A year away from celebrating its 20th anniversary, Phantasy Star 2 is one of the first and best examples of a brilliant role-playing game. Delving into areas few games even approached during the early console days (faith, loss, big brother), Phantasy Star 2 would set a benchmark for the explosion of role-playing games in the nineties and stands the test of time as a game masterpiece.
The original Phantasy Star debuted on the Master System a couple of years before the sequel and was a stunningly detailed, for the time, role-playing experience like no other. Phantasy Star 2 picks up the storyline of the science-fiction world of Mota which is under control of the seemingly benevolent super-computer: Mother Brain.
The narrative begins through the nightmares of the main character Rolf and his subsequent doubts about Mother Brain’s ability to keep the planet safe. He teams up with his mysterious (and pointy-eared) friend Nei and they investigate the troubles of the world. Like most role-players the world is limited to begin with, as the game continues the four sections of Mota and eventually two more planets are opened up for exploration.
As the journey progresses Rolf picks up various companions, strengths and weapons, which allow him to fight against the organic (and eventually metallic) enemies that litter the dystopia that Mota has become. The enemies are one of the standout features in Sega’s gem. Creatures pulse with life and are genuinely frightening to combat, especially if your characters are low level and stuck at the bottom of one of the huge dungeons.
Strategy had never been as important in a game before Phantasy Star 2, players could no longer just jump into any battle and tank their way through dungeons; levels had to be ground and weapons upgraded for anyone to have even a chance to defeat some of the more maniacal enemies.
The battles of Phantasy Star 2 were role-playing staples for years. Turn-based, random encounters meant that the correct preparation was almost as crucial as the right strategy. Out of a pool of eight characters, only four could be used at any one time during missions and those four had to complement each other perfectly
The story of Phantasy Star 2 has been praised for years by those wanting to elevate video games above merely a throwaway status. Years before Final Fantasy VII killed off the lead female character in a heart-wrenching and shocking moment, Phantasy Star 2 pulled off an arguably larger surprise with the death of Nei. Nei grows to become the most powerful character in your party and the subsequent revelation about her true identity is almost more upsetting than her death.
The evil “character” of Mother Brain was also years ahead of its time. A villain, who also acts as the creator and the protector of the whole world, but who, in time, is found to be as flawed as its creations. Sega was dealing with some pretty heavy stuff that caused players to actually care about fleshed-out characters when normal games gave us faceless protagonists.
Phantasy Star 2 was also fiendishly difficult, so difficult that the original Megadrive version was sold with a 113-page hint booklet that provided maps and clues that were essential to actually making it through the game. The random enemy encounters were staggeringly hard right off the bat and ramped up in difficultly throughout the 30 to 40 hours of gameplay.
The dungeon construction also added to the difficulty of the game. Dungeons required a great deal of planning for players to survive them as blind chutes and dead ends litter every dungeon in the game. Considering one of the last dungeons is 16 levels deep, careful strategy was crucial to survive.
Phantasy Star 2 rightly stands as one of the greatest role-playing games ever made, allowing an entire generation of gamers to be drawn into an exquisite world, with depth, meaning and above all, satisfaction. When one made it to the end of Phantasy Star 2, heard the brilliant final boss music and defeated the Dark Force at the end of all things, you truly felt a sense of accomplishment.