Phantasy Star Portable 2 Review

Here's a riddle: What kind of gamer actively seeks out the longest, most complicated, labor intensive and intricate titles? You know, the titles with hundreds upon hundreds of hours of gameplay – online and off – that few, if any, will ever see through to a 100 percent save file? In my eyes, the answer to that question is quickly becoming "your average PSP fan." Monster Hunter, Phantasy Star Portable and the upcoming God Eater Burst all follow the same basic, MMO-inspired formula; create character, build character through increasingly difficult missions, sit back as hours fly by and watch carpal tunnel set in. And these games are CRAZY popular, both here in the U.S. and their native Japan. The latest PSP entry in this genre, Phantasy Star Portable 2, has hit the U.S. and it offers more of the same character-building fun wrapped in an action-RPG/MMO package. But is it really worth such a massive commitment?

Usually I start my reviews talking about a game's storyline, but with Phantasy Star Portable 2, that isn't a fair way to frame the overall game. You do get a small, clichéd story that carries you through the first 10-15 hours of game time, but its true purpose is to serve as an extended "how-to" on the game's many options and features. Fans of this genre of RPG will probably impatiently skip through these story sequences in an effort to get right to the game's major selling point – the missions and the upgrades. It is commendable that the developers took the extra steps to get a story into the game, but as anyone who has played Monster Hunter even semi-seriously knows, it isn't really necessary. That series, one of the best-selling on the handheld, has this for a story: Find monster. Kill monster. Use pieces to build better weapons/armor. Rinse. Repeat. A gripping narrative certainly doesn't draw anyone into these types of games, but as I said before, the effort is appreciated.

The gameplay and obsessive character building are the main forces that drive Phantasy Star Portable 2. When you begin, you build your character from the ground up, choosing everything from their clothes and accessories to the pitch and tone of their voice. From there, you choose a class, a name and a cybernetic partner and you're ready to rock. You've done all this in countless other titles, but Phantasy Star Portable 2 impresses by gearing this process to the non-committal player. Don't like the way your character looks? You can change everything about him/her for a small price. Not feeling your class choice? Also, totally changeable. Don't like how your skill points are distributed? Yank ‘em all and put them back any way you want. No choice you make is permanent, and it really helps to make experimentation a valuable endeavor. For example, I went into the game in a Monster Hunter mindset and relegated myself to using only the biggest, most unwieldy swords as weapons. I poured all my stat points into my sword mastery and fully upgraded the best one I had at the time. It didn't take long for me to realize this wasn't the way to go, and I had no roadblocks to undoing my choices and building a more balanced skill set, utilizing two-handed sabers and a dual pistol setup in addition to my crazy huge sword. And, to the game's credit, things stayed just as interesting, as I had to change my setup multiple times over the next 20 hours or so to keep pace with the tougher enemies. In terms of customization and character building, Phantasy Star Portable 2 gets a perfect score.