Phantasy Star II – Review

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Before the 1990s, RPGs were a niche genre in the video game world. They take a lot of time and effort to play, and not everyone has the patience or desire to attempt such gargantuan games. However, those that do play RPGs cherish every moment of their journeys through fantastical universes. They take great care in building up their warriors and magic users in order to defeat hordes of enemies. Phantasy Star was one such RPG which was highly praised by critics, even though it did push the Sega Master System to its limits.[1] The successor to the Master System, the Mega Drive, offered the creators of Phantasy Star II more to work with.

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star II is a single-player RPG developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1989, but it wouldn’t reach North America and Europe until 1990. It was later re-released on the Sega Saturn and Game Boy Advance as part of the Phantasy Star Collection, and the Dreamcast as part of the Smash Pack Volume 1. In 2005, an updated remake was released in Japan for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable. For this review, I played was the Mega Drive version on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection on the PlayStation 3 (also available on the Xbox).

Walking around the overworld (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game is set 1000 years after the events of Phantasy Star and takes us back to the Andromeda galaxy and the Algo star system. Orbiting the Algo sun are three planets: Palma – where the government reside; Mota – once an arid desert planet that has since been transformed into a tropical paradise; and Dezo – an inhospitable ice planet.

The Algo star system has prospered under the control of Mother Brain, a computer that regulates the climate, and is responsible for terraforming Mota. However, Mother Brain has started malfunctioning, producing increasingly strong monsters. One night, Rolf (our main protagonist) awakes from a nightmare, where a young girl whom he doesn’t recognise is battling a demon. It is suggested that this girl is Alis from Phantasy Star. After being informed of Mother Brain’s malfunction, Rolf, along with Nei, a humanoid with cat-like features, sets off to investigate why Mother Brain has seemingly turned against her creators.

The screens for dialogue have been greatly improved (Screenshot taken by the author)

Phantasy Star II is first video game to use  a mega 6-bit cartridge. This enabled the designers to create the largest world yet seen in a video game.[2] They have dispensed with the dingeon crawling parts of the game, and have focussed on the overworld views when trawling through the dungeons. As expected, the overall graphics have been improved, creating three very distinct worlds. The sprites in the overworld maps are more individualised and are brightly coloured. The dialogue screens have also been greatly updated to anime-style character screens.

Where did the beautiful backgrounds go? (Screenshot taken by the author)

The battles screens are greatly improved. Firstly, you can now see your characters attacking animations, and the enemies are more varied and detailed. Sadly, they decided to take away the scenic backgrounds and replace them with a blue grid. I’m not sure what the thinking was behind that decision. They have still yet to fix the fighting menu. Annoyingly, You still need to scroll through the menus to target individual monsters which is tiresome.

There are two further irritating aspects to this game which I would have hoped they’d have resolved by now. The first is that many of the names of the plethora of spells you are able to use do not indicate what type of spell it is. The manual doesn’t have any information on this either, so you need to experiment during battles to find out what the oddly named spells do.

“That’s part of the fun!”, I hear some of you cry. Not really. One would assume that a magic user would know what the spell was they were using. Hopefully this will be resolved in Phantasy Star III.

The second irritating aspect is that you do not have a combined inventory, so you need to constantly scroll through the menus in order to exchange items between your fighters. Its exasperating!

Overworld view on Dezo world (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the game?

Yes, it felt like a slog at times, and needed a walkthrough on occasion.

Dragon: “The animation, especially for battles, is superb. There are over 50 spells available. Even weapons and armor can give benefits to characters beyond their normal effects. For example, special armor found in one dungeon allows the wearer to cast a healing spell every so often. The battle system enables more than one type of creature to attack and allows the characters to attack specific creatures instead of idiotically going after one creature at a time. This game is definitely a winner. Overall 5/5”.[3]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: Martin – “RPG’s aren’t my thing., but this one has a monstrous quest anyone can get involved with and lost in…I wish the battle scenes were on landscapes instead of boring blue grid, but all in all PS2 is presented well. Overall 8/10”.[4]

Raze: “Large combat sprites, wonderful scenes and backdrops. Great in-game effects and unobtrusive background music. A challenging quest packed with gameplay. Overall 90%”.[5]

Video Games and Computer Entertainment: “It’s very user friendly, with a simple but extensive menu system, and a battery back-up that allows you to save numerous games in progress. The plot advances quickly, providing a constant stream of new subplots…Phantasy Star II is a complex and eminently enjoyable game that will give you more variety and challenge for your buck than any other video game. Overall 9/10”.[6]

Zero: “Phantasy Star II is definitely not just any old thing. In fact, it’s just about everything you could want from this kind of game – big (very big), involved, exciting and challenging. Overall 89%”.[7]

Sega Power: “Long-awaited sequel to the MS RPG. With a massive quest set over different worlds and four characters to control, you should be thankful for your battery back-up! Overall 5/5.[8]

My verdict:

“Graphically, a great improvement on the first, with an engaging story and plenty of action to keep you quiet for many hours. They just need to sort out that poxy battle menu! RPG fans will love this game!”

Rating:

What are your memories of Phantasy Star II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Tracy, T., (16th December 2002). ‘Phantasy Star Collection Review’. Gamespot.com.  (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/phantasy-star-collection-review/1900-2901862/ Accessed 15th March 2020).

[2] Adams, R., ‘Wishing on a Phantasy Star II’. Computer Gaming World. (November 1990). Issue 76:85. https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_76/page/n83/mode/2up Accessed 14th March 2020.

[3] ‘Phantasy Star II’. Dragon. (August 1990). Issue 160:51.  https://www.annarchive.com/files/Drmg160.pdf Accessed 14th March 2020).

[4] ‘Phantasy Star 2’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1990). Issue 9:18.  https://archive.org/details/Electronic_Gaming_Monthly_Issue_009_April_1990/page/n19/mode/2up Accessed 14th March 2020).

[5] ‘Reviews: Phantasy Star 2’. Raze. (April 1991). Issue 6:34-5. http://www.outofprintarchive.com/articles/reviews/MegaDrive/PhantasyStar2-Raze6-2.html Accessed 15th March 2020).

[6] ‘Sega Genesis – Phantasy Star 2’. Video Games and Computer Entertainment. (March 1990) Issue :34 & 49. https://retrocdn.net/images/d/d2/VG%26CE_US_14.pdf#page=24 Accessed 15th March 2020.

[7] ‘Review Console: Mega Drive – Phantasy Star II’. Zero. (March 1991). Issue 17:88. (https://archive.org/details/zero-magazine-17/page/n87/mode/2up Accessed 15th March 2020.

[8] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Phantasy Star II’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed on 29th July 2020.

Super Hang-On – Review

Hold on to your hats guys, its time to rev that engine, feel the horsepower, and leave your competitors to eat your dust. Glory awaits!

Screenshot taken by the author

Super Hang-On is a single-player motorcycle racing game developed and published by Sega. Originally released in the arcade in 1987 as a sequel to Hang-On, it would later be released for the following:

1987 – Amstrad CPC, Arcade, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum.

1989/1990 – Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Macintosh, DOS, Sega Megadrive, and Sharp X68000.

2003 – Game Boy Advance (Sega Arcade Gallery)

2010 – Wii’s Virtual Console (2012 in North America)

2012 – Xbox Live Arcade (Sega Vintage Collection)

I chose to review the Sega Mega Drive version found on the Mega Games I package.

Whilst still similar to Hang-On, there is now a choice of four new tracks, based on the continents of the world. Each continent contains a different number of stages to increase difficulty (Africa = 6 stages, Asia = 10 stages etc.). A turbo button is also available should you need an extra boost.

Screenshot taken by the author

The Megadrive version, which I played as part of Sega’s Mega Games I, contains both the full arcade mode, and an original mode. The original mode is a bit more in-depth and allows you to gain sponsorship and earn money to upgrade your motorbike.

I have vague recollections of playing this in the arcade at Folkestone Rotunda Amusement Park when I was a pre-pubescent imp. It had the full arcade set up complete with a replica motorbike that you could sit on and use your weight to lean left or right. Being small at the time, my father would stand at the back of the bike and help me lean it, ensuring I didn’t go flying off.

Screenshot taken by the author

The bike is easy to control, and the game is easy to learn. The graphics are clean, with brightly coloured sprites making it easy to distinguish yourself from other riders. The backgrounds and time of day change as you move through the stages of a race giving you a real sense of location and distance. At the top of the screen you have information telling you your score, speed, what course and stage you are on, and a countdown dial.

The game can become frustrating when you crash in Arcade mode as there is no way to make the time up again, so you may as well restart the game. I also dislike the time countdown in arcade mode too. In the arcade one can understand a time limit as you want games that are “quarter guzzlers”, but for gaming at home, it’s just plain annoying. Admittedly I didn’t spend that much time on this game as I’m not a racing fan, but if you are, I am sure that you will enjoy the challenge of this game.

Did I complete the game?

Nope, nowhere near.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines: “A high quality racing game which is a must for speed freaks. Overall 86%.[1]

Mean Machines: “This cart manages to contain all of the playability of the coin-op, coulpled with slick audio-visuals. Definitely worth getting if you enjoyed the coin-op, or if you’re after a decent Mega Drive game at a bargain price. Overall 90%.”[2]

Sega Power: “Brilliant biking coin-op conversion. Terrific sensation of speed and movement, with good graphics and smooth 3D update. Thrilling to play and lasts for ages. Overall 5/5.[3]

Sega Power “Another coin-op classic of yesteryear. Fine, but a bit mouldy. Overall 4/5.”[4]

My Verdict: “I’m not a fan of racing games but if you are, this may prove a challenge. Beautiful graphics and scenery too, and enough replay value to make it worth adding to your collection.”

Ratings:

What are your memories of Super Hang-On? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Mega Drive Review – Super Hang-On’. Mean Machines. (October 1990). Issue 1:82-4. (https://archive.org/details/Mean_Machines_Issue_01_1990-10_EMAP_Images_GB/page/n83/mode/2up Accessed 23rd September 2020).

[2] Leadbetter, R.,’Review: Mega Drive – Super Hang-On’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:127 (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n125/mode/2up Accessed 15th February 2020).

[3] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Super Hang-On’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed on 29th July 2020.

[4] ‘The Hard Line – Review: Mega Drive – Super Hang-On’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:98. (https://retrocdn.net/images/b/b9/SegaPower_UK_46.pdf Accessed 17th February 2020).