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.

Title screen (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 (2009) 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 its 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 dungeon crawling parts of the game (much to the chagrin of many who love dungeon crawlers), 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.

[3] ‘Phantasy Star II’. Dragon. (August 1990). Issue 160:51.

[4] ‘Phantasy Star 2’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1990). Issue 9:18.

[5] ‘Reviews: Phantasy Star 2’. Raze. (April 1991). Issue 6:34-5.

[6] ‘Sega Genesis – Phantasy Star 2’. Video Games and Computer Entertainment. (March 1990) Issue :34 & 49.

[7] ‘Review Console: Mega Drive – Phantasy Star II’. Zero. (March 1991). Issue 17:88.

[8] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Phantasy Star II’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Review

The lightning quick blue ball of spikes has returned, and this time he has speedy side-kick. Yes, Sonic is back with a faster, bigger, and more challenging game for those with quick reflexes.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a platform game developed and published by Sega for the Megadrive in 1992. It is the sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog with 8-bit versions being released on the Master System and Game Gear. In recent years, versions were released for multiple mobile platforms as well as part of a number of Sega collection packages for the PlayStation and Xbox systems. I chose to review the Mega Drive version of Sonic 2.

Sonic is accompanied by Tails (Screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic is back, and this time he has assistance from his trusty sidekick Miles “Tails” Prower, a two-tailed fox. Dr. Robotnik is also back, and again plans to steal the Chaos Emeralds to power his space station known as the Death Egg. Once again Sonic must make his way through an array of different levels evading the robotic minions of Dr. Robotnik. Like the first instalment, Sonic has the option to destroy the minions to release the animals that Dr. Robotnik has trapped inside them.

There are plenty of new features in this game. At the start of the game you can choose to play as Sonic, Tails, or as Sonic with Tails. There is no real difference between Sonic and Tails, but I would recommend playing as one or the other alone. The reason for this is the Special Stages where Sonic attempts to win the Chaos Emeralds. The stages are now designed like a half-pipe run and are broken into stages. You must gain ‘X’ amount of rings to progress to the next stage, all the while dodging obstacles that will make you lose rings if you hit them. If you have Tails with you, he will often get hit by an obstacle and will lose you rings.

The new half-pipe special stages (Screenshot taken by the author)

Once you have won all the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic gains the ability to transform into Super Sonic by gaining 50 rings and jumping into the air. As Super Sonic you are invincible, can run faster and jump higher. However it uses up your rings at a rate of one per second. Once they are gone, Sonic reverts back to his normal self.

After you collect all the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic will be able to temporarily transform into Super Sonic (Screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic 2 also sees the introduction of the ‘Spin-Dash’, which enables Sonic to spin and gain speed whilst stationary.

The addition of a competitive two-player mode where you can race another player through certain levels and special stages adds an extra element of fun which I know myself and my buddies found particularly diverting.

With the release of Sonic and Knuckles in 1994, the two cartridges could be interlocked, enabling you to play through Sonic 2 as Knuckles the Echidna. Knuckles can glide and climb walls, enabling you find alternative routes through the levels. However, he cannot jump as high as Sonic and Tails, making some of the boss fights a bit more difficult.

Sonic and Tails must fight their way through an array of new machines built by Dr. Robotnik (Screenshot taken by the author)

The graphics haven’t changed that much since the first Sonic game. The Sonic sprite is a slightly darker shade of blue, and the enemy sprites are designed to have a more mechanical look. The levels are longer, less linear (you sometimes have to go back on yourself to find the correct route) and more intricately designed, making traversing the levels more challenging. Some of the evil minions are harder to destroy and the end of level bosses are certainly more challenging and inventive too. The music is good, but I don’t think its quite as memorable as the first game.

I did feel that the way you have no rings or means to get them for the last two bosses is a cheap way to make the bosses harder, and I found that frustrating.

The two-player mode is what my friends and I played alot when we got this game. I remember distinctly arriving at my buddy’s house and eagerly turning the game on for the first time. We played for hours. Having revisited the game I noticed that in one-player mode and two-player mode, the game has a tendency to slow down and the sprites flicker a bit when Sonic and Tails are going top speed, in particularly when you are hit by an enemy and lose lots of rings.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed this game a few times through whilst winning all the Chaos Emeralds.

What the critics said:

Gamepro: “Its tough to follow a classic but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 earns top honours. There’s enough stuff that’s new and different in Sonic 2 to make it a must-have cart for fans of the original. Overall 19.5/20.[1]

Gamesmaster: “The changes are there, but they’re just not profound enough to transform the agme into an essential buy for owners of the original. Overall 65%.[2]

Computer & Video Games: Paul Anglin“At first glance Sonic may not look radically different to the original, but it packs a lot more punch than Bluey’s first outing. The levels are absolutely massive, with so much to do and so much to find that you’ll bust a gut trying. Overall 94%.[3]

Computer & Video Games: Tim Boone“For a start it’s all a tad faster, and the addition of Tails is a real master stroke to beef up the gameplay. Graphics are no great improvement over the original, but seeing as the first game’s were about the best you’ll find that’s no bad thing! Sound is ace too. Overall 94%.[4]

Gamer Fan: Sonic 2 is amazing, faster and nastier than ever spinning through awesome new zones that will make your eyes bug out! The creativity and attention to detail is remarkable and to finish with all the chaos emeralds is a worthy challenge for even the best players. Overall 98.5%.[5]

Mean Machines Sega: “Sonic has outdone itself. An absolute gem of a game which your Megadrive will be screaming out for. Overall 96%.[6]

Mega: “Sonic 2 is pure, top grade video game entertainment. No one should miss it. Fight for a copy.  Overall 94%”.[7]

Megazone: “Sonic 2 is a brilliant sequel, and does what most sequels don’t do – improve and expand on the original. Overall 96%.[8]

Sega Force: “One of the best games of the year and definitely worth the wait! Overall 97%”.[9]

Electronic Games: “Sonic the Hedgehog 2 offers the same exciting play as the first, but the welcome additions of two-player simultaneous play and more levels only enhance this exciting title. Sonic shows no signs of slowing down! Overall 91%.[10]

Awards:

Best Game of the Year (Sega Genesis) – Electronic Gaming Monthly Best and Worst of 1992[11]

Game of the Year – Megazone Games of the Year 1992[12]

Hottest New Character in a Video Game (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992[13]

My Verdict:

“There was something about this game that I didn’t like, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it was. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first. That being said, this is a solid sequel, and I did have fun revisiting the game. There are plenty of new features, to make it worth playing, and the addition of a two-player mode adds to the overall enjoyment of the game”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic the Hedgehog 2? 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] The Unknown Gamer. ‘Pro Review: Megadrive – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Gamerpro. (January 1993). 43:46-50.

[2] Lowe, A., ‘Game Review: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Gamemaster Magazine. (January 1993). Issue 1:56-8.

[3] Anglin. P., ’Review: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Computer & Video Games. (November 1992). issue 132:22-3.

[4] Boone, T., ‘Review: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Computer & Video Games. (November 1992). Issue 132:22-3.

[5] ‘Viewpoint: Mega Drive: Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Gamer Fan. (December 1992). Volume 1 Issue 2:9.

[6] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Mean Machines Sega. (November 1992). Issue 2:60-3.

[7] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Mega. (November 1992). Issue 2:36-41.

[8] Clarke, S., ‘Review: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Megazone. (December 1992/January 1993). Issue 25:31-33.

[9] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Sega Force. Issue 12:14-16.

[10] Carpenter, D., ‘Video Game Gallery: Genesis – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Electronic Games. (December 1992). Volume 1 Issue 3:72-4.

[11] ‘EGM Best and Worst of 1992 Video Game of the Year’. Electronic Gaming Monthly 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :14.

[12] ‘Game of the Year Awards 1992 – Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. Megazone. (December 1992/January 1993). Issue 25:21.

[13] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Hottest New Character in a Video Game (All Systems) – Sonic The Hedgehog 2‘. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :20.