Sweet As Syrup: Phantasy Star Portable 2 Review

Last year, I started a marathon on my favorite game series of all time: Phantasy Star. It went on a lot longer than I thought it would, but I enjoyed writing all the posts on it all the same. The last post I did was Phantasy Star related, so I thought I’d follow them up and hopefully finish this marathon at long last! So, let’s start with Phantasy Star Portable 2, one of the best games in the series!

Originally, I was going to review the first Phantasy Star Portable game. I still intend to get to it at some point, but I felt that it was a bit too similar to Phantasy Star Portable 2 and Universe. I’d end up repeating myself a lot, so I figured I would just move onto the second game instead. Phantasy Star Portable 2 is one of my favorite RPGs, and is special to me. It’s the last Phantasy Star game ever released in America, and the newest of the series that I have played. It’s hard to believe that is has nearly been 7 series since this game was brought to American shelves. Without further adieu, let’s dive right into it!

Background Information

Phantasy Star Portable 2 is an action RPG that was released in 2009 in Japan, and brought over to the rest of the world near the end of 2010. The game was released exclusively for the PSP and was developed by Alfa System, who also developed several Tales games. The game received an expansion called Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity, but this was released exclusively in Japan and never brought over here.

Plot and Characters

It’s been three years since the events of Universe and peace has returned to the Gurhal system. You play as a mercenary (or former Guardian if you imported your save-file) who is visiting an old derelict relics site. While there, you happen across a young woman named Emilia. After meeting her, you luck suddenly takes a sharp dive as you both become trapped in the ruins. You eventually escape, but not before you bare witness to a strange spirit dwelling inside Emilia.

From there, you are recruited into a mercenary firm called “Little Wing” and are tasked with going on various missions, sometimes ones where you have to protect the galaxy! All the while, you keep encountering a strange teenage boy dressed in black, who also poses a threat to the entire Gurhal system. It’s up to you and your rag-tag group of allies to put a stop to this and protect the galaxy you have made home!

Yeah, it’s a pretty basic plot, to be honest. However, it does incorporate several elements from previous Phantasy Star games, as well as bring back some old characters from Universe. This was intended as the final game in the series (before the expansion pack and phone spinoff came out) and really does feel like a finale for the series. It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but it takes a lot of the elements and concepts from previous games and manages to roll with it.

The plot itself is divided into 10 chapters, and may take the player several hours to fully get through. The plot brings the player to various locations, including some taken from previous games. There’s also a great VR-themed level that takes you back to levels from the original Phantasy Star Online! Unfortunately, this variety works against the game, as it will often make the plot feel all over the place. On top of this, the reuse of certain levels makes the game feel a bit too formulaic at times.

Where the game really shines is in its characters. Usually, I can’t stand the generic anime stereotypes often present in Japanese RPGs. While the characters here felt like stereotypes, there was something extremely endearing about how they were written. The father-daughter relationship between Kraz and Emilia felt genuine to me. A hard-ass who drinks a lot taking care of a young girl who acted like a spoil-brat feels like something too common in real-life. It was so heartwarming seeing these characters trying to act as a family unit, despite the bizarre scenarios that often got in their way.

Other characters really stood out to me as well, like the warrior boy Yut, or the French femme fatale known as Chelsea. Lumia Waber, the sister of the protagonist of the first game has returned. She’s probably my favorite character, she went from being a generic happy-go-lucky sister to a no-nonsense tough girl. The only character I found myself not liking at all was the aforementioned Emilia. She was just too obnoxious and a lot of the plot involves our heroes dealing with her hissy-fits. It gets annoying after a while.

Phantasy Stork.png
Robots in swim-trunks?! Truly this game has everything.

Gameplay

Much like a lot of the games that came before it, Phantasy Star Portable 2 is an action RPG. You choose from one of four playable races, which are Beasts, CASTs, Newmans, and Humans. Each race has their own specific skills and attributes which makes them more unique than the others. For example, the Beasts are basically werewolves who turn into giant feral creatures to attack their enemies. Each race has a special “limit break” movie that lets them dish out some serious damage once their meter builds up.

Gameplay takes place from a third person perspective, putting you in the boots of a custom created character. You choose from one of four classes which are as follows: Hunter, Force, Ranger, and Vanguard. Each class has their own specific forte, with their own weaknesses and advantages. The game boasts over 30 different types of weapons, with thousands of unique individual weapons. Certain weapons will spawn with elemental attributes or special effects attached. This means that certain weapons can be more effective than others, even if they are generally “weaker” items.

The game takes on a linear mission structure, similar to past Universe and Online games. Each mission will take you about 20 to 30 minutes to complete, and there are a total of about 10 story chapters to complete. The game boasts a ton of optional side-quests and missions, along with a special award system that grants you items based on how many milestones you hit.

You can also upgrade your class and gain special stat bonuses, as well as upgrading the levels of weapons you’re allowed to use. This allows you some degree of customization when it comes to how you want each individual class to function. You can change classes back at Little Wing headquarters, as well as obtain new items and equipment.

Sadly, the classes aren’t too unique when compared to other similar games, or even other games in the series. This is more of a nitpick, but it irks me to see that the classes haven’t really changed all that much from the early days of Phantasy Star Online. It’s something I can live with, I just wish there were new and differing classes, because I feel that would add more variety.

Combat flows very nicely. It all unfolds in third-person, allowing you to attack, dodge, and block. You’ll have to learn to exploit enemy weaknesses, as well as focus on a variety of different weapons in order to win. The game is very tricky, and is not afraid to wipe you out for not playing carefully enough.

One feature I liked was room customization. You are given a room in the game, and tons of different decorations and themes to give it flare. It was fun playing multiplayer with friends and visiting their crazily designed rooms. I’ll get more into the multiplayer aspect in a second, but for now I want to touch on just how much I loved the room creation in this game. There were millions of options on how to decorate your room, with more unlocking as you completed the story. Normally, I hate this kind of thing in games. However, the sheer amount of insane decorations and furnishings you can dress up your room with was astounding.

While customization was a strong point in this game, sadly multiplayer didn’t stack up as well. Games were frequently laggy and slow, with occasional disconnections. I’m not sure if this was just my shoddy internet connection or not, but this was a frequent issue when I played. It gets more annoying when you start doing the special online quests that instantly fail when someone logs off, be it by accident or on purpose.

The online player community wasn’t as good either. I would frequently get into rooms with rather angry individuals or just all around disrespectful people. Not only that, but plays would frequently hack the game in order to max out their level cap. Hacking and cheating was extremely frequent in the game, and the devs did little to circumvent this. It was entirely possible to run into level 200 plays who would die in a couple of hits, which shouldn’t be possible in this game.

While the game did feature a highly improved battle mode, as well as the ability to visit the rooms of other players, this didn’t stop the multiplayer from being a chore at times. It’s sad that I had just as many bad memories with the multiplayer as I did good ones. I’ll be honest, I kind of miss that the online multiplayer is no longer functioning. Overall, I enjoyed the game, despite its various problems. The game’s challenging difficulty level of customization were a plus for me. Sadly, it falls short when it comes to multiplayer. On top of this, gameplay hasn’t changed all that much from previous entries. Despite it feel pretty much the same as old games, it’s refined enough that I can forgive this shortcoming.

Visual Stimuli

The game looks really good, I must say. While the graphics are pretty are definitely compressed to fit on that PSP screen, there’s still enough visual flare to make it look interesting. Voice-acting is okay, nothing too special there. Some voice actors/actresses don’t really pull their weight, and some can be a bit grating at times. A good example of this is Emilia’s voice actress, who sounds like she’s screaming every second line she says.

The voice-acting is decent enough at times, and there’s only real voice-work during the CGI cut-scenes, which don’t show up a whole lot. Still, it can be a bit annoying and distracting to players, especially people like me who play Phantasy Star solely for the gameplay and not the story.

Characters are well designed enough and definitely have a unique flare to them. Most of the main characters differ enough in design to feel like varied individuals, and a lot of the designs have a good look to them. Monster designs are okay, but sadly a lot of the monsters in this game are recycled from previous games. You’ll find yourself running into a lot of old enemies with slightly updated appearances, which can give off a feeling of “Been there, done that”.

Music in this game is fantastic, though again some of it is recycled from previous games. This doesn’t stop the tracks from still being amazing though. Almost each area in the game has a unique backing track to it, that surprisingly never gets old to me. Phantasy Star is a series that has always been known for its awesome music, so it’s hard to really find fault in the soundtrack of any of its games.

In short, I loved the music, character designs, and graphics, but felt that the monster designs and voice-work was a bit flimsy. The game definitely needed some extra polish in those areas, I must say. They aren’t really deal-breakers for me and don’t impact the whole package all that much. Still, the presentation has a tendency to be hit-or-miss at times.

In Summation

Despite its formulaic story, greatly lacking multiplayer (which is now defunct anyways), and recycled design, I still felt this was a fantastic game. Sure, it doesn’t do anything all that unique or groundbreaking, but really managed to refine the game-play of previous Phantasy Star games. Couple this with room customization, thousands of differing weapons to collect, and some really nice graphics, and you have a game that is still fun to play in the modern day.

Just be warned that this game can be very repetitive and grindy, and a single play-through of the main campaign can take many hours to complete. It’s a difficult and very challenging game that can require some careful thinking at times. In all honesty, I’d say this game is a forgotten classic. It isn’t as good as the original Phantasy Star or Phantasy Online games, but it’s still a fantastic game on its own. That’s why I can definitely say that this game is as sweet as syrup. Copies of this game aren’t super easy to find, but I highly recommend playing this game if you can track it down. It’s a fun little dungeon-crawler for PSP and an excellent successor to the Phantasy Star pedigree.

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