Phantasy Star II

The protagonist and Nei face off against two species of biomonster

Phantasy Star II brings players back to the Algol solar system more than 1,000 years after the first game in the series, with all the technological and social improvements one might expect from such a period of peace. Rather than a revolutionary seeking revenge for a murdered sibling, the main character of the second game in the series is a secret agent working for the solar-system-wide government – a government headed by a supercomputer named Mother Brain.

In contrast to the somewhat clichéd “defeat the evil king” plot of Phantasy Star, the overall plot of PSII begins in a mystery. At the start of the game, the main character is sent out to discover the source of the recent outbreak of attacks by genetic mutations – called “biomonsters” – that have been plaguing the otherwise tranquil planet of Motavia.

Indeed, in the intervening period between the first and second games, Motavia has undergone a massive climatologic alteration, changing from a desert planet into green paradise where people no longer even have to work thanks to robots and computers.

Which is actually part of the problem. It seems that the people of Motavia have grown complacent and weak from the long period of peace and prosperity. A fact underscored by how helpless they are in the face of this new menace.

As far as gameplay goes, Phantasy Star II offers some major improvements over the first – and over other RPGs of the era. Better graphics, superior sound, and a longer, more involved plot all came together to bring console RPGs to a whole new level. Indeed, it was the first six megabit cartridge because of the length and depth of the game.

Also new was the fact that the player could design his or her party from a variety of characters, each of whom had their own strengths and weaknesses. While most of them were largely interchangeable as far as plot purposes go, some of them had vital special abilities, though some did play a pivotal role in the story. Without spoiling too much, PSII also saw the first killing of a major member of the player’s party – predating Aeris’ famous scene by eight years.

One of the things that make this game so amazing, especially for its time, is how dark it is. At a time when other RPGs followed the exploits of a band of freedom fighters liberating countries from the oppressive grip of evil emperors, Phantasy Star II featured someone working for the system who slowly discovered the problems within it.

Even the cartridge depicts a rather depressing scene

With tragic deaths, betrayals, and the destruction of an entire populated world, it’s difficult to find a game this bleak even today, much less in the late ‘80s. Add to that the return of an old foe (well, for those who played the original, anyway), and an ambiguous ending that’s saddening at best, and you’ve got a game that’s not only different and innovative – it’s downright depressing at times.

And coming from a time when games weren’t often very emotionally evocative, that’s some of the highest praise it could possibly get.