Phantasy Star Portable 2 Review
The gameplay doesn't shine quite as brightly as the customization, though it isn't by any means bad. You control your created character in missions that generally have you going from point A to point B, opening locks and slaying enemies along the way. Completing side and optional missions drive the story-based missions to appear, at least until the main story is done. After that, you'll be taking missions for specific item drops or special rewards. Again, like Monster Hunter, this game is all about finding the best items, making your character super strong and never pausing to enjoy what you've got. The actual gameplay is serviceable; it's a solid third-person RPG brawler that has you mopping up rooms full of enemies only to find another roomful just beyond the next door. Which brings us to an oft-shared complaint: These missions can get VERY repetitive after awhile. Sure the scenery changes, but its still fight after fight, key after key, zone after zone. There is some variety in there, but even the hardest core fans will eventually find themselves thinking, "Great. Haven't I done this 20 times before?"
The combat works well enough to keep things lively, but only truly impresses during the game's many boss fights. These battles are impressively designed, often difficult and nearly always awe-inspiring. Some of these things are truly nightmarish in their difficulty; that is until you go back, grind, power up and return to triumph. One of the most satisfying parts of my time with the game came from finally finishing off the first "true" boss, a giant, screen-filling dragon. The first three or four times I ran into this boss, I watched helplessly as my attacks did almost no damage and my life bar was decimated by one or two direct hits. A little grinding and a few levels later, I was back in front of the monster and swatting him down like an annoying insect. The eventual win had me hoping for more bosses that seemed insurmountable at first, but were easily dispatched with just a little hard work and preparation. And the game delivers in spades. Some bosses are repeated in a few missions, which is kind of annoying, but the battles were never anything less than spectacular.
And now we come to the online play. Phantasy Star Portable 2 is, for all intents and purposes, an MMORPG without that whole pesky subscription thing. The first game didn't support infrastructure mode, so playing with a friend meant finding someone with the game and physically being in the same room. No more. Now you can play with anyone online, near and far, and the ease of jumping into missions with others is astounding. Really the hardest part of the online system is remembering to flip the Internet switch on your PSP and finding a WiFi signal. There is no doubt in my mind that many will call this the game's best feature, and while its good, it has some issues. First, there is no voice chat. This means if you want to communicate, you need to either use the PSP's virtual keyboard to type stuff out or choose from a set of pre-made statements. Neither works well. Also, it can be tough to find players who aren't gods among men. My low level character couldn't stand up to the monsters I found while playing with others, and I couldn't really find anyone with comparable abilities to play with. This isn't the game's fault, but it knocked the online quests down a few pegs in my mind.
It's been funny to watch this type of niche RPG become such big business over the past five years or so, and it been even more delightful to see the PSP become the gaming system du jour for them. The Monster Hunter games got me into the genre, and Phantasy Star Portable 2 gave me just what I wanted in this type of game. The online play still has some issues, but the single player modes are more than enough to keep those of us who prefer to stay offline happy. Basically, if you've enjoyed this type of RPG before and have the time to get into a new one, Phantasy Star Portable 2 is pretty much a must-buy.
Final Rating: 84%.