The original Phantasy Star never really had the impact it deserved, mainly thanks to the fact that its host platform - the Sega Master System – failed to sell in significant numbers in the US. The series would have to wait until the introduction of the Genesis/Megadrive before it would gain any kind of recognition or respect Stateside.
Phantasy Star II was one of the earliest Genesis releases and, along with Sword of Vermillion, represented one of the first RPGs for Sega’s 16-bit console. Of the two it’s arguably the most imposing release, promising nearly 40 hours of gameplay. The grandiose nature of the game was further cemented by the fact that it came with battery back up (quite an event back then), a massive guidebook and cost around $20-$30 more than your average Genesis release.
This is your typical turn-based RPG epic; you walk from town to town interacting with various characters, picking up clues and items along the way. After trolling the hostile countryside you eventually come across a dungeon. Following many turn-based combat situations you meet up with the boss; defeat him and it’s time to hit the road again until you find the next town. This process repeats many times and will be familiar to most hardened fans of the genre.
RPGs of this nature succeed or fail on their combat engines; because battles are random and come without warning the combat itself has to be fairly interesting or the player’s attention span is going to be rapidly reduced. Phantasy Star 2’s system isn’t the best we’ve seen but it’s certainly not the worst. There’s still the gloriously random nature of other games of this type (with many seemingly sure-fire attacks inexplicably failing to connect for no reason other than to keep you on your toes), but on the whole combat is pretty satisfying and your characters (you control up to four at a time) showcase myriad impressive fighting techniques and spells.
Graphically, Phantasy Star 2 looks very much like an early Genesis release. Although the visuals are certainly a step up from the Master System original, things still tend to look a little bland in places. Of course the game is elevated slightly thanks to the wonderful futuristic setting (something that the series is famous for) but it should come as no surprise that the sequels (especially the superlative fourth title) look much better than this. The same can be said for the aural experience, although there are some neat little tunes that stick in your head. The sound effects are weak, however.
The biggest issue with Phantasy Star 2 is its ambiguity. Many of the items in the game feature no explanation and its often not obvious what effect a certain weapon or piece of armour will have on your characters. As you might expect from an RPG that is nearly 20 years old, many of the refinements we’ve seen in recent genre classics are missing, which shouldn’t bother those of you that experienced the game the first time around, but it will undoubtedly frustrate newcomers weaned on newer RPG games.
There’s no denying that Phantasy Star 2 is a title worthy of your time and effort. Very few RPG franchises feel and play in the same way that Sega’s epic series does and, although it has a few irksome shortcomings, it’s unrealistic to expect a game of this age to contain RPG features that have only appeared in recent titles. If you’re a fan of the genre and have a 40 hour hole in your spare time, then this should fit the bill quite nicely.