Sega’s Phantasy Star is one of the few Japanese RPG series besides Final Fantasy to have been around as long. Not only was Phantasy Star a rival game, but it was SEGA’s flagship RPG, going up against (at the time) Nintendo’s Final Fantasy. While Final Fantasy defined many of the modern console RPG elements we see today, Phantasy Star was revolutionary in its own right. Phantasy Star was the first console RPG to send adventurers into space to explore other planets, the first to use advanced graphics technology, the first story driven console RPG released in the USA and even the first console based MMORPG with the release of Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast. Spanning multiple sequels and 5 different consoles, Sega brings the eleventh game in the series to the PSP with Phantasy Star Portable 2. Can a MMORPG work on a portable console? Let’s take a look.
Phantasy Star Portable 2 takes place 3 years after the events in Phantasy Star Universe. Four races from the Gurhal system have joined forces to drive out and seal an evil called SEED. They succeed in sealing the evil, but in doing so have greatly diminished their resources. In order to ensure the survival of the people, each race’s scientists and military work together on a �sub-space sailing theory� to reach out into outer space to gather resources. The player helps with this mission by joining a PMC called Little Wing on space colony Clad 6. The story may at first sound like one big fetch quest, but as missions progress, a bigger threat will be rising up from behind the scenes.
This game is a bit different from past JRPGs that I have reviewed. Phantasy Star Portable 2 could be considered two games in one: it is a single player JRPG and a MMORPG. I’ll cover the MMORPG aspects in a bit, but first I’ll discuss the single player campaign and the extensive character creation process.
Before starting up a new game, I highly recommend doing the data install. It is not required, but will make load times much faster and the game will run much more smoothly. After installing the game data, character creation comes next. With most JRPGs the character is either already established or preset. With PSP2, there are four races to choose from: Human, Newman, Cast and Beast. Each race has different characteristics and stats. Humans are just that, humans. Newmans are, for lack of a better word, the �space elves� of the game. The Cast are artificial life forms (aka cyborgs, androids etc.) The Beats are humanoid animals. After choosing a race and sex, deciding the overall look of the character is next. From the clothes they wear to their eyes, facial features, and even body parts for the Cast, the player is given a lot to work with. Once a character is created, the type (class) is next. Again there are four different types to pick from; Hunters, Rangers, Force and Vanguard. Each has their own individual levels and unique abilities and stats. Once everything is set and the character is created, the game starts.
PSP2 plays for the most part like an action JRPG; the player takes missions, explores dungeons and grabs as much loot as possible. What makes PSP2 different from other games in the genre is the menu system. Instead of stopping to pause and open up the menu to use items or swap out equipment, everything is done in real time. Pressing start brings up the user menu. On here, player stats, inventory, mission data, system data and community can be accessed. Each option has its own sub menu. The Community option is the MMO aspect of the game, handling player cards, party invites, messages, quick texts, and the ignore list. Here is where the player does most of their communication with other players. Even battle actions and selections are done in real time without having to exit into a menu. This is called the battle pallet. All attack actions and weapon sets can be accessed from here. Square is used for normal attacks while triangle is for charged attacks. Pressing and holding the square brings out the weapon set pallet where the player can swap out different sets. Even better, the game allows for dual wielding some weapon types, which makes for interesting load outs.
For a JRPG this big to be on a small PSP screen, PSP2 looks decent. Enemy models vary based on the different parts of the game world, landscapes are detailed and the character models look good. SEGA really went the extra mile when designing the different races for the game and the various ways to customize them. The sounds of future space combat are in the game, from the �pew pew� of laser guns to the �zap� of a beam sword. The music does well to match the moods in the different environments. The main theme song �Living Universe� sung by Aimee Blackschleger and Tahirih Walker really sets the mood during the opening credits, making the game feel like a futuristic space epic. One area that falls short is the lack of a Japanese voice track. Yes, yet again I make mention of this. It might sound like I’m nit-picking, but I do prefer hearing the Japanese voice cast, and I’m sure other JRPG fans also feel the same. Nevertheless, this is just a minor thing that doesn’t take away from the overall experience of the game.
Like most RPGs in general, there is no lack of replay value once the game is finished because there is so much to do aside from the main quest. PSP2 takes that even farther with its additional extra missions. There are six extra mission types that can be done in addition to the main quest. They are �Open�, which are free missions that have no specific goals. �Tactical�, which are either extended versions of previous missions or that do have specific goals. �Trade,� which are fetch quests. �Battle� missions are the PvP (player vs player) part where players can challenge each other to a fight, and �Challenge� missions are the hardest of the group and have specific goals to complete using the type and load out assigned. �Urgent� missions are timed, the goal is to see how fast players can get through the area. All these missions can be played with others, which brings up the major aspect of the game: multiplayer. All missions, even the story missions, can have up to three more players traveling along through using the PSP’s Ad-Hoc or Infrastructure modes. If friends are not there, then the player can go online through infrastructure mode and meet with other players around the world and form parties to take on missions. This is where PSP2 starts to become an MMORPG. Yet, like all PSP games that I have reviewed so far, in order to play online, a code found in the box must be entered in order to play. I’m really starting to get annoyed with Sony’s stance on this issue. Code enabled online play leaves those who rent the game or buy it game used left out unless they buy a new copy or pay for an unlock code online.
Rivalries are good for business. They drive companies to think of ways to make their product different from the rest. The rivalry between Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star forced SEGA to think outside of the box and into the vast reaches of space to create the first story driven JRPG in the US. Phantasy Star Portable 2 is the culmination of its predecessor’s innovations, and the result is a good game. PSP2 shows that an MMORPGs can be done on a handheld platform. Sony’s policy of forcing players to buy a new copy in order to play online, and the lack of a Japanese voice track are the only things that bring the game down, but not enough for me to give it a bad score. Hopefully, Sega will release Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity as DLC here in the West and will continue to support this game with downloadable content. I highly recommend this for JRPG fans and those looking for a portable MMORPG experience.
- Mike V.
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