Read Part One. All things in order!
After a solid forty hours, Phantasy Star II is bested. I disabled the dams on Mota, explored Dezo’s frosty hellish landscapes, collected the eight Nei items, fought more biomonsters and robots than I thought possible, and – through sheer luck and overreliance on save states – defeated Dark Force and Mother Brain. In the end, the game’s surprisingly rich story is worth experiencing, even as the adventure itself is little more than a series of neverending battles.
Let it be known that writer/director Akinori Nishiyama knows how to keep an audience engaged. While the initial plot – figure out why there are a ton of monsters on Mota – evolves slowly over time, it’s the surprises that hook you. The death of a major character (one of the best and most beloved) occurs halfway through the game, while another major character from the first Phantasy Star makes a surprise return on Dezo. The shocking ambiguous ending was also one of the strongest I’ve seen in a long time. I’m still not sure it was worth the forty-hour investment, but the resolution felt earned and I was not disappointed.
Despite the powerful story, if you’ve read Part 1 of this review, you probably know why Phantasy Star II disenchanted me: about 80% of the game is grinding. Grinding for experience points, grinding for money to buy must-have equipment, grinding your weary soul into the ground. The remaining 20% is divided unevenly between exploring and story – though even as you explore new areas, you’ll fight more than you want to. Admittedly, after you arrive on Dezo, you don’t have to fight as much as you did on Mota. For me, however, the damage was already done. Even with a week-long break between play sessions, I had no desire to battle any more than was necessary for progression.
I also mentioned in Part 1 that each of the game’s eight characters is important to getting through the game. This isn’t entirely accurate. My party for the last half of the game was Rolf, Rudo, Anna, and Amy, and I didn’t need to switch out characters. In fact, I don’t see how you could beat the game without the aforementioned. Rolf is your main and an all-around powerhouse, Rudo has one of the strongest attacks in the game, Anna’s slashers can hit multiples of the same type of enemy at once, and Amy is the only significant healer (Nei and Rolf have healing powers, but they’re limited). Compared to these folks, Hugh the biologist, Kain the robot destroyer, and Shir the thief were inessential.
Dungeon-wise, Dezo’s ancient Roman-esque temples were a refreshing change from Mota’s boring robotic structures, but they were no less of a pain to trudge through. Particularly Ikuto, which has five stories and endless holes that mostly plunge you down in the wrong direction. Unless you have a map to guide you through the dungeon or a well-written FAQ, you could spend hours in one place figuring out the correct route.
In most RPGs, the final battle will be hard only if you’ve failed to properly level up your party. Phantasy Star II is the opposite. The Dark Force/Mother Brain battles are difficult, even if your team is at sufficient levels. The battles fought in the game are standard turn-based – you manually decide your party’s strategy, then each character, good or bad, carries out one attack/action before the cycle starts again. Dark Force and Mother Brain will often override this and force you to go through one or two additional turns without allowing you to choose your actions. Your party members’ default action is attack, so they will still attack the entities during these automatic turns. But your inability to choose your actions means you won’t be able to heal during these extended rounds. This makes these last battles harder and more luck-based than any others in the game. If the wrong character dies – the one with all the Trimates – because the game wouldn’t let you heal them, you may as well start the battle over. Beating Dark Force/Mother Brain depends not on your skill, but on whether the AI inadvertently allows you to heal and attack accordingly.
When Phantasy Star II released in 1989/1990, games were smaller. They were played, beaten (if we were lucky), then put into the pile. There was no such thing as a backlog; games were expensive and we were broke-ass kids reliant on birthdays, holidays, and allowance money. We cherished each of our games – not because we only owned good games, but because they were all we had. In such a landscape, Phantasy Star II must have been a welcome respite – a colossal adventure filled with hours upon hours of battles, dungeon exploration, and a honest-to-goodness story with truly shocking twists and turns. You could stretch the game out for months if you wanted to: level up every character, map out each dungeon, get lost in Mota and Dezo. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that the game was the best, most ambitious console RPG of its day.
Phantasy Star II is a towering artifact that deserves to be studied rather than experienced. Its accomplishments are legion: numerous cast of characters, mature themes and social commentary, streamlined, if overbearing battle system. The RPG genre wouldn’t be the same without the game. But unless you’re teaching your children about your past, there is little reason to return to the game’s tedious grinding and massive, confusing dungeons. “This is what I had to put up with, son/daughter. Graph paper. Detailed notes. For hours on end, I’d sit in front of the TV fighting the same monsters over and over again. And why? Because it’s fun…. well, it was fun, anyway.”
*cheers to ShadowFoxSW
32 replies on “Phantasy Star II: Part Two (Genesis, 1989)”
I’m glad you identified Lutz as Noah from the first Phantasy Star. I’ve seen endless debates whether Lutz is really Noah.. He is and all the controversy was due to a simple translation error from Japanese to English. If some people would just overlook that…
You’ve seem to come to terms with all the grinding. The cliffhanger ending makes all the grinding worthwhile for a tiny fraction of time. I haven’t played the game in 20+ years but those screenshots brought back the memories!
The second half of the game was light in grinding compared to the first half… but that doesn’t mean it’s excusable.
I dusted the game off and after all these years my save states were all intact! Dylan, out of curiosity what did you level up your characters to? Mine were all 40 and 41… Pretty sure that’s high as I was saved at Mother Brain, but not maxed out.
Dang, that’s high. My characters weren’t even close to that! I was getting pretty tired of fighting towards the end there. Rolf was 29, the rest were 28 and 27 I think.
Holy smokes, how did I ever endure all that grinding!
Great review Dylan. This is my favorite RPG of all time. It is also one of the most difficult ones. The story is so good for its time. So much nostalgia and good memories of this game for me. This game truly made me feel like I accomplished something special.
PS3 is coming up soon for you and you’ll find the difficulty level much easier. The story is also excellent and has a shocking plot twist.
Thanks ET. I think I would have loved this game if I had grown up with it.
I’m curious did you play the first one? I have no factual evidence, but it seems to me the people who really love this game got onboard with the Genesis and never played the first game. It was after all one of the only RPG’s available at the time on consoles. If this was someone’s first RPG experience, or they came into this of of playing Dragon Warrior, it would seem quite amazing. I mean this is a really early Genesis release.
I did play Phantasy Star and I love it, just not as much as PS2. The story wasn’t as captivating to me. I would rank the 4 games in this order. I’m aware that most people disagree with this though.
Ooh, ranking 3 above 1? Scandalous. I’m excited to try PS3. It generally gets the shaft, but sometimes the underappreciated games end up being my favorites.
That’s how I was, I didn’t actually go back and play the first one until years later when I was able to use an emulator, so I thought this game was great. Also as far as PS 3 goes, I always thought that was unfairly maligned for being different. I think a lot of the people that hated it probably would have liked it if it was not a PS game. I have in fact heard that other chrono gamers that didn’t play these when they were new tend to actually prefer 3 ( much easier, much less grindy).
I never had a Master System, so I would be in your anecdotal data set, Sean. It was a long time ago, but I think I would have played Final Fantasy, Wizardry, Swords and Serpents, and possibly Dragon Warrior on the NES before playing PS2 – so there was definitely a big difference in story and depth. The fact that the characters had actual names was a huge leap forward.
Now that you’ve finished I suppose I’ll comment. I can’t really argue against anything here. Personally I much preferred the first Phantasy Star. It was much more of a grand adventure. This game really excels at the story and the cutscenes. But the 3 planets of the original, plus drivable vehicles made this game seem kind of small. In fact in interviews I’ve read, this game was supposed to be larger. The ran out of time and there memory considerations as far as cart size so they had to cut out the initial plans for this game to have 3 or more planets. I imagine they jacked up the difficulty to make up for it. Plus i enjoyed the first person dungeons immensely more.
Another drawback is the wonderful backgrounds from the first game. I also read those were cut due to tech Ilogically limitations and cartridge space. The boring grid background was definetly a step backwards. The enemy designs themselves we’re excellent. All hi res looking monsters with very good animation. A bit of a spoiler but the third game doesn’t even get this right. It restores the backgrounds but now the enemies are almost static picrites with 2 animation frames.
This game could have been so much more. To me it was a step backwards except for the story which was fantastic. It was very grim and solemn. There is not a lot of happiness in this game. It’s really tragedy after tragedy. It’s a story of a utopian future gone wrong. Where everyone’s needs are provided for but when the system gets subverted, there is no one who has the ability or care to figure out why. Everyone is being suckled on the Mother Brains teat. And then the end is also tragic. I surmise the Earthmen were not initially bad, but corrupted by the Dark Force to do his bidding destroying the system of Algo. The ambiguous ending leaves you wondering if you sacrificed yourself in an epic battle or you defeated the Earthmen. Pretty heady stuff for 1989/90.
The sequel basically takes events from this game and continues them. But not in the ways you would think. The first generation of PS3 basically leaves you in the blind and places you on a seemingly generic fantasy landscape. Only to reveal its secrets in future generations. I in fact enjoy the third game more despite its technical limitations. It also does some revolutionary things for the time. If it didn’t look worse than 2 and even 1 in some places, and still have an antiquated combat system, it might be more fondly remembered than this game.
Overall I enjoyed Phantasy Star 2, but always , even at the time, thought of it as a disappointing sequel.
Yeah, there were some questionable decisions made in this game, for sure. The first one is a more well-rounded adventure. The pacing is great in the first one, but that’s where PS2 really stumbles. All the interesting stuff happens from the middle to the end of the game. And the first large chunk of the game is hard to stomach. I’m glad I played it, though.
I mean the first planet how it is sectioned off in these areas to make it seem bigger than it really was. Making these labyrinths of walls is only trying to pad the fact that it’s not really very big.
Great review Dylan, very reasonable and chronologically cognizant, if you know what I mean (I don’t). While firmly in the “grindfest” camp, I’ll probably end up playing through this one anyway one of these days.
If you ever have insomnia, play some Phantasy Star II.
If there was ever a boss in this game that needed a gif instead of a jpeg its Mother Brain. Although someone was using a horrible image filter when they made this one.
That was me! I used a screenshot from Fusion, no filter. Your point is valid, I’ll see if I can’t find a gif.
I wonder if Mother Brain ever caused some poor kid to have a seizure.
I hope not…
It’s actually sped up in that gif quite a bit from the real game. I’d say that gif is over twice as fast as real time. In the game it more of a slower transition between colors,
Horrible image filter!? HORRIBLE IMAGE FILTER?!?! I freaking love the sexy round curves of the hqx filter and use it for all my 8-bit gaming. Heck, I’ll even throw on some HQ overdrive filters for the sound as well. NO LIMITS FOR NUNG IN 20XX!!!
(and hey, at least I’m not throwing 100% scanlines on that isht)
That should be 8-bit AND 16-bit gaming, since we’re trying to be super precise here.
But, in all seriousness, does using filters really bother people all that much? How many Sega Does readers that emulate use filters and, if so, which ones are you partial to?
Sean’s analysis is spot on! I agree with litterally ALL of his points. After playing the first PS, the sequel was a major let-down. Some smaller observations I’d like to contribute:
-The mapping out of the dungeons was made needlessly difficult, because they opted for faux-3d-effects (top-view with sde-view combined). Unless I’m gravely lacking in geometrical skill, The parallel floor levels just don’t add up. Ok … it’s not that big of a disaster and a dose of common sense still allowed you to make the right connections. But combined with many other smaller annoyances …
I still don’t get that an 8-bit game was graphically more impressive than it’s 16bit sequel! Not only PS2’s battle screens were more monotone and colorless than it’s predecessor, This also counts for the overall world layouts!
I also felt like the original Phantasy Star was more graphically impressive in certain ways, Pieter, particularly in the dungeons. For some reason, I thought PS2 had first-person dungeons, so I was really surprised/annoyed when it didn’t. The layouts were confusing and made me not want to explore. Without a fantastic FAQ by my side, I wouldn’t have bothered.
Don’t forget the game was bundled with a nice hint book / walkthru which contained maps that encouraged exploration. With most of players probably playing in an emulator these days, it’s a shame the game is not played the way it was in 89.
I am not defending PS2 as I agree with all the posts that has stated PS1 is superior in pretty much every way, just thought this is an overlooked point given today’s access to emulators.
Good point. Still, I’d be pissed if I bought the game used prior to the FAQ era and the hint books weren’t included.
Man that hit book was essential. You almost had to use it for the dungeons. I would use it for the dungeons while trying to ignore the game hints to avoid spoilers. I would never play that thing without the book. I mean it’s hard with included dungeon maps.
So apperently I’m the only sucker who got out graph paper 😉
I was one of those that bought it used and didn’t get the hintbook, so that’s likely why I didn’t make a lot of progress. Even the early dungeons are quite the slog, and since I didn’t want to draw large maps of the dungeon areas, I was left to just exploring randomly and hoping I found my way through. Suffice to say, I didn’t make it very far. With FAQ’s and maps being what they are these days, however, I do want to revisit this at some juncture.
Ha, somehow haven’t commented on this one yet. I pretty much agree with all you said. The thing is, I had played PS 4 before PS 2 and PS 1 (unlike you, I’m guessing) and it’s just way more modern/playable to this day, as you might expect. With that being said, I still liked PS 1 more than PS 2 as well – PS 4 in my humble opinion is in a league of its own in terms of gameplay. There were actually Famicom games that were more playable than PS 2 at that time (Dragon Quest III comes to mind), but even so, PS 2 is a hugely important title, as far as console JRPGs go. Shame Mega Drive never got that much traction in Japan, but even there this one’s a well-known game, for a good reason.