Day 8 Continued
Now how can I start this, this game throws a lot on your plate straight from moment one. The game stars a guy called “Rolf” by default. Rolf is an agent for the government in Piseo, on “Mota,” which is what they call Motavia nowadays (similarly, Palma is “Palm” and Dezoris is “Dezo”). For those that have been paying attention, that means PS2 starts where PS1 ended, and even starts with Rolf having dreams about Alis fighting Dark Force.
A lot has changed in Mota since Alis’ day. For starters, they’ve made a major effort to terraform the place from the desert it used to be, thanks in a large part to a mysterious computer called “Mother Brain” that’s housed in some distant, secret location. Mother Brains’ been planning out the development of Mota via a few special facilities. The grassy areas are walled in, no doubt in some form of terraforming dome, but the visual effect is rather odd, as though Mota were just a series of grassy platforms hovering over inky blackness. This was nearly a Genesis launch title (it was released just a few months into the life-cycle), and it doesn’t quite know what to do with its resources.
Rolf’s boss calls him in, and talks to him about an accident that happened several years ago with the Bio Station to the northeast where, instead of a beneficial animal, it bio-engineered a monster. The station was shut down, but the monsters recently returned, and he wants an investigation. Rolf takes his, urm… associate Nei with him. The way one takes home a puppy, she-followed-me home-can-I-keep-her. Nei is a human/monster hybrid, who can’t speak as far as I can tell.
I went shopping, working out what basic items do and checking the equipment lists (Escapers are now “Escapipes,” which is a great made-up word. It’s so fun to say! On the other hand, Nei’s claw weapons are called “Steel Bars,” in what I can only assume is censorship… more than a little odd). Outfitting the party best I could, I set out on my mission and promptly get mauled to death by an okay just kidding. I start exploring, not getting mauled nearly as effectively as in the original game. After a fair bit of walking, I find a town to the east via a roundabout path. The town had no save building, so I sighed and reduce myself to using the Collection’s save states. No, I’m sorry, I have no reason to put up with the nonsense of the early RPG era if I don’t have to. I could have paid some hefty coin to teleport back to Piseo, but money has been very tight in this game so far.
[Editor: I said at the front that these journals don’t represent my best work, and one way where that really stands out to me is how I didn’t say a word about how PS2 shows heavy design elements from early Japanese PC Adventure games and Visual Novels. It’s a lot to do with the design of the menus and the character portraits, but nothing sells it so much as the shopkeepers, who are given character portraits against a black screen with unique, tinny music that reminds me of the old PC games every time. It really goes to explain Phantasy Star Adventure, a questionable move at best, since the dev team must have been up to their eyeballs in that genre.]
I learn that a man is blocking a bridge to the northwest, who Rolf says “tried to kill Nei 7 months ago.” The locals say the man is upset because “scoundrels” took his daughter. They also dynamited his hometown, but I can see where he’s coming from by focusing on family. (Editor: I also learned, now or later, that he had turned to crime to pay her bounty.) Learning the scoundrels are the east, the general direction of the bio station, I kept an eye out for both and headed back on the path.
I eventually found the station and get thrashed by a group of frog creatures thanks to some lucky rolls from the game. I got killed before I can retreat, and started up again. The next time, I got in a fight with recolours I didn’t realize were recolours, meaning I was fighting something doubly strong while I was completely unprepared. Rolf got killed, but I got away and Nei got to celebrate by having extra 2 levels on the main character.
Third time was no more the charm. Oh, I did a good job of exploring the dungeon, which was disproportionately huge for a first dungeon and filled with obnoxious teleport pads, but that’s not the point. I made it a good way in before my healing items exhausted, and am now in awful shape in the middle of the dungeon. I might be able to retreat with some luck, which would be great, since I should be a high enough level to turn the place upside down in my next run. That would make it an okay start!
I checked a walkthrough just to make sure I was on the right track, and it turns out I missed a playable character thanks to this game’s odd system of meeting playable characters. Put simply, you have to, with no prompting, go back to your house repeatedly throughout the game. I might go get this new guy before returning, but since that would mean I’d have to train him first, I’m not so sure. The game seems to be balanced toward a two-member party, which implies bringing a new face will multiply the number of monsters as in PS1. Oh, the walkthrough also mentioned that all the dungeons in this game are extra-long. Whoopie. 😦
Also, reading a bit more, and pretty sure that this isn’t the Bio station like I had figured. Well, I had might as well wrap up.
Not much to say today. I save-scummed my back to town, got my new party member, and bought a new suit of armour for my lead, along with a helmet. Then I started back, but decided to explore a bit and ended up in a fight with some recoloured Mosquitos that forced me back to town. At least they dropped some hefty numbers. Good cash and EXP. That was all I bothered to do today. Guess it’s got to be recorded for posterity.
(Editor: For reasons I can’t recall, after my two days of Phantasy Star 2, I left the game behind for over a year, from 2009 to 2010. I noted: “I can’t be sure how long it’s been, because the XBox seems to think it’s 2005.”)
Being totally not in the mood for grinding, I marched straight back to the raider’s base in the northeast with Rudo, my new Odin-like third party member, being similar to Odin with tank stats and a multi-target shotgun. (Editor: You can see how the game is recreating the original party, with Nei as a humanoid version of Myou. Sadly, party member 4 is not an attack mage.) I stuck him in the rear to keep the monsters from prioritizing him. He actually gained HP so quickly that if I had remembered to do it, I would have put him in the lead after not very much time at all.
Despite my year off, I found that I had remembered more of the maze facility than I expected, and actually got back to where I left off pretty quickly! From there, I found my way to the basement, where I was constantly and consistently mauled to death by recolours. I am not kidding, these things were not fair. Monsters on the floor just above: one damage a hit, die in two hits. Monsters on the floor just below: six damage a hit, die in approximately five hits depending on Shotgun damage. All around these monsters were the bodies of the raiders.
I eventually found a Slv. Ribbon for Nei and gained a level for Rolf only to also gain a new technique. I used it and discovered, facepalm, that it was an Exit spell. I had to load my save state. Once I had jumped back in time, I retraced my steps.
You’d think that being forced to replay this section would leave me better prepared for those supercharged monsters, but it didn’t. It helped that they took a sudden interest in Rudo (who was still at the back of the line thanks to my incompetence), since it kept Rolf and Nei alive long enough for me to reach the end of the dungeon before the game’s cheating really sunk its teeth in.
How so “cheat”? Well, I figured it out a dungeon later: PS2 is designed to make you walk as many squares as possible, maximizing your chance of boring random encounters. The camera does not adjust its position until you have walked almost at the end of the screen (to the point where getting into a fight, which will cause the camera to centre again actually makes exploration easier). This means you can’t see dead ends until you all-but walk into the back of them, at which point you have to walk back out. The designers abused this to artificially extend the length of the game, using dozens or even a hundred of tiny dead ends in every cranny of the game world, forming entire dungeons out of block crosses that force you to walk two or three squares off track, then back, over and over again until the game has gained hours of artificial game time. On top of that, here at this dungeon, the last section is just a plain zig-zag for no reason other than to delay you. Thanks a lot, game.
At the end of the zig-zag I found another dead body, this one carrying a small key and a note explaining things I already knew about the man whose daughter was kidnapped. Thankfully, this note also included her location. With these I teleported out, did some shopping, including a Ceramic Knife for Rolf. Kyle’s advice to dual-wield was turning out great. I then returned to raid locked sections of the first dungeon now that I had the key, and found a few sticks of dynamite while I was there.
Here’s where something unfortunate happened. I went to check a walkthrough to figure out if dynamite is a generic item I could ignore, or a plot item I had to retrieve. It turns out it’s the latter, but in the process of this simple check, I had a few things spoiled for me, like the fact that we don’t actually go to Palma over the course of the game, very surprising, and even accidentally learned the location of Mother Brain! Oh, I realized I had been spoiled on that years ago, but a pretty disastrous glance a walkthrough, wouldn’t you say? Well, to be honest, I don’t feel that bad about it, because the game’s ugly dungeons and molasses pace have already wrung me out to dry, only one dungeon into the game. Forcing me to return to a dungeon I was already shit-bored of to pad out the game even further by fetching key items? Screw. You.
Now that I’m totally bored of that dungeon, what does the game have next? Oh, just a tower that uses the exact same tileset. This dungeon was almost nothing but cross-shapes, just a giant grid plugged with blockades, and it was so infuriating that for the first time in about fifteen, maybe eighteen years of gaming, I just gave up without clearing it out after I reached the top and rescued the girl. I checked an online map and confirmed that it has a few healing items. Forget it. The place gives me a headache. I am getting through this game as fast as possible folks. Someone remind me of this the next time I decide I want to play an 80’s RPG, okay? What bothers me is that I would really enjoy this story if I weren’t being torn apart by bad mechanics. (Editor: Indeed, even after four years I remember the world and atmosphere better than I do the shitty gameplay and even feel inclined to give it another try!)
Plans for “tomorrow”, whether that is tomorrow or 2093, involve returning this girl to her father (the man that tried to kill Nei) and hoping that clears the way west. Once I find whatever is out there, I would like to immediately return home, as I secretly suspect that this will unlock another new party member. Even if they’re terrible I’ll at least have someone in slot 4. Lot of contrary advice on the internet about which party members to use. Hope it won’t be too much of an issue because I don’t really have the interest to level them all up for testing purposes, even if I had been doing something like that at the time in Shining Force 2.