It’s hard to fathom that the Phantasy Star series is going on 20+ years, but it remains the little RPG engine that could. (Take that, Final Fantasy.) Sega’s tried and true role player returns for its second foray in as many years on the PSP, this time bringing along friends via new ad hoc and infrastructure multiplayer modes.
Phantasy Star is the baklava of the role playing genre. Sure, there are fancier pastries, per se, but baklava – my friends - remains a tasty staple, nonetheless. It’s always there, a great fallback item for the pastry inclined, and almost never disappoints. It’s no wonder Sega – clearly not gaming diabetics – releases a Phantasy Star title almost every year.
The problem with Phantasy Star, however, is that the baklava isn’t necessarily fresh. What was once a fitting coffee companion is barely edible nearly two dozen iterations later. Phantasy Star loyalists, however, want baklava, damn it! Familiar characters, worlds, and a comfortable gameplay engine to match. No more pastry, references to follow.
If you fall into the Phantasy Star loyalist category…not much to say here. Phantasy Star Portable 2 builds upon its Universe, PSP predecessor. Gurhal…has seen better days. New issues, resource constraints, and a convoluted story about a relic explorer turned mercenary are the flavor du jour. (At least we’re away from pastries, right?)
The value-add lies in new multiplayer modes. Find local players, join a party, level up. Attempt the wonky world of PSP Online, where the few, the proud, the strangely password protected (?!)- yet on level 120 – roam. To this day – one that began with the original PSP 1000 black brick - I remain in search of the one PSP title with truly playable online functionality. The UMD Holy Grail still eludes me. Someday, I too will choose wisely, Dr. Jones.
In a nutshell, Phantasy Star Portable 2 does little to offend nor impress. The good: character customization options. Literally hundreds of configurations are at your disposal, spanning 4 classes, dozens of ‘disc’ weapons upgrades, and an equal array of worlds and levels.
The bad: the engine and graphics reek of 1995, and with it a frustrating camera angle dynamic. ‘Frustrating’ equates to getting shellacked over and over by enemies one can’t see and often not touch due to questionable motion detection. Be prepared to swing at the air…and often. Then die.
Back to the baklava one last sugary time. Phantasy Star Portable 2 – despite its flaws – keep you coming back for more. Even after the unseeable, untouchable giant dragon kicks your ass x100. There’s love in this title, but also better pastries in the glass display cases. Story mode…well, it sucks. New artwork, voice acting, however, are surprisingly strong.
For what it’s worth, online multiplayer – when functional – is a kick. A terrific, all-powerful teammate graciously allowed me to finish off enemies for the high experience points and quick level ups that followed. I craved more…but the PSP’s online ghost town reared its ugly head. Story mode? An unfitting replacement. That bastard dragon emerged once more. Died I did, in my best Yoda.
Finally and worth noting: online multiplayer requires a Playstation Network code to activate. While a code comes packed within the retail version, used buyers be prepared for the inevitable, additional investment.
Phantasy Star Portable 2 is a decent RPG, but one sorely in need of a genre update. Its online multiplayer is a welcome addition to last year’s PSP predecessor, but suffers from the sparse functionality, community the portable is known for. Even Phantasy Star fans will find its story mode, camera angles lacking.
Reviewed by Paul Stuart | 10.08.10
- Tried and true Phantasy Star engine
- New multiplayer
- Robust character development
- Outdated graphics engine
- Frustrating camera, motion detection
- Useless story mode
Similar Games: Phantasy Star Universe (6.0)