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SummaryNo to damage differentiation, yes to shower scenes
The GoodPC Engine (TurboGrafx) CD platform was rich in both action (Ys, Legend of Xanadu) and traditional turn-based (Tengai Makyō) Japanese RPGs. It was also home to enhanced ports of classic computer-originated representatives of the genre, such as Alshark and Emerald Dragon. From all this splendor, non-Japanese players over the world received only this game, Cosmic Fantasy 2.
Unlike those terrible Nintendo translations, the US version of Cosmic Fantasy 2, done by the excellent localization team Working Designs, kept intact all the "mature" elements of the original Japanese text, including alcohol references, sexual innuendo, and - most importantly - the silly, careless humor. By the way, the voice acting in the English-language version is appropriately goofy and on par with the original.
The series made its name by mixing serious plot elements such as love, political oppression, etc., with silly, cartoony, typically Japanese humor. Pretty anime girls, cute talking cats, impossible mixture of medieval and sci-fi elements - Cosmic Fantasy is a lot like those teenager cartoons of the 80-ies, and is actually more interesting than some of them.
Cosmic Fantasy 2 has a sweet story. Even now, when all those "world domination" and "save your beloved one" plot devices were done to death, it retains its personality and charm. The characters are endearing, the simple story is delivered with emotion, dramatic and funny scenes make sure that the player is kept in suspense, without hiding the fact that the whole thing is hardly a great work of literature. They didn't strive to make this story more than it really is; it has nothing of the pompous seriousness, which, unfortunately, characterizes so many other Japanese RPGs. And yet it has touching moments, which touch even more because the overall tone is light-hearted and they come totally unexpected.
No review of a Cosmic Fantasy game would be complete without mentioning its wonderful animated cutscenes. It's hard to play a RPG on a cartridge after you have experienced the possibilities of CD ROM. Besides the voice acting and the atmospheric audio music of Cosmic Fantasy 2, the presence of those cutscenes adds a new dimension to the game.
The plot moves along at a brisk pace. Everything you do in the game makes sense from the point of view of story. Despite having a well-developed over-arching plot, Cosmic Fantasy 2 also has "mini-stories". Instead of "smearing" the big story all over the game, turning the rest of it into endless impersonal segments that must be completed in order to finally get to the point, Cosmic Fantasy 2 presents fresh challenges every time the heroes visit a new location. Rather early in the game, the flow of the plot is completely changed, we lose contact with Van, and begin to play as a totally different character, coming from a totally different world.
The BadCosmic Fantasy 2 certainly improves over the first game in the series, but that doesn't mean much. The chief reason for the low popularity of the series is their primitive, often poorly balanced gameplay. One might argue that they picked up a few tricks later on, but the second installment still sits firmly in the swamp of lazy, dumbed-down gameplay design.
A well-known example is the abundance of status-curing items and magic spells your characters can use, despite complete absence of status changes. In the entire game, there is not a single enemy who can poison, paralyze, or change the status of your party in any way. This wouldn't be such a big deal per se, but why include all those items and spells if they are completely, utterly useless? For the record: this is not the problem of the localized version. The Japanese version also has this puzzling issue.
Sometimes it looks like the guy who was working on combat got fired before he could actually implement anything that went beyond a "we damage them, they damage us" system. Seriously: besides the weird status issue, there is also lack of any differentiation between elemental spells. The same elemental spell inflicts the same damage on everybody. For example, a high-level fire spell would hit all monsters for 90 HP, a high-level thunder spell would hit one monster for 140 HP, etc. - regardless of who the enemy is. Enemies do have different physical resistances, but for some reason don't react to elements at all. They also can't cast any magic. Not just status-changing magic - any magic whatsoever. Which results in their total inability to attack several party members at the same time.
All this means that we'll have to endure loads of boring, unexciting battles, simplistic and utterly predictable even by Japanese RPG standards. There is no sense of achievement and no skill or thought whatsoever required to vanquish any enemy in the game. To add insult to injury, enemy encounter rate is very high, which makes dungeon crawling particularly excruciating. While the dungeons are reasonably maze-like, world map progression is strictly linear. There are no optional dungeons, hidden bosses, and all this stuff that made contemporary Final Fantasy games interesting.