Tuesday, September 21, 2010

PSP Look - Phantasy Star Portable 2...part 1

First off this is the game that sold me a PSP in the first place so the chances of me giving this game a bad review are pretty low. Second of all in less than a week I've already put over forty hours into this game...something I'm sort-of ashamed to admit. It's a good thing I don't have children I guess. Anyway PS:P2 is an action-rpg centered around the gathering of phat loot and the hacking of foes. It's my favorite as well as most-played genre and for now I'd like to discuss the single-player portion of the game.

It's understandable for most gamers to not even bother with the singleplayer portion. After all Sega has included an infrastructure mode this time around so everyone can get online and team up. Still single-player can be good for practice and there's the story mode as well...yeah..the story mode. Sega did a pretty fine job of giving incentives for PS:P2 fans to try every mode as there are differing rewards depending on the kinds of missions completed. Furthermore there's the return of the title system which essentially works as achievements. The player performs specific goals and gets rewarded with items. The rewards aren't nearly as cool as in PS:P1 but they're still better than nothing.

But before we get into all of that let's look at what's different about the game. PS:P2's biggest changes are in the actual design of the game. To start with the player can now perform evasive rolls as well as block. Furthermore instead of each weapon having its own pool of tech points that slowly refill there's just one pool of points that covers everything but refills rapidly. The enemies are also several times more aggressive, move faster, hit much harder, and all in all makes for a much more challenging and dynamic game than any of the prior online Phantasy Star titles. To add more spice to everything there's the addition of the Perfect Block. By defending at just the right time it functions somewhat like a parry as it negates all damage. This is great fun to perform as it can be used effectively for practically any attack.

The challenge is not to be understated. Enemies can frequently take anywhere from 1/8 to 2/3 of the player's health in a single hit. Sure it's possible to level up so much that the damage is lessened severely but a lot of the time the player will be challenging foes that are around the same level or even much higher. What keeps this balance in check is that since the tech pool has been changed so much anyone with a healing spell can survive provided they can get away from danger long enough to recover. In a way it feels similar to many shooters released these days where the player heals up if they can find a safe spot for a few seconds. For those stuck in the thick of it healing items are readily available but they're also pretty limited. Then again considering how quickly one can die it's still not recommended to jump into any situation that looks bad.

Story mode features a storyline that may as well have been in any other of the prior Phantasy Star Universe games. It's completely disposable and for most players will probably just skip through it. I uh..kind of liked it but that's because I'm a sucker for happy endings. More importantly story-mode introduces the player to all of the basics of the game and is set up so that enemies always stay at about the same level as the player. This puts the emphasis on learning how the system works instead of merely grinding a ton to survive. The player isn't alone at least as they're frequently joined by various characters from the story. Thankfully they're not nearly as inept as they were in prior PSU games as they'll actually seek out and attack enemies, heal properly, and even accept basic commands like "follow me" and "spread out". Still like the last game the biggest problem with the AI team-mates is that eventually they're just too weak to make much of a difference in the higher levels.

So far the level design tends to revolve around the type of mode being played. Story mode stages usually have some objective to account for and that can mean anything from finding a number of objects to protection missions. It's kind of a nice touch I guess though it's not something I have any interest in coming back to. Open Missions are pretty standard as the goal is merely to kill all of the foes and then the boss. They're very linear and short and there's more of a focus on finding cool new stuff to swing around. All of the open-missions have a difficulty ranking from C to S. Each bump in difficulty raises the enemies levels as well as makes them faster and more aggressive. I've yet to see the S ranking myself but even A can be quite rough when I'm not paying attention. It's very easy to get taken out even at this point but the game is still properly balanced so that enemies don't take too much punishment to put down.

Next time around I'm going to hopefully get around to discussing the multiplayer modes. I would have started on those already but my wireless connection is incredibly fickle. I've also barely touched on the real specifics of the combat in this game and most of my time was spent on the Hunter class. When I jump into multiplayer I'll probably end up rolling with a Ranger so I can better understand how ranged combat can work. Still at this point I absolutely love the game. I love it a bit too much at the moment however so I'm taking a break so I can get through some other titles as well.

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