Phantasy Star Portable 2 picks up where Phantasy Star Portable left off with some significant system changes. Sega revised the Photon Point system and added new defensive techniques. In this interview, Satoshi Sakai, Producer, discusses the design changes, Monster Hunter, and why PSP developers have a hard time with infrastructure mode.
Can you tell us about the story and how it connects to the vast Phantasy Star mythology?
Satoshi Sakai, Producer: The setting is the Gurhal Galaxy same as Phantasy Star Universe, three years after the SEED was sealed. The player, an employee of a private military company Little Wing based in a colony called Clad 6, will fight with their partner Emilia and other allies for Gurhal, which has been plunged into a crisis from a trap left by the ancients, the original inhabitants of Gurhal.
You can see how Lumia Waber looks like with the passage of three years, and many other characters of Phantasy Star Universe come back in Phantasy Star Portable 2.
What did you learn from developing Phantasy Star Portable that you brought to Phantasy Star Portable 2?
We received reviews on Phantasy Star Portable that the battles are monotonous or too easy, the story is too short, or that there wasn’t enough in terms of quantity. On the other hand, multiplayer mode and the simple system specialized in a handheld device were well accepted. So, we fundamentally improved Phantasy Star Portable, including the combat system, since the original Phantasy Star Universe, and also wanted to develop good points and improve bad points from the first Phantasy Star Portable. Phantasy Star Portable 2 was developed through an overall drastic evolution of Phantasy Star Portable.
Phantasy Star Portable 2 gives players new defensive moves like dodge rolls and Just Guard (when equipped with a shield). Why did you add these maneuvers?
These maneuvers were not adapted in Phantasy Star Portable, because we didn’t think these moves are necessary for an action RPG at that time. We now understand many users want these moves and enjoy them in Phantasy Star ZERO, so we introduced them as a major feature of the improvement this time. We believe these action maneuvers will add variations to attack methods and improve the unique freedom of combat.
The Photon Point system has been changed too. Why did you attach PP to characters and take out Photon Charges?
Because we thought the unified system like TP of Phantasy Star Online is more familiar to the player. This is one of the fundamental improvements of the combat system.
How do you come up with designs for new monsters and attack patterns?
We focused on designing attack patterns especially suitable for cooperative fight, based on the theme “4 players’ cooperative moves”.
For example, a giant enemy exposes its weak point Core when it has a fall to the ground. The player could beat it easier if he or she battles it with other players, like someone aims at its foot and another at the Core. We introduced several methods for each monster and mission to beat or achieve it. We believe the player will enjoy the challenges and systematic, team-based combat more than previous games.
Infrastructure mode is one of the big new features in Phantasy Star Portable 2. Even though it would suit many multiplayer PSP games, few titles utilize it. Why did you make Phantasy Star Portable 2 support infrastructure mode and how complicated was implementation?
We successfully introduced infrastructure mode with support from the matching library of SCE. The implementation of the mode was tough, even with the support. Many features available on multiplayer mode with Ad Hoc were unrealizable on infrastructure mode because of the baud rate or packet. Of course this affected the game system. To solve the issue, the game needs special features, like when creating a network game. That’s why most games haven’t supported the mode previously.
We have a lot of experience in developing online games – now for more than ten years – so we were able to be more optimistic about implementing the mode than other developers.
We feel Western games feature infrastructure mode more than Japanese games, right?
Loot makes people come back to PSP and soon PSP2. Since it’s such an important element how do you balance item drops?
As the game setting is the entire universe, we arranged several item types to make the player try several missions.
Weapons with better performance are relatively accessible to maintain motivation to look for them. Rare and unique items are not as easy to get, to make the player feel proud of them. The drop rate of each item is set for each four combat types, and type-specific weapons are easily-available in the combat type, so the player will get closer to the items if working with friends. Many Japanese users play the game with enthusiasm to complete the weapons.
Phantasy Star Portable 2 has a lot of crossovers with Pizza Hut (in Japan), Young Jump, and various anime series like Evangelion. How did these deals come about?
We have made collaboration proposals to the companies which are accepted by all light, young, and heavy users. As Phantasy Star Portable was successful and the proposals were win-win, these companies could accept our proposals without hesitation. Phantasy Star series are SF (sci-fi) and also network game in a sense, so the player could naturally accept collaborations. This could be a reason these crossovers worked well.
There are a lot of wacky weapons on Japan’s PlayStation Store water gun, Christmas tree, and Merry Christmas grenade launcher. Where do you come with these ideas and are there any canceled weapon designs lying on your desk?
DLCs are created in line with a certain concept for each distribution. So, it’s not so hard to create items once the concept such as “seasonal items”, “school series” , or “civil war period series “ is confirmed, but It’s not easy to come up with a catching concept. If we find the concept catching, our members snatch the idea and soon hit on some items. Ideas for items are rarely turned down, but our designers squeeze out quite a few designs to create one item. This is how we have created items with best design. We cannot help taking our hats off to their effort.
While Phantasy Star Online was released many years earlier on the Dreamcast, what do you think of the Monster Hunter Freedom and Phantasy Star Portable comparisons on the net?
We understand the developer of Monster Hunter series was affected by Phantasy Star Online to create the series. The series have been greatly successful with unique features which we haven’t realized, so we respect them.
Actually both series belong to different genres of action game and action RPG, and our goals are mainly separate though some are overwrapped.
We share the same feeling that we are trying to improve our games by learning and getting inspired from each other.
We are getting along well and talking that we are happy if we could boost the multiplayer game genre.
We are proud of their success, but with increasing followers of their games, we are not just watching. We are always thinking what we can do for our games and setting higher goals.