A few years ago, players saved the Gurhal system from total destruction when they fought back the SEED infestation. Now the small collection of planets is in danger once again, from an enemy that most of its denizens don’t even know exists.
Who cares, right?
Just like its predecessor, Phantasy Star Portable 2 has a story that almost no one cares about, told through static character portraits and very little spoken dialogue. And that dialogue is both bad and awkwardly acted. But also like the first game, what people really care about is the Diablo-style grinding for experience and phat lewts. So does this second game on Sony’s “little handheld that could” manage to improve the formula, or is it just spinning its wheels?
The answers to both of those questions is “yes.”
A whole lot of assets from the original game have been brought over to PSP2, with no real noticeable changes to the graphics or overall presentation to speak of. In fact, many of the non-essential optional missions take place in the exact same environments as the first game. Speaking from the perspective of someone who’s sunk hundreds of hours into the original Phantasy Star Portable game, it was rather dull having to plod through the same areas over and over and over and over and over, etc… for one game, but having to do it all over again in another is aggravating to say the least.
Combat was also left largely untouched, with players using the same system of palette swapping and weapon combos. You’ll still get stuck in an attack animation and find yourself unable to avoid some attacks. You’ll still be using all of the weapon types you’re already familiar with. You’ll still get sick of playing nursemaid to a naive and almost useless “partner” with “special powers” trapped inside of them. SSDD.
But (there’s most definitely a “but”) there have been some much needed additions and tweaks to the gameplay as well. One such addition is the inclusion of a real 3-dimensional space for your character to walk around in between missions. Now you can physically walk to the shops rather than move a cursor to a symbol on a static image. Your character also has their own room, much like they do in Phantasy Star Universe, that you can customize and furnish to your liking, as well as invite other players to visit. Assuming you can find anyone who actually cares enough to critique your virtual interior design. It’s a small improvement, but it’s a nice one to have nonetheless.
Other changes come in the form of character customization. As before, you can create your character by choosing a race, gender, various physical features and a class. And as before you can adjust pretty much all of those values (save gender and race) for a fee. Only this time you can also customize your chosen class. Translation: if you want to use that Class B saber you found in the last mission but don’t want to switch classes, you can allocate points into that weapon category, allowing your character access to it. Which is a huge deal for anyone who felt a little too stifled with the last game’s class system. Your class choices will still affect your character’s stats and growth, but now you’ll finally be able to make that melee beast that can also use healing spells, or a tech user who can snipe enemies from afar with a specialized rifle. Sweet deal.
There have also been a couple of improvements to the general combat. First, you can block (!). Most dual and two-handed weapons can do it, and you can also make use of the new shields which allow you to block with your off hand when you’re using a one-handed weapon. Blocking doesn’t make you invincible, as you have to be facing the attack and oftentimes the larger enemies will be so close that their attacks count as hitting behind you (lame), but it’s still a great option. Even better is the newly added ability to dodge (!!). That’s right, you can use some of your stamina/PP to do a dodge roll that will both (presumably) get you out of harm’s way and make you invulnerable for a second. Time it right and that boss’s area-effect attack won’t even touch you. Of course, what really matters is that those stupid self-destructing mechs won’t knock you around like a ragdoll anymore. Phantasy Star Portable vets, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
So things are still very much the same, but also a little better. The same goes for the multiplayer. Just like the first game, you can gather a group and take on various optional missions for experience, loot and money. Most of the missions can be found in the singleplayer game, but there are some multiplayer exclusives as well. The big problem with the last game was that there was only support for local Ad-Hoc multiplayer, and it was laggy as hell. In Phantasy Star Portable 2 the action still lags a little, but it’s much better than it was. As in, it won’t get you killed. But what should really make PSP geeks happy is the inclusion (finally) of real, honest-to-goodness online multiplayer over wi-fi. Yee-haw.
If you’re a fellow Phantasy Star Portable nut, there is one last thing you should be made aware of: you can import your original PSP character into PSP2, but you won’t be importing a whole lot. In fact, aside from keeping their name, gender and race, not a whole lot else survives the trip. Your gear? Gone. Your vast riches? Forgotten. Your clothes? Those you keep. And you also apparently get a reasonably useful sword that’ll stay relevant until around levels 25-30 or so. But that’s all you get. Having a level 70 character with a ton of hours under their belt reduced to a newbie with a (admittedly cool-looking) special sword kind of sucks. Still, once you grind your way to around level 10 and start to use those nifty special techniques it all picks up again.
If you’ve played the original to the point of being sick of it, there probably won’t be anything new enough in PSP2 to bring you back. If you’re a PSP fanatic, chances are you already own it. And if you’ve been thinking about getting into the series, or have a weak spot for loot-centric dungeon crawlers you can just go ahead and skip the first game and get right into this one. You may not know any of the backstory, but it’s really not important.
Things We Liked: Some marked improvements like being able to block and dodge. Deeper character customization. Still plenty of flashy special moves. Lots of sweet-looking laser weapons. Multiplayer that isn’t so laggy it borders on unplayable.
Things We Disliked: Utterly pointless story. Irritating characters. Combat still feels slow in comparison to other games. Grinding can be a pain. Still some irritating lag when switching weapons mid-combat, leaving you empty-handed and defenseless. Some bosses are frustratingly cheap. Reverting my transferred character to level 1 sucks, but makes sense — but I can’t even keep my meseta? WTF??
Target Audience: Dungeon crawler aficionados. Loot whores. Phantasy Star phans (see what I did there?).
(Phantasy Star Portable 2 – Developer: Alfa System. Publisher: Sega. Available for PlayStation Portable. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)