Friday, August 19, 2011
Phantasy Star Portable 2 - How It Compares to the Original
Now, way back when I did a similar article for Rune Factory 3 and Rune Factory 1, I hadn't considered that I would, well, ever do such an article again. I don't normally try to compare sequels, and when I do, I normally just put the game by its own merits or something, perhaps bring up what the first game did better a few times, but I rarely gauge a game by the game that preceded it. And I don't know if I can actually make this comparison thing a thing (If I did, I'd certainly do Resistance: Fall of Man vs. Resistance 2 next), but it's something I've been tossing around lately for PSP1 and 2 for a fairly....well, obvious reason.
A lot of people who have gotten their hands on copies of Valkyria Chronicles 3 mention that, well, it takes a lot of maps, if not all of them, from Valkyria Chronicles 2. I....find that a little odd, but whatever. It's only after playing both Phantasy Star Portable games that I realize this is just Sega's thing. You see, every map in Phantasy Star Portable is present in PSP2, as well as the new maps PSP2 brings to the table. And....some (I don't know what level this goes to) of Phantasy Star Portable 1's maps came straight from Phantasy Star Universe. You see, friends, Sega is just...well, basically stealing from themselves.
It's hard to show this off in screenshot form without spending a ton of time looking (ton meaning more than the 10 I just threw out there, obviously), so instead, let me just drop this youtube search results page here and let you decide for yourself. The mission in question is called "Plains Overlord", was present first in Phantasy Star Universe on PC, PS2 and 360, and remained a staple through Phantasy Star Portable 2. Through all three versions it's been, for all intents and purposes, the same map.
While I may paint this in a negative light, it's not exactly a bad thing of course....it's just not a good thing either. After sinking time into Phantasy Star Portable 1, I'm guessing that it has the least maps of all three games, honestly, as I had a little trouble finding a couple maps through that cursory youtubing for a comparison page. But it does help when you're playing the next game, of course, provided you played Phantasy Star Portable 2 after 1. Which...I didn't do. But that does work conversely, of course, as the map knowledge gained from PSP2 helped me through PSP1 as well as teach me a few things about some of the different bosses that appear in both games, but go fairly unexplained in PSP2.
Which, if anything would be one of the (few) strengths the original game holds over the sequel. While Phantasy Star Portable 1's story is considerably shorter than what the sequel offers, it's also much much more aware of itself and grounded.....more or less. Without having played Phantasy Star Universe (which as I said before, is direct canon for both PSP1 and 2) I'm still missing out on a little bit of the story, but where Phantasy Star Portable 2 really really hopes you played the original to understand more about the monsters and such that act as bosses, Phantasy Star Portable 1 plows through and explains it anyway. So in PSP2 where the Dimmagolus was just some giant douchebag monster with bat wings, in PSP1, it's explained and also pointed out that the wings are a giant weakspot which makes it 10x easier to fight. PSP1's smaller, more contained story also ensures that it keeps a lot of the fluff out, which, PSP2 has a few sections that seem to be only fluff.
Another plus for the original is how it handles the main character. While it's a...very minor thing, I have grown far too tired of games where your character doesn't have natural dialog, yet talks to everybody. It's sort of a mutation of the Silent Protagonist trope brought about by the widespread acknowledgement of the Silent Protagonist trope. Which is entirely too fucking meta. In PSP1, they are aware of the Silent Protagonist trope and make extensive use of it. You see, your character in PSP1 is, at times, offered different choices for what to say in certain circumstances. That (aside from battle grunts) is all your character ever says, which is oftentimes pointed out by the other characters. And it's always amusing. This is, of course, pure and simple personal preference, but I enjoy the mental image of my character being, pretty much, an anti-social jerk who just wants to kill monsters.
But the rest of the characters in PSP1 are, ultimately, one of the many downfalls of the game. While I like the main character and, in general, like the game's story itself, it does not handle the characters well. The first one you meet, Laia Martinez is your superior and your direct Guardians instructor with whom you take on a mission or two with at the start (and your partner, Vivienne) and then she completely disappears and ceases to be relevant whatsoever. She's not the only one who does this, of course, and even the characters that are cameos from PSU have bit parts and are then promptly forgotten without so much as a word to why. It's....well, it's fairly jarring. PSP2, on the other hand manages to have all the major players be relevant to the end (which, in the case of a few characters is a detriment, actually) without being tossed to the wayside unceremoniously.
In terms of Gameplay, there simply is really no argument: Phantasy Star Portable 2 is a clear improvement. The only issues with PSP2 is that you can only carry half the amount of healing items you could in PSP1 (as well as the enemies hit harder. Of course) and Skills level up in PSP1, whereas you just find higher level disks in PSP2 (which, if I recall correctly, was how techs were handled in PSO anyway, so precedence wins). I was a little partial to leveling up skills and techniques rather than just stumbling across a level 15 disk but I'll take what I can get if it means I can use all three combo attacks of a special technique at level 1 rather than grinding it to level 30.
Phantasy Star Portable 2 manages to handle the PP (I'm guessing power point) system better and worse all at the same time as well. In Phantasy Star Portable 1, PP was on each individual weapon which, on the plus side could have meant that it had a ton of PP which means a lot of Special Technique usage (and you don't have to mess around with chains to make it stronger, even) but the downside was that you could find a boss-as-hell weapon with, like, 36 friggin' PP. Dump stats like that just make the weapon completely undesireable and will likely just put you off from upgrading even if the new weapon has 200 ATK on your current one. The downside to PSP1's system is that PP doesn't restore when the weapon is equipped, and when it is equipped, it restores really slowly unless you attack normally with it, which will cause it to fill a few points with the hit, rather than a point per three seconds.
Of course, with guns the normal attack is the attack that uses PP. So once you've used up a gun's PP (and you will) unless you want to stand there for half an hour to let it charge, you're stuck with either A) switching the weapon out, B) stumbling across a Prism Box that lets you buy your PP back for your weapons (A paltry sum, always worth it, and they're usually found before a boss fight), or C) Using a Photon charge, an item that will completely recharge a weapon's PP and is found fairly commonly. So there's really no reason -not- to use a Photon Charge, aside from the fact that it's, well, annoying.
In Phantasy Star Portable 2, your PP is tied to the character and your techniques just draw from that. It also restores way faster when you're loitering, so you're not going to sit around for ten minutes waiting for a fully charged PP bar again. I've noticed that hitting things normally does recharge it a little more as well, but it's hardly as noticeable in PSP2 as it was in PSP1, mainly since it was damn near vital in the first game. On the downside of this, heavy PP-users are still fairly difficult to use, as when your PP is low, you're -still- just running around waiting for it to refill and there's actually no Photon Charge objects in PSP2. At least, not that I know of. Still, it's a lot more manageable in the sequel.
Gameplay is not only what's better about the sequel, but all the other things put into it. They managed to implement a full online mode through the Playstation Network so you can play with your friends wherever they are (and not use Ad-Hoc Party) but also Commons maps (well, -a- map) that you can actually walk around in to talk to people, get sidequests (also new to PSP2) and shop, versus PSP1's static image maps with important circles. Bringing over the room management from PSU as well is a nice touch, though most, if not all, of the rooms are straight from PSU. Still, you all know me, I likes me some decorating in video games.
So after playing both extensively (I have a level 61 character in PSP1, where the level cap is 100 for reference, whereas my Main character in PSP2 is 89 with a max of 200) I feel fairly qualified to speak on them both, and it's easy to say that the sequel is a clear improvement in all areas, or at least the ones that matter. It's always refreshing when that happens, I think, since it speaks well for the way the series can grow as, these days you can usually hope for a 'next one' especially with franchises like Phantasy Star Portable/Universe/Online/etc. Personally, I'm still looking for PSP3 on Vita.
It would be like heaven.