In the future, Windex is the most plentiful substance in the universe. From the massive space stations of the Gurhal star system, to the darkest alien ruins of its untamed worlds, every surface sparkles, as though scrubbed twice daily by an unseen army of scutters. It's the perfect setting for a sterile and generic role-playing extravaganza, where gamers can vicariously live out their interstellar destinies via minion-blasting, stat-grinding, and interior decorating. Yes, as action/adventure games go, Phantasy Star Portable 2 is about as Japanese as it gets — in both the best and worst senses of the word...
As a newly minted mercenary in this fantastical sci-fi universe, you can choose to be one of four fantasy races: Human, Newman (space elves), Cast (robots), or Beast (furries). The first leads itself to a balanced play style, the rest favour spells, ranged weapons, and close combat, respectively. The rest of the game plays out as an exercise in upgrading gear and grinding stats, which you achieve by scouring space dungeons and slaying space monsters. If you can figure out their simple attack patterns, then there's little to stand between you and their space chests full of space loot, bar the occasional locked door that requires a colour-coded key to open. The average gamer will be able to cruise through on auto-pilot.
There's a story, of sorts, too. The single player mode has a threadbare plot that you can unravel by completing missions for the 'Little Wing' space mercenary company. This involves clicking through pages of text while looking at static portraits of outlandish characters that look like they were laughed out of Second Life.
The game designers at Alfa System clearly made Phantasy Star Portable 2 with the Japanese market in mind, assuming that anyone who bought it would have scores of PSP-owning play-mates at their fingertips. The problem is that the typical Aussie PSP-owner plays alone. The games he buys must justify their existence through compelling single-player modes. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, and Valkyria Chronicles II were made with co-op in mind, yet still excel in solo play. Phantasy Star Portable 2 fails to pull off the same feat.
What's the point of tastefully outfitting your space quarters and hosting imaginary space-tea parties if no-one ever shows up? Why spend two hours customising the pitch of your voice bank and the neon colours of your hair if no-one is ever going to see? Take away these trappings, and all you're left with is the gameplay, which just doesn't stand up on its own. One could generously call the combat 'straightforward' and 'accessible,' though it would be fairer to say it's 'dated' and 'boring.'
The presentation is slick, the interface is smooth, and the multiplayer options are comprehensive... but none of that matters. This game is designed to be played with your friends. And chances are, they won't want to.