Phantasy Star II (XBLA) Review

One of those rare RPGs to be set in a space-based future, Phantasy Star was epic and awesome for more than just that reason. Its gameplay and characters were incredibly memorable and playing through the games was all the evidence gamers of 1989 (yep, this game was first released twenty years ago!) needed to justify its classic status.

Twenty years, however, is a long time. Sometimes it’s better to leave those memories as just that, rather than attempt to revisit them with a brain that’s 20 years older…

Fortunately, Phantasy Star II is actually a pretty robust little game. Sure, its tiny sprites and the limited animation thereof pales in comparison to modern HD drama (there’s been no HD treatment – you get the raw Phantasy Star experience, with a little bit of blur to soften the blow some) but the story is as strong as ever and you’ll rapidly find yourself drawn into the tale.

Combat is pretty simplistic and the presentation even more so. The limited resources (in HP and TP) available from the beginning are also pretty frustrating, giving you very little opportunity to experiment and find out how things work. Experimentation, as it turns out, is the only way you’ll find out as the in-game documentation is extremely limited and the user interface rather prone to reducing words to acronyms. Combined with random encounters (the bane of early RPGs), your first experiences with Phantasy Star II can be quite annoying and hardcore in nature.

The interface is fairly clunky by today’s standards but still pretty usable. It will take a bit of fiddling to figure out what things do but if you’ve played any other JRPGs from the last 20 years you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. It’s actually very similar to the early Pokemon games (which haven’t changed all that much themselves) so if you’re able to find your way around those, you’ll have little trouble here.

There’s little to say about the graphics – they’re a direct port of the original, with a little bit of blur, and like the sound, they really don’t stand up to modern scrutiny. In an age when cellphone games would be embarrassed to look like this, only the retro enthusiast will be able to stand the visuals on offer here.

If you ever wished to play this classic game or would like to immerse yourself in a solid RPG and can handle a very simple graphical style, there’s no reason not to grab this. It might be a little clunky compared to modern examples of the genre (and we’re not talking just about the graphics here) but it’s actually aged rather well.

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