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Phantasy Star Portable 2 (PSP)

The original Phantasy Star Portable felt like a complete cash in and rushed offline version of SEGA's main console Phantasy Star online RPG, Universe. Based on these criticisms, they went back and created Phantasy Star Portable 2, featuring more unique content and a slightly updated combat system with pacier, more challenging battles and, of course, free online multiplayer as nature intended. If you've got a PSP sitting around, then allow CapnCloudchaser to convince you to track this game down in our review.

Phantasy Star Portable 2 is more or a less a portable version of Phantasy Star Universe, only with better gameplay in parts, more customisation, fun new multiplayer modes and minus the rather nifty Casino mini-games of the expansion, Ambition of the Illuminus, and of course, the subscription fee. Many of the default levels, monsters and bosses of Universe are available in a slightly shrunk version, as well as a host of newer areas. Whilst the original Phantasy Star Portable was pretty much a half-assed continuation of the Universe franchise and story, PSP2 does it better by taking the best bits and improving on the formula. For a start, gone is the boring menu and map navigation of the first Portable as you can now physically explore the new city hub with your character. The player room system of Universe is also present, allowing you to walk around decorating, remodelling the theme and changing the music as you see fit. Player customisation is in-depth, allowing you to change all aspects of your character. It's just the little things like this that make PSP2 better already.

The game is set upon the space station of Clad 6 in a mercenary-like outfit called Little Wing, though you'll be exploring the three main planets of Gurhal and other Universe areas as you would expect. The characters of Little Wing are actually interesting enough to put up with and the story is a lot funnier and more engaging than that of Universe and PSP1, partly because the Guardians and other annoying characters don't get much of a look in. Whilst the game does suffer from recycling the same areas over, Sega have listened to complaints and spiced up the level design by introducing some unique traps and harder enemies. This is especially evident within the newer areas, and the single player story mode itself has some unique missions, my favourite one of which was to defend a series of computers from monster attacks by using shields and turrets. As well as standard 'get to the end' type missions, there are tactical missions as well which add some slight puzzle elements into the mix.

The combat system has also been spruced up. Previously, the player would choose a character class split between Hunter, Ranger, Force, and variations between them, and level them up by earning mission points. You could switch between classes whenever you liked, but could only use certain weapons with certain classes. Now you choose between four classes; the three mentioned above, and the newer Vanguard, who is a jack of all trades and great with traps. These classes are again levelled up with mission points, earned from completing different missions, but they are also used to level up or 'buy' weapon types for that class. What this means is that you can completely customise which class has what weapons and could effectively give all classes the best of the best if you were willing to spend the time on doing so. If you wanted a Force that could also fight, then that's possible. If you want a Ranger that can lob some spells, then there you go. Build your character how you want!

In battle, the mechanics will be familiar to previous players of Universe and PSP1. The player fights a variety of monsters with an array of weapons, ranging from sabers to whips. The item palette makes a return, allowing you to set up which weapons and items you want quick access to. The Just Attack and Just Counter of Illuminus, inspired from Phantasy Star Online, are also present, enabling you to create a three-hit combo for greater damage. Special attacks and magical attacks are available, but instead of levelling them up via a lengthy grind, players must now collect, find, buy and level them up as a 'disc' similar to the Technique Disc system of PSO. These special attacks and Techniques use Photon Points, AKA MP, however previously each weapon would have its own PP limit, but now there is just one PP limit for all weapons, which stops it from getting confusing. Two new additions to the combat system also use PP. Taken from Phantasy Star Zero is the ability to roll, which is used to escape from traps and monsters designed specifically to get you rollin'. Unlike Zero, the roll uses PP and cannot be spammed. You can now also guard from attacks by using a two handed weapon or a shield, and this also uses up the player's PP, meaning that your PP expenditure requires some strategy. The difficulty of the game has been increased, so trust me, you'll need to block and roll at various points just to survive.. Especially now you're limited to only one Scape Doll!

To spice things up further, the player can chain up attacks with other players or NPC's, doing more damage as the chain gets higher, and finishing off with a special attack with does considerably more damage. All these minor changes help make the combat seem more refreshing and less of a repetitive grind.

Of course, the biggest improvement is the free online mode. You can take your character from the single player story mode and either link up with your mates via the local multiplayer, or you can take it worldwide, as nature intended. There are many new missions available online to play between four players. Player party's can be searched for or created easily with settings ensuring that item drop rates are fair, etc. There are many options available to aid communication between party members as well. Quick chat notes can be customised and accessed easily, and an in-game keyboard can be brought up with a vast sample of cute little emoticons, much better than the dreadful Playstation Portable keyboard. Even the character animations from Universe can be used to illustrate your conversations. Although the best feature is the Auto-Words system that enables you to automatically say anything you want when certain criteria is met, such as starting a mission, gaining a level, or when your health is low and you don't have the time to quickly scream "HELP!".

The online multiplayer also features a Battle and Challenge mode. The Battle mode is as it sounds; you can fight other players in different arenas, such as the Meseta grab run where the aim is to grab as much in-game money as possible to win. Players are reduced to level with basic weapons and abilities one to make it fair. The Challenge mode is more interesting though. Like Battle mode, the player is reduced to level one. The aim is to fight through a series of areas based on your gameplay skills, rather than the high level gear you have, giving all players an equal playing field. Levels and new weapons are gained as you go along, and can be spread strategically between team mates. Both Battle and Challenge earn you ranks which aid you in matching up to other players and add an extra dimension to the online multiplayer that really lengthens the game experience, giving you a break from the usual.

The online mode can suffer from some lag, although the quality of service depends on your own Wi-Fi connection, and that of your team mates. For less lag, it is recommended to stick with players within your own country.

Phantasy Star Portable 2 is the definitive online Phantasy Star experience, at least until Phantasy Star Online 2 shows up. The graphics stretch as far as the Playstation Portable will go and the music is catchy in parts, with classic PSO melodies thrown in there and even a remixed version of A Forest Cage from Episode 2. To make the experience even better, you can choose to 'install' the game on to a memory stick which speeds up loading times and item switching considerably.

Of course, you may not like the level recycling, and even the newer features cannot stop the game from feeling like a repetitive grind in parts, as you fight wave after wave of enemies. If you weren’t a big fan of the Universe games, but a PSO fan then I would still recommend you give this a try, as it may well win you over. If you're a Monster Hunter fan, this will be right up your alley.

For you guys and everyone else, this game is a solid 4/5.

For the enthusiasts, it's a definite 5/5.

20th March, 2012 - 13:18 GMT Tru Article viewed 1693 times 0 Comments


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