Phantasy Star Portable 2 Review

The Phantasy Star Universe series came as an update to the original Phantasy Star Online series with many new improvements to the console based MMORPG experience, but many things lacking in the offline mode. It was, after all, supposed to be mostly online. So how, then, does a portable entry in the series work? Let's start with a bit of story.

The first Phantasy Star Portable came as something very, very close to a port of the Ambition of the Illuminus engine in Sony's portable system. The core gameplay was there, the missions, the story mode, items, character creation missions and even multiplayer. It was a considerable effort and the first PSP game I experienced that came very close to what I had enjoyed in the console releases.

There were, however, things that didn't make the cut for some reason. Lobbies, room decorations and a few stages that were there in Ambition of the Illuminus. I, however, had a tremendous amount of fun enjoying playing offline as I had gotten used to on the PS2.

Then, on the Japanese PSN store, was released an application that made use of the PS3 as a sort of gateway for playing online with other players. I was basically playing the adhoc multiplayer mode, only with people that weren't even in either my country or continent.

The first Phantasy Star Portable came and delivered the core experience of the Phantasy Star Universe in a small, neat package, even lacking a second stick and R2 and L2 buttons.

How does Phantasy Star Portable 2 come to improve on the last game's already excellent gameplay?

The answer is easy. It comes and improves everything.

For starters, you can import your character from the first game and gain a nice freebie in the process. A saber type weapon that can hit more than one enemy at the same time. Still, it's a C Rank weapon, so it doesn't seem like much. You can, however, use a certain item to upgrade it to an S Rank weapon and make it even more formidable, so it is something nice to keep in mind. The character creation this time around features the same basic outline of the series, only adding more facial features, eyes, even make-up for female characters. Also, the models used in the last game for the player characters were dumped in favor of more detailed and colorful ones. The hair options, however, are still present if one wishes to go for older looks. New starting clothes for each race are available, with the best looking ones being the human and beast characters, followed by the CASTs and the ridiculously looking newmans with their baggy, colorful dresses straight from a carnival.

Gameplay is basically the same as the PS2/PC/XBox 360 versions of the game. Fluidity is not an issue. This time, however, improvements to the game have been made. In addition to strafing maneuvers to avoid attack, there is a rolling move to avoid attacks that are just too quick to avoid by strafing or for jumping low fences that would trigger alarms or traps.

Another improvement comes in the form of blocking stances for several weapons. Double sabers, daggers, swords all allow blocking stances. There are, however, actual shields to equip with single handed weapons like wands, sabers, claws or whips. These are more effective. As an added bonus, if timed right, the blocking can reflect the damage to the attacker, tilting the combat in the player's favor.

For projectile based weapons like handguns, cannons, rifles and the like, a charged shot has been added. Even technique based weapons have their advantages now. A three attack string has been added. For example, throwing three Rafoie attacks in succession, as opposed to the casting of said technique in individual bursts. This adds speed to combat, which is needed because this time, the enemy AI was set to be highly aggressive, when compared to the milder aggressivity of the past games. Another nice addition are the Mirage Blasts. This is basically summoning a creature in the style of Final Fantasy to deliver an attack for you and then disappear. Players often wondered why only CASTs and beasts had any kind of special attacks. This issue has been addressed like this to balance things out in the cases of humans and newmans.

Enemies often attack in groups, with some of the worst cases being enemies that use melee attacks attacking in groups and supported by long range attackers. Even enemies that were moderately agile and aggressive like the Svaltus are now quicker and more aggressive, aided by smaller enemies that don't relent like the Golmoro. Some enemies even change their elemental properties when attacked. Green is the neutral color, but if attacked with a colored weapon, they change to the same color and then force you to change weapons to that of the opposite one. The bosses from the consoles return, but of course the game sports a few new enemies that range from large to the Oh crap, how do I fight THAT!? kind of enormous enemy one loves to topple. A wonderful example is the Leol Badia that looks like a stereotypical flying saucer with four spider like legs. It is also quite strong and varied in its attack patterns. A personal favorite of mine is Mother Brain (Dulk Fakis reskin) which comes back with a remix of the PSII boss theme.

The partner AI has received a revamp as well, being the most useful partners this time around. Going back to play the first PSp (Phantasy Star Portable, just to avoid confusing it with the system, the PSP), I observed the characters were like in AoI (Ambition of the Illuminus), which were better than the mononeuronal (stupid idiots) from the first PSU. To make matters even better, the player can now issue actual orders to the partners, like going into an aggressive frenzy, to concentrate on healing when needed, to follow the player, etc. The variety for orders (with the menu opened with the Select button) is good, and useful in sticky situations.

The graphics have also been improved from the initial PSp. The textures now sport more vibrant colors, are cleaner and better designed. Some of the new stages really look great this time around, with the old stages benefitting from the improvements as well. Of course, we are talking PSP grade graphics. The PS2 games still look way better. These graphics, however, are some of the prettiest I have encountered on this little console.

The content is nothing short of enormous. There are tons of weapons, items, costumes and room decorations to find and make use of. Among them are the much coveted by fans of the classic Phantasy Star series Myau statuette. Weapons range from the normal saber to weapons referencing PSO Ep2's Heathcliff Flowen, even double sabers and photon claws like those of that same game. It is a shame, however, that a laconia sword is missing. On the bright side, there are even bonus weapons and clothing from Valkyria Chronicles 2. A Valkyrian lance (which is a saber here) and shield with the spiral design and uniforms for both genders of the Lanseal Royal Military Academy of the same game. Even the Gallian rifle can be obtained. Content is, in other words, not an issue in the least bit. I have to also add that if the player wants, they can even dress their character like an overgrown rappy with a huge head and run around for comedic effect.

The leveling up is also kinder to the player in that it allows the player to obtain levels at a higher rate than the console versions of PSU, making progress in the game smoother and less tiring. Still, in some stages, difficulty spikes can be found, and if not careful, the player can end up dead in a matter of seconds by a pack of ferocious enemies like the famed Sinow Beats from PSO, that make for a fearsome threat in close quarters combat.

In the PSO related goodness, stages like the forest, caves and mines make a return as bonus stages as well. Not the same in structure, but the same motifs can be found, which is a nice nostalgia trip.

The most notable addition to the gameplay is an infrastructure mode. In other words, full online support for those who missed it. You can type in a manner very similar to that of PSO. Still, you can't make use of a keyboard and are limited to typing with your D-Pad and face buttons. Silly icons can be used as well for extra color in messages. The only hindrance to gameplay I can find, however, is that the NPCs that accompany you NEVER shut up. Their lines, comments and even nonsense oftentimes cover the screen and can turn into a bit of an annoyance when following an especially quick enemy around.

The story is standard PSU fare. Still, the characters are probably the nicest bunch in the whole series. This time around, the story centers on the emerging Little Wing Mercenary Company and its youngest member, 15 years old Emilia Percival. Along her journey with you as her partner, you will meet Yuuto, a half newman, half beast with a penchant of using his ass for thinking (Oh, how I would have loved to hick him right there with a metal pointed boot), Mika, a phantom (I'm using the term a little loosely here) from an ancient and advanced civilization that was wiped by the SEED, Crouch Mueller, the manly man with a beard that doesn't mind wearing pink and looking badass while doing it, Ursula, the head of the Little Wing company and Chelsea, the large breasted with an attire completely unsuited for combat CAST with an interesting speech accent and loads of HUGE guns that she manages with terror inspiring ease for a reason. Even characters from the Guardians return like Maya, that annoying prick Tonnio and even Vivienne from the last game, which was very missed by me during the time I didn't know she was there. Bonus characters that can be obtained after difficult missions also feature, for the people who enjoy getting to the bottom of things as well.

My only gripe with the story mode would be Yuuto, actually. Most often than not I would really have loved to kick his ass to the nearest SEED infested satellite and leave him there. That's all I'll say. The story is pretty much like watching a regular adventure anime. You know, cowardly teenager grows a pair (of ovaries in Emilia's case) and matures nicely, but doesn't turn into an annoying prick. There are also three endings. The bad one, the normal and the good one, which gives you an extra partner card, which is always welcome for variety.

One thing that struck me as odd, is that the large majority of partner characters this time around is female. This is something I hadn't encountered in a game that wasn't completely centered on panty shots and mindless fan service. It was well managed, and I am thankful for the change of pace in what I'm used to see.

The game features an enormous amount of replay value, whether you choose to play alone or in the company of others. It is one of the best examples of a franchise that started in the wrong direction, with the original PSU being mostly online oriented, to a format of keeping content balanced between online, adhoc multiplayer and normal gameplay. Musically, the game doesn't disappoint in the least if you liked the PSU music and graphically, it is one of the strongest examples of the PSP's limited resources handled in a very good manner. The gameplay is much better than the console iterations and the addition of extras hidden away in the game only makes the deal sweeter.

WING-0