The other day my girlfriend sees me sitting on the couch, sketching on graph paper in a notebook, with several pages torn out and laying about covered in similar sketches. “What are you doing?” “Mapping,” I reply, lifting up half a dozen pages. “This is all one dungeon, so I needed to map it.”
Now, Phantasy Star II isn’t the first RPG that I’ve resorted to mapping for; that honor would go to Sword of Vermilion (which is probably one of the most awesome RPGs I’ve ever played), but it’s the first that I’ve felt that it was utterly necessary to keep one’s bearings. These dungeons are some of the most difficult of any game I’ve played, because of the combination of multiple up/down tiles in all of the dungeons, the lack of detail to quickly distinguish between dungeon levels and areas within those levels, and the overall frequency of encounters that break one’s ability to keep one’s bearings from memory.
I’d mucked about with Phantasy Star II a few times in the past, because my first impression was positive: I liked the idea of a Sword & Planet RPG and found the character art charming. But I couldn’t get past the brutal grind necessary to survive a few steps into the first dungeon, much less figure out what the hell was going on with all of the transporters, and I ultimately set it aside for other things after a handful of false starts.
I got a retro RPG bug the other day, though, and decided to play Phantasy Star IV, since it was on the same Sega collection disc and I figured that it would follow the general rule of old RPGs where Newer = Less clunky. And for the most part, I was right. PS IV was a delight, with plenty of endearing characters, heart-wrenching moments, and a delightful tear-jerker ending. I didn’t even have to grind at all to beat it!
What I don’t get is why in the localization of Phantasy Star they would change the names of various characters but leave the unintelligible and utterly mystifying spell names. I mean, sure, by the end of the game I’d figured out what worked and what didn’t through trial and error, but at what point did someone say something along the lines of “Bindwa & Tandle are perfectly fine names for abilities, but folks will be really confused by characters named Rudy and Pike, so let’s call them Chaz and Gryz instead. That’ll go over better in the west”? Seriously, localize mechanics, not character names.
But anyway, I decided to go back and give PS II a chance again. Man, is it a slog, but I’m invested enough in the setting that I’m going to see it through to the end. And if you’re the sort of person who enjoys mapping, that’s where you’re going to find the fun in it. Because you are going to need a map!
But, since I found my old world map of Sword of Vermilion, I think I’ll give that another go, too!