From the pages of the past, games of yesteryear – Phantasie II

SSI’s fantasy ads could almost always be counted on to “get it” and Phantasie II’s was no exception. Featuring the game box of the first Phantasie above, screenshots below, and another dramatic art piece showing a potential party of adventurers, this ad neatly captured everything that Phantasie II had to offer on one page.

Phantasie II, released by SSI in 1986, was almost exactly the same game as the first the year before. On a technical and mechanical level, everything was the same — the look, the basic controls, character creation, and general gameplay. Only the story had changed along with the scenario continuing the story of good battling against the forces of the Dark Lord, Nikademus, who is still trying to spread evil throughout the world in a bid to conquer it.

It wasn’t unusual for CRPGs in those early years to recycle so much from an earlier iteration. Interplay’s Bard’s Tale series, Sir-Tech’s Wizardry, and Richard Garriott’s early Ultimas had also done the same thing.

It would also be a formula that SSI would continue to follow once they had gotten the TSR license and began to pump out titles based on AD&D’s Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance settings. Back then, the pressure to shock eyeballs and drown your room with orchestrated sound didn’t seem so much of a priority as it is nowadays. It’s not that designers and programmers didn’t want that — but the technical limits of the time essentially dictated what they could get away with. And despite the challenges, they would still manage to work some surprising magic on Apple IIs, Commodores, and a host of other platforms.

So when Phantasie II came out looking exactly like the first game, it wasn’t too unusual though in comparison to its peers, there were critical differences. While Ultima II kept the basic mechanics and gameplay, Garriott and his team expanded the world (despite being mostly empty) with a story that not only pit the party against enemies through time in Earth, but in space well blending together sci-fi and fantasy elements. Phantasie II, in comparison, was more of a straightforward sequel which Phantasie fans could still appreciate. Even the manual was virtually identical save for the bits of fiction setting the new adventure up along with a few modest changes such as being able to throw rocks at rows of enemies behind the front.

This time, the player was sent to the land of Ferronrah which suffers under the curse of Nikademus, the villain named in the first game, and his magic orb. So, it’s up to a new party of adventurers to take up the quest to liberate its people by destroying said orb.

Computer Gaming World’s Scorpia, in the August ’86 issue, noted that while players could transfer a party from the first game into the second, it was almost unnecessary. They were stripped of nearly everything, but had enough experience (and gold left over) to train them up to level three making it something of a modest concession to allowing players to at least have something of a head start with their favorite party.

Dungeons were still represented as a top-down series of tunnels through a solid block of color as players controlled an icon moving around it while the overworld’s environmental tiles continued to splash color on the game’s environment. Hints were hidden everywhere — on dungeon walls, within a collection of scrolls that the player had to discover, secret rooms, and even among the people though not all of them were to be believed. And, like the first game, the top of the box listed the designer’s name (Winston Douglas Wood) along with an estimated playing time of 30 – 60 hours. Some RPGs today can’t even promise that much.

And like the first game, Phantasie II also had its own ending — text based and animated in small ways. The first game had Zeus resurrect your party from the climactic end in which they sacrificed themselves to save the world, waving at the player while imparting words to the effect of preparing for their next challenge. This time, along with a wall of text, the player’s party is presented onstage and as each member is called out, an animated crowd cheers their approval. It even finishes with another batch of text warning the player to get ready for the final battle against Nikademus.

Phantasie II was ported to a wide number of platforms from the Apple II and Commodore 64 to the Atari 8-bit computers and Japanese machines like the PC-98. But like the rest of the series, it would fall into the grey area of abandonware today. Yet as one of the earliest CRPGs of its time, and one that would help contribute to SSI’s growing library of fantasy, a trip to Ferronrah might not be such a bad idea.


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