Phantasy Star Portable 2 First Impressions

There was such a large gap in time between writing articles and playing through this game because of my studies and work, that I’ve already finished this game. Excuse my lateness!

Around this time last year, I was chomping at the bit, awaiting the release of SEGA’s Phantasy Star Zero for the DS. I routinely patrolled PSO-World.com, gathering information to keep me busy until I got my hands on the game itself. In one of the posts on the front page, I had read that the Japanese demo of the soon to be released Phantasy Star Portable 2 was accessible on American PSP’s as well. After a little leg work of getting it up and running, I had in my hands a demo that many gamers had no clue existed (unless they frequented the site as well). It was relatively short and most unfortunately in Japanese, so I couldn’t absorb much about the game. From what I could understand, I knew that this game had some real potential. Now, a year later, Phantasy Star Portable 2 has materialized on American shores.

So, What’s New?

It’s best to think of PSPo2 as a complete stripping down of nearly everything that made up Phantasy Star Universe, and subsequently revamping it all from the ground up. In short, this was very successful! While most of the changes have to do with alterations to the mechanics, most of them serve to make the game much better overall. Mentioning all of the changes are difficult to cover here, but a here are two key changes that already make this game shine, especially when compared to previous entries in the series.

1.       Combat Overhaul

–          In earlier iterations of Phantasy Star Universe, your character’s PP (the equivalent to MP, or magic/skill points) was connected to each weapon you used. Whenever you used a Photon Art (which are physical techniques, or magic spells that required this PP) it would deplete. You could regenerate this naturally from using normal attack combos, or you could refill it with an item. Alternatively, you could also pack a bunch of the weapons, and just empty their individual PP gauges, and switch to another weapon with a full tank of gas, so to speak. Obviously, skills deal much more damage than regular attacks, and in theory, you could just run through a mission doing your best attacks, all of the time. This made for relatively boring gameplay, since monsters were pretty easy to begin with.

–          All of this was changed this time around. Your character now has a personal PP bar, which is connected to every weapon you have. While Photon Arts still function the same, a single full combo can deplete your entire bar. Your PP can automatically regenerate, and this process can be hastened by using regular attacks. While you pepper regular attacks on your enemies, your character is constantly building up a chain. The higher the chain, the more damaging your Photon Arts become, which makes Photon Arts act as finishers, rather than the bread and butter of your arsenal. With a group of likeminded players, one member could dedicate themselves to building high chains, while another plows through monsters with their photon arts. In addition to these changes on the offensive front, two welcome actions –dodge rolling and blocking, make playing defensively much better as well. As a result, combat stays fresh and doesn’t become a mundane affair.

2.       Difficulty

–          PSU was never considered a difficult game. A well balanced party who knows how to excel at their roles appropriately could steamroll the most difficult of missions. For example, when PSU’s expansion, Ambition of the Illuminus, was released, it was touted as having tougher bosses to match the ability of the players better. In one mission, players charge a temple, rushing forward until they come toe to toe with a two headed dragon. This is all well and good, because on average, the mission lasts about eight to ten minutes, culminating in a boss fight that unfortunately lasts about thirty seconds, if the boss gives the party some trouble. The new bosses simply didn’t have enough HP to last very long with an entire party laying waste to it, and simply wasn’t very difficult to handle. I’m willing to bet that the people that continue to play PSU are more than likely still running this mission, only because it’s the easiest, and yields the highest rewards, despite very really easy.

–          In an attempt to turn players on their ears, PSPo2 makes nearly every mission an active attempt for survival, provided that you’re going against monsters close to your own level. Enemies are much smarter this time around – they can block, evade your attacks, and work together to take you down. In story mode, if you die, the mission ends immediately, without giving you a chance to try again. Furthermore, bosses have had a dramatic spike in HP as well as difficulty. For example, De Ragan, who used to be a pushover, is actually a pain in the neck to take on without the proper preparation. In multiplayer mode, death is not as unforgiving, since you can respawn and come back to where to you died. However, this severely impacts your rewards for clearing the mission at hand.

I’m really excited to dive right into this game. Personally, I’ve logged over 500+ hours on Phantasy Star Universe, but like many others who played with me, got bored of the repetitive combat system and the obvious impediments general experience that caused me to lose interest in the first place. So far, I’ve already seen my major complaints rectified, so we’ll see what more there is to discover!

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