Sega showed a lot of potential in Phantasy Star I with some stunning innovations. One year later in Phantasy Star II, all of the potential we saw in its predecessor was fully realized. It has been twelve years since this game was made, and it still has one of the finest stories ever created in an RPG (if not THE finest, period). The story had actual meaning, and was a darker, deeper affair than any RPG on the NES or even any pre-1994 RPG on the SNES. (Without revealing anything - talk about poignancy.) The dialogue does not suffer from the desire to be "witty" or "provocative" that marred many a later game - in fact, despite some translation problems, a lot of it truly reads like a surprisingly well-written book. Some of the scenes in Phantasy Star II are carried out so flawlessly that it's easy to see why fans of the series are so fanatical about it. The plot does not disappoint straight until the ending, which is hands-down a brilliant piece of work that a newer game has yet to surpass.
It's easy to get carried away talking about the game's plot since it's clearly the best thing about it - the fact is, for the time, Phantasy Star II boasted some impressive technical feats. First, the sprites, while not exactly "detailed," are more so than Final Fantasy's fighters. However, the game retains Phantasy Star's unique cut scene format (somewhat similar to the one in Ninja Gaiden, for lack of anything better to compare it with), and thus succeeds in putting a unique, detailed and memorable face on each character. The battles are once more pseudo-3D, taking place on a futuristic wire-frame background. However, the designers limited the player's control on the battlefield - while you can tell your characters what to do, the exact details are out of your control (for instance, you can't target specific enemies). This was probably meant as an attempt to introduce more strategy into the game, but unfortunately causes a need to just level up enough so as not to care. The sound is simply unimpressive (but come on, this was 1989, did you expect an arranged orchestra?). And, for the hardcore gamerzzz that just can't stop bitching about the lack of challenge in games - by all means, please take a stab at Phantasy Star II's dungeons. Now THIS is what the word "maze" is all about. Dungeons are huge, confusing, highly dangerous and require mindless level-building - but come on, find me an RPG of the time that didn't.
Because of the above gameplay issues, time has not been all that kind to Phantasy Star II. Lots of games have been made since then, and a lot of them "borrowed" from its exquisite story, so it doesn't seem as genre-shattering anymore. But I reiterate, and indeed one must keep this in mind to grasp the full scope of the game's greatness, it was made in 1989. It blows "Six warriors arrive, each holding an ORB" clear to hell. And with that in mind, it's really amazing that even today, the story has retained such power, such a unique feel, that chances are it will motivate you to keep slogging through those dungeons, swearing profusely, till the very end. Only five years later could Square make something to even rival this, and only eight years later could it excel it.