Thursday, May 17, 2007

The World Falls Into Turmoil.
Phantasy Star II: The End of the Lost Age.


Soeth it was, a DreamCast & a Genesis resting upon a coffeetable before me. Yet, the shelves of this fledgling institution of dead console gaming's libraries were bare. I had but Space Channel 5 for the DC & Sonic 2, Vectorman & Streets of Rage 2 for the Genesis. Even these titles were acquired for testing the consoles, to, y'know, make sure they actually functioned.

Tirelessly I soldiered, checking my Goodwill & the local used-game haberdashery.1 Progress was slow. Crazy Taxi, the Genesis Ecco the Dolphin, Ready 2 Rumble, extra VMUs for the DC. Fuck, I even purchased Sonic Shuffle at my Goodwill since it was only 3yua & I was having such miserable luck finding anything.

Clearly government studies were needed. Thanks to Fat's experiences, I had a good feeling for DC titles, but the Genesis I was a bit in the dark about. I figured, "hey, what were the best titles in my fav genre on the Genesis?"

Keywords: RPG + Genesis + Best.

Results: Phantasy Star II & IV. Shining Force 2. Beyond Oasis.

Beyond Oasis, which does feature a middle eastern theme, yet, curiously, was released in Japan w/ the title "Story of Thor," is considered an excellent "Zelda-style" RPG (also categorized as 'action-RPGs').

Shining Force 2
is the tactical-RPG antecedent to Final Fantasy Tactics, apparently.

Phantasy Star
, Vols. I-IV, was Sega's good-old-fashioned grind-it-out JRPG.

Some further inquiries, now forgotten, led me to the conclusion that episodes II & IV were the best of the bunch.2 And so it was, Phantasy Star II arrived in the mail.3 I booted the cart & after a solid 30 minutes knew I was in LOVE w/ this game.4 Then I found out the save function wasn't working.

Considerable 'nets research & 2 weeks later, I had the 'gamebit' necessary to open the cartridge up & replace the battery, if necessary.5 As suggested in the research, the battery turned out to be merely loose from its contacts. Some judicious duct tape later, I was finally, truly, able to dig my paws into Phantasy Star II.

image hosted by flickr. image hosted by flickr.
image hosted by flickr. image hosted by flickr.

Phantasy Star II is of an older vintage(released in '89 in the U.S.), making no bones about the grind of leveling up.6 For example, the lead character, Motavian7 agent Rolf Landale, & his comrades, will have crawled 2 whole dungeons & the extant of dialogue (& thus plot/character development) conversed has been limited to being assigned a mission by Rolf's superior, Nei convincing Rolf to take her w/ him, & the introduction of Rudo. This is in stark, STARK contrast to more 'modern' fare, the likes of, say, Final Fantasy VII, or Xenogears, where conversations between party members can take 5-10 minutes to read at a time. Not in Phantasy Star II!! No blah blah blah HERE.

However, as entertaining as all of this was, nothing really prepared me for the scene which unfolded at the North Bridge.

To set the stage: Rolf & companion's arrived in the town of Arima to find it thoroughly sacked - houses dynamited, people in a daze, etc. Rolf is told by some residents of a girl named Tiem who was kidnapped by the same scoundrels. A journey to the bandits' base at Shure reveals it overrun w/ biomonsters, the bandits slaughtered to a man. Amongst the wreckage Rolf discovered a ransom letter to Tiem's father, Darum, for 50,000 meseta.8 Not having 50,000 meseta, Darum turned to the life of the highwayman himself, tolling travellers who wish passage across the North Bridge.

A subsequent raid on the tower of Dezo rescues Tiem, who demands to be taken to her father. Naturally, Rolf agrees, & the following scene unfolds...
Rolf: What's Tiem doing?

Tiem: I'm going to meet my father; don't go anywhere.

Darum: Hey girl! Give me your money or I'll kill you!

Tiem: I have nothing to give the likes of you!

Darum: Why, you...!!!

[attacks Tiem w/ his sword!]

Tiem: Uhhhh! Father!...killing...

Darum: Tiem!! Oh, what have I done? You won't die alone!

[they burst into flame!!]

Narrator: This is just one of the many tragedies that have come to pass as the world
falls into turmoil. Someone must save us!
I must confess, not 6 hours into this game & already witness to a filicide/suicide rattled me a bit. I mean, that's pretty dire. However, consider my interest ensnared.9

-d.d.

1 Indeed, this is where most of the 1st meagre bushel of games originated.
2 Turns out it was Racketboy.
3 Or, if in Japan, Phantasy Star II: The End of the Last Age.
4 Or, maybe more specifically, knew that the 12-year-old in me was in LOVE w/ this game.
5 What you need is the 4.5mm gamebit, which is erroneously listed at GamingGraveyard as for use repairing Nintendo products only. The bit does actually barely grasp the annoying security screws on a Genesis cart.
6 Fat has postulated that, in JRPGs, leveling up is , quite simply, playing the game. That is, clashing w/ monsters, & gaining experience/cash, & thus learning better ways/buying better gear to kill said monsters, is the fundamental 'game' component of JRPGs. Plot, character, & world are secondary. Alongside things like sounds & graphics, they are even mere bells & whistles. The point, I believe, is that if you find something satisfying in the achievement system of leveling up, you should probably try a different genre.
7 Being of or from the planet Mota. The sciffy/fantasy mix & match (lasers & swords - at the same time!) is one of the strongest facets of the Phantasy Star franchise, setting it apart from the crowd.
8 Meseta being the form of currency on Mota.
9 Further smitten by the addition to the party of 2 new characters, who are (get this) a doctor & a biologist! Also, did I mention you must equip the type of SHOES your characters wear!? Well, you must equip the type of shoes your characters wear! (translation: this game is charming my pants off)

2 Comments + Unabashed Criticism:

Blogger Fat Contradiction said...

I've spent a few hours with Phantasy Star Online--oddly, the first night I ever played it was the last night the servers were up--and I too dig the SFantasy blend. There's something very right about using a chick robot in a maid costume to hack thru a dungeon filled with slavering beasties.

Interesting, yr note on the chattiness of current games. I just started Summon Night 2 the other night, and literally the first hour is just reading and choosing the occasional text-box item. The first hour. This is a frigging GBA title!! Will somebody give me some game to play, please!?

About grinding: you say:
if you find something satisfying in the achievement system of leveling up, you should probably try a different genre.
I think yer missing a "don't" in there someplace.

And yah, in general, the actual play experience in a JRPG chunks into exploration, item management, and combat. (I think I owe this point to a Eurogamer reviewer.) Different players will assign different weights to these components, naturally. Personally, I'd like to spend most of my time fighting monsters, not getting lost in annoyingly-structured dungeons. (FFIV, I'm looking at you here.) And item management is usually as pleasant as its interface is polished. Timewise, I'd like micro-managing to take not more than 10%, exploration less than 20%. So seven out of ten minutes...I want to be fighting.

The battle system is the protein of these games, and, as you suggest, if you don't like the battle system, you probably just don't like the game.

Besides, as Mike Jones has taught us:
you don't work?
you don't eat!
you don't grind?
you don't shine!
so next time you come up to me, ask how I blew up, put THAT on yo' mind!

1:24 PM  
Blogger d.d. tinzeroes said...

I feel compelled to mention that the Darum/Tiem filicide/suicide was tempered by the fact that Rolf had covered Tiem's face w/ a veil. This, because Darum, as a highwayman, had become such an object of disdain.

11:16 AM  

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