two hours grinding to either get characters leveled up so they could learn new techniques or for meseta to buy new gear. It just felt really bad for the pacing. And what's worse is that it turns an otherwise charming and playable game into a bit of a drag. Maybe I would have had more patience as a kid, before I had less free time and more options of games to play. But yeah, the grinding really started to wear on me.
It's too bad because if the game were balanced differently I feel like I'd be able to keep at it. If battles gave out more experience and mesata for instance so that things could be sped up a bit then who knows. And it's not even like I hate this game. Quite the contrary. It just feels like a misstep after the original game. Some growing pains to be worked out. But I still really appreciate Phantasy Star II. Hell, I even want to finish it but I feel like it's something I'll have to take a break from and come back to later.