Phantasy Star Portable 2 begins with a character creation screen that offers some never-before-seen looks of previous races found in the Phantasy Star series. These races include the Humans, Newmans, CAST, and Beast. Those familiar with PSU will notice that the art style for PSP2 is remiscent of PSO’s look, with over-the-top sci-fi designs and brighter colors, while taking more of a classic anime approach. I’m a sucker for these kind of designs, so the new CAST designs appealed to me the most with Humans coming in a close second. After modifying your character’s face / eyes / hair / height / weight / outfit / voice (and more such as underwear color), you are given the choice to name the character and choose a class.
The story of PSP2 takes place three years after the events of PSU, with the great threat of the SEED sealed away in a dimension pocket outside of the galaxy. Issues with Gurhal’s resources quickly disappearing results in newly discovered science called “Sub-Space Sailing”, which allows users to migrate in outer space. Your character is a part of a small military group “Little Wing” whose purpose is to find the truth behind sub-space research. With the story comes conflict, as the new cast of characters discover some risks with the Sub-Space Sailing theory, resulting in some dimensions re-opening with the SEED threat returning once again to the galaxy, opening clues to an ancient civilization that once sealed the dimensions in the past. PSP2 features some new FMV cutscenes that make the overall story experience enjoyable, with the return of player choice desicions that generate different responses from NPCs and the fate of the game’s ending.
One new feature of PSP2 is Clad 6 (a starship space colony) that not only reminds me of Pioneer 2 from PSO, but it functions nearly the same way — meaning you can run around and physically interact with (unlike Phantasy Star Portable’s menu-only exploration). The hub features a teleporter in the middle of the room for selecting missions, a cafe to hang out or trade items in, and two shops for buying and selling items with one specializing in character customization options. A new feature added to the item shop is the ability to modify your class, by spending battle points earned by doing missions and putting them towards weapon classes to those of your own likings similar to weapon grinding (modifying weapon stats). I prefer playing a Hunter type class so maxing out all melee weapon classes is often my primary goal, with firearms being secondary choices.
Player rooms from PSU return, allowing you to customize your personal pad with decor and items found in various missions. Player titles are managed in your room as well, similar to achievements rewarded by completing various tasks (Kill certain boss five times, die ten times, etc). I particularly don’t bother a whole lot with the room feature, but it’s there for those who like the customization aspect of their character’s surroundings.
Playing through the story mode unlocks Free Missions, which allow you to partake in various side quests solely for experience points and item hunting. PSP2 offers a few new areas along with returning PSU and PSO areas that are re-worked to be more enjoyable, while adding new twists to previous encounters. One of my favorite new areas is a jungle found on the planet Moatoob as it features some challenging obstacles and new enemy types (Poison Lilies and Sand Rappies from PSO make a return in this area), with the music being a remixed battle track of the jungle from PSO Episode 2. Besides the rappies and lilies, many classic PSO monsters make a deadly return to PSP2 including the forest dragon boss. If you hated Sinow Beats ganging up on you in the past, you will begin to hate it all over again. Questing through areas sometimes brings dissapointment due to some walls suffering “pop-in”, and pretty bad AI design with NPC partners and monsters getting stuck on random corners, or area “doodads”. With completing missions comes a chance to face a new threat — A rare spawn of a boss that can appear in any given mission.
With it’s hack-and-slash combat style and recently added timed-attack bonuses, the battle gameplay hasn’t really changed much in PSP2 from what PSU offered in the past, but it does add some new twists. Photon Power (PP) is no longer linked to a weapon, but rather the character themselves. The new and improved Photon Power acts as a rapid-regenerating mana bar with the need to no longer refill your weapons with Photon Charges. Another new addition to gameplay is the Dodge Roll. Similar to Monster Hunter, you can swiftly escape a defeating blow, get around an enemy for a better attack, or even hurl over lasers and fire for puzzle purposes. Real-time blocking is added to the core gameplay as well as new physical shields that work as offhand weapons (also seen in Phantasy Star Zero) for blocking purposes and adding special stat effects. The Human and Newman races get access to an all-new type of summon called the Mirage Blast. The Mirage Blast summons a deadly creature that deals some impressive damage akin to Photon Blasts from PSO. CAST and Beasts are not forgotten, as they get access to some new SUV and Nanoblast attacks as well. Class-wise, Rangers can now charge up bullets to deal even greater damage, while Forces can combo spells up to three hits, making the combat a little more exciting for these classes — seeing as they never had the ability to do so in the past.
I’m not going to lie, the sole reason why I got this game (and the biggest feature of PSP2) is the ability to play online with it’s infrastructure mode not seen in the previous PSP title. It’s a great feeling to be able to connect with other loot hunters across the world in the palm of your hands. With infrastructure play you get access to missions the party leader has completed in the single player mode to hunt rare items in. Some missions have been re-tweaked to be moderately challenging for online play purposes, requiring a full team of players to do their best to survive and recieve long-sought items in the end. PSP2 also presents the return of challenge and battle modes. Challenge mode requires a team of four to use strategy and co-op mechanics to reach the end to recieve powerful new items and title rewards, whereas battle mode has players trying to kill eachother in closed-off areas with the addition of jump pads (similar to the Sonic games). One minor issue I have with the online play is that latency depends on the party host. So, if you are long distance or experiencing latency issues on their end, the whole party will lag up and produce some unsatisfying results in monsters being out of synch, frame drop, or items not even loading.
With new challenges and classics returning, special server events planned, and downloadable content available all on the PSP, I strongly believe that this is the future of the Phantasy Star series, and online portable gaming as a whole. With all of the new additions and changes, many players such as myself will once again get lost in the virtual world, trying to hunt that special rare item and meeting new friends on the journey.