Genre: (Online) RPG | Developer: Alfa System | Publisher: SEGA
Platform: PSP | Players: Ad-Hoc & Online: (1-4) | Rating: PEGI 12
Phantasy Star Online might have been a hit after it’s initial Dreamcast release and Gamecube/Xbox reincarnations, but later installments within the series were able to make loyal fans cry. With Phantasy Star Portable 2, Alfa System hopes to redeem Sega’s past mistakes, finally giving PSO-ites a reason to grind the night away. Let’s see if they’ve succeeded.
The initial idea of any online Phantasy Star game is enough to make gamers soak themselves. Taking the grinding and lootwhoring concepts from games such as Diablo, they combined those with the aspects from a console-based action RPG. Levelling up and decking out your character, but all this while you have to pay attention to things like chaining attacks together and dodging enemy blows. It’s what inspired Monster Hunter, a success story in Japan that proves how well this works.
The game’s flow is what it’s been since Phantasy Star Online. You create your character, picking between a series of races and classes – the latter one being defined as Types. The number of classes has been significantly cut down since Phantasy Star Portable 1, making room for customization of each class. Once you’re all set, you can either choose to grind your way through missions, or jump into the game’s 10 chapter story.
The story mode will take you about 20 to 25 hours this time around, but probably isn’t what you’ll be getting the majority of game time out of. Instead, your focus will most likely be the same as it would be in any MMO – getting geared up and high levelled.
If you’d check this game out just briefly, you probably wouldn’t notice a whole lot of new features when comparing it to Phantasy Star Universe or Portable 1. There’s some tweaks in the game’s combat mechanics, like the addition of rolling, blocking and chaining up your attacks. Just Attacks – originally from PSU’s first expansion, Ambition of the Illuminus – also make a reappearance, allowing players to make their attacks more damaging by timing them perfectly.
Playing through the first few tutorial missions, it’s hard not to think you’re playing the exact same game you did in 2005. But as you get a bit more into it and start applying the new features in combat, you’ll find a new depth to it that eliminates the slightly dull feeling PSU had.
The first Phantasy Star Portable didn’t do much next to porting a portion of content from Phantasy Star Universe to the PSP. Commendable back then, but it’s good to see that developer Alfa System has realized it’s actually designing for a handheld device. Missions in this installment are more compact, allowing you to finish two or three in your average bus ride home.
Some of Phantasy Star Universe’s more renown timesinks have been removed in previous installments, but Portable 2 takes care of a few more. Weapon upgrades won’t have a chance of failing anymore, but instead have become expensive to give your wallet a purpose this time around. The requirement of items to upgrade has also been removed, only requiring you to have a single Extend Code to give your weapon a significant boost at the end of your upgrading process.
Phantasy Star Online and Universe offered an online mode, but both games asked for a monthly fee to make use of it. Portable 2 scraps this concept, allowing people to meet up online without having their credit card billed each month. Certain features of the original online modes had to be cut because of this, essentially meaning you’ll be browsing menus to find fellow players to do missions with, rather than a virtual hub.
It’s this online mode that lifts Phantasy Star Portable 2 from being just another timesink, to a game worth considering forking 40 dollars over for. With the levelcap at 200 it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stay focussed on it while playing solo, something that’s easily fixed by playing with a couple of friends. There’s also a set of challenge missions that focus on teamwork, both in combat and traversing dungeons, meaning your friends will feel like more than just a couple smarter AI’s. The lack of some sort of alternative to chatting next to the virtual keyboard and premade messages is sorely missed, however.
Yes, this game has a levelcap of 200, which takes about as long as you might imagine. If this sounds like a drag to you, there’s a good chance this isn’t the game for you. Phantasy Star Portable 2 only exists to satisfy the most grindcrazy powerlevellers among us, something it pulls off magnificently despite (or perhaps thanks to) it’s bite-sized mission structure. If that’s you, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be able to sink your teeth in this game for weeks, months or even years to come.