Genre: RPG Developer: Sega Enterprises Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1989
The early days of the Genesis’ existence were marked by the slow but steady stream of software from Sega and its handful of third party licensees. The system launched without an RPG, but Sega came through a few months later with what was, at the time, the largest such game ever to grace a console. Phantasy Star II clocked in at a massive six megs, and was so huge and deep that it came bundled with its own strategy guide. How’s that for intimidating? Yes, the single best game from the original 8-bit Master System got the sequel it deserved and then some. Even today, it’s renowned (or hated, depending on your preference) for a massive quest and unrelenting difficulty.
Few would ever have imagined that the original could have been topped. As the biggest- and most expensive- Master System title ever released in the U.S., Phantasy Star was an RPG fan’s dream come true. Its 3D dungeons and awesome boss battles were a badge of pride to ward off Nintendo fans and anti-Segites (new word!) from all over. Imagine then, what it must have been like for the eager gamer to bring Phantasy Star II‘s hefty packaging home from the store. There was something magical about it, and with good reason. Any game that brought together the talents of Reiko Kodama, Yuji Naka, Naoto Ohshima, and Tokuhiko “Bo” Uwabo, had to be something special.
From the get-go, Phantasy Star alumni will be instantly whisked back to a very familiar scenario. Little has changed since the first game. Everything still takes place in the Algo Star System, on the lush planet Palm and its two siblings: the desert world of Mota and the icy Dezo. A thousand years have passed since Alis and her companions defeated Dark Falz and freed the solar system from evil. Now, young Rolf is plagued with nightmares of her legendary battle against evil, and he believes there is some connection between them and Algo’s current ailment. The automatic computer system that controls the climates of all three planets, Mother Brain, has malfunctioned, and Biomonsters now roam indiscriminately, wreaking havoc on the populace. Together with a band of companions that include everything from his Numan friend Nei to a thief and even a doctor, Rolf must find the cause of the malfunction and set things right.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear. This is a hard game. Even with the 110-page guide that came included, certain areas later on can be brutal. How people played the guide-less rerelease or the Smash Pack version is beyond me. That being said, it’s not impossible, but you will find it a good idea to give good ol’ Rudo both an escapipe and a telepipe. A few minutes into the first dungeon, and you’ll see what I mean.
I have heard people complain that the first few hours of Phantasy Star II are uneventful and tedious. This may be true in a sense, as you’re not really taking on anything monumental in the early objectives, but things really kick into gear when you tackle the dams. Four excruciating dungeons that set the stage for the rest of the game, they bring the story into focus and set the characters down a path from which there is no return. This is capped off by a watershed moment in gaming, one that preceded Final Fantasy VII‘s tragic event by almost a decade.
RPGers should feel right at home here, as the interface is standard fare for the genre at the time. Standard turn-based fare is the rule of the day, and while the random battles may be annoying for those weaned on modern offerings, they never become enough to make you want to stop playing. No previous experience with the series is necessary, but knowing the back-story makes a few events more fun (like the Skure Spaceport, for example). Some people might feel a bit put off by the simple graphics, but if that’s enough to make you stop playing, then you’ve got more serious issues to worry about. As unrefined as the visuals were, the innovation still managed to shine through. The battle scenes, for example, were on a blue grid as opposed to real scenery, but were quite novel and energized the random battles. It was great to see Rudo open up on a foe with his shotgun, or Nei scratch the living hell out of a mosquito; moreover, Ana’s slashers were quite the treat to watch. The magic had some nifty animation, and enemies would actually lash out at you instead of wiggling a finger or twitching their ears (yes Phantasy Star III, that one is directed at you).
Unlike the graphics, the soundtrack has stood the test of time well, and Bo’s work is simply masterful. Modern orchestrations of the score do great justice to its brilliance, but it’s amazing at how well the Genesis handled the massive number of themes. This is really evident in every aspect of the audio. I’ve yet to play a Genesis cart that makes such good use of the different sounds and effects as Phantasy Star II does, which really gives it a style that can hold its own against any other game in the series.
There simply isn’t a reason for Phantasy Star II to not be in your library. Whether it’s the huge quest, challenging dungeons, or awesome soundtrack; it definitely warrants playing. Its mid-range price tag makes it very attractive as well, and I wholeheartedly recommend getting the actual cart over the cheaper Dreamcast Smash Pack, whose audio is butchered beyond hope. Another acceptable option would be THQ/Sega’s wonderful Phantasy Star Collection for the Game Boy Advance. You have more than enough options, people! This was the first real RPG released for the Genesis, and it’s still one of the best. Along with the first game and Phantasy Star III, it is slated for a domestic release sometime this year in a collection entitled Phantasy Star Trilogy. Revamped and redesigned, this should be the definitive version of Sega’s star franchise. I, for one, await its arrival with bated breath.
SCORE: 8 out of 10