Monday, September 27, 2010

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

Since my left thumb is in no condition to play PSP2 at the moment all I can do is talk about it. Now that I'm hitting the higher levels (level 80 and beyond) the rate of levelups has slowed down considerably and given me more time to focus on the class and battle system. While the class system is familiar to fans of the series as far back as the original Phantasy Star Online this edition makes a number of changes.

There are four classes available all with their own strengths and weaknesses. The hunter is best for close-range fighting, performing photon arts(aka finishers), and generally works by staying in every monster's face. The ranger is obviously a master of ranged combat and does the job of building up chains and generally providing support. The Force is all about the various techs that range from healing to buffs to attacks. The Vanguard is a bit of a mixed bag as it shares strengths with the other three classes.

The only aspect of character-creation that is actually set in stone is gender and race. Gender doesn't affect anything unless you're like me and must absolutely without fail have to look at a woman all the time even when playing games. Race on the other hand has some affect on stats and a handful of special attacks(known as bursts). CASTs are basically robots and work best as rangers, Newmans are essentially elves and thus force is their forte, Beasts have all the makings of a good hunter, and humans fit vanguard's "jack-of-all-trades" appeal. All that said it isn't too big a deal which race the player goes with because skill in the game can make up for any deficiency in the class/race.

The strength of PSP2's class system is in its versatility. As the player completes missions they are rewarded with points that go towards raising their class level. With each new class level comes a new ability like bonus stats, improved tech-usage, and so on. These abilities are limited as there's not nearly enough room to apply them all. However all classes can share abilities and since these aspects can be changed in-between every mission there's really no reason for the player to ever go in unprepared.

Combat in this entry revolves around the chain system. By stringing together regular attacks and low-strength techs an ever-increasing chain is built up. By performing a photon art the player finishes the chain with a devastating attack whose strength is proportioned to size of the chain itself. For example performing a photon art by itself does mediocre damage but with a mere three hits on the chain the PA more than doubles in strength. Larger chains lead to even more damage and will last for a longer period of time so characters can perform stronger PAs and even more than one. This is an essential tactic to learn as the game progresses because enemies tend to have a ton of HP. It's really one of the best additions to the combat system as it requires full cooperation from the entire party to get the best effect and it changes the dynamic of battle completely. By comparison the last Phantasy Star entry feels one-dimensional since most of the all time all it boiled down to was spamming PAs until things fell over.

Playing as a Vanguard reminds me of another aspect essential to Portable 2, positioning. Enemies can frequently come from multiple directions and even make attempts to surround and blindside the player. This is very important to consider because getting hit from behind negates the player's evasion stat and can lead to a critical hit more often than not. I didn't pay enough attention to this before but as a Vanguard I'm pretty well destroyed if I get hit from behind. There are ways to avoid this by maneuvering properly and working together with the party.

Still if all else fails I figure if I play a mission enough times I'll simply memorize every aspect about it. Phantasy Star Portable 2 offers a lot of missions to take on and the rewards are different depending on luck, rank(difficulty), and class. Since there are so many aspects of the character that can be upgraded there's always something to look forward to with each new mission. Still at times it can become a serious grind in regards to class points. Still it's not all bad as at least online or through ad-hoc multiplayer there's the chance of urgent missions popping up. These can be pretty rewarding though also pretty rare.

In the next update I'll discuss the multiplayer modes. I have no idea when I'll get around to that one though.

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