While I adored the look, sound, and feel of the original 3D Fantasy Zone, the game was not without its issues. 3D Fantasy Zone II improves on the original in many ways, as a 22-years-later-sequel-on-the-same-hardware-as-the-original should. Wait, what? Let me explain.
Fantasy Zone was released in Japanese arcades in 1986, running on a board known as System-16. About a year later, a sequel was released… for the Sega Master System. Needless to say, this version was a visual downgrade from its arcade predecessor. Fast forward to 2008 when our heroes M2 created a “good timeline” version of Fantasy Zone II, built on a (slightly modified) System-16 board for the Japan-only PlayStation 2 Fantasy Zone Complete Collection. This sequel keeps the core mechanics, flow, and charming aesthetic that made the original great, while also adding an optional "dark world" and a less-punishing difficulty level (if you choose).
As would be expected with an arcade shooter from 1986, the original Fantasy Zone was a tough game. Even with the difficulty options present in the 3D version, it was still an extremely challenging, and oftentimes frustrating experience. In Fantasy Zone II however, some seemingly minor tweaks go a long way in making the game feel less punishing. If you’re coming off the original 3D Fantasy Zone, the first change you’ll notice in the sequel is true widescreen. This actually has a significant impact on gameplay, as the less-cramped playing field gives you a much better chance of dodging projectiles and surviving.
Dropping the difficulty in 3D Fantasy Zone II lends an additional advantage to the player: auto-pickup of coins. As in the original game, the coins dropped by defeated enemies are the currency used for (temporary) ship upgrades and purchasing extra lives. When playing on the lowest difficulty in 3D Fantasy Zone II, dropped coins are drawn to your ship as you enter their proximity, eliminating the need to swoop down and pick them up individually- an incredibly risky maneuver in the original. The ability from 3D Fantasy Zone to "bank" coins for later playthroughs returns as well, a feature that is definitely welcome.
The most significant addition to 3D Fantasy Zone II is Link Loop Land, a new game mode exclusive to the 3DS version. This mode is an endless score attack, and according to an interview on the Sega Blog, inspired by Geometry Wars and NiGHTS. The influence of those games is instantly apparent, as the mode focuses on your ability to not just stay alive, but keep combo chains going as well, which increase your score multiplier. It is addicting stuff, and the level of score keeping is more robust than you may expect. The game tracks not only your score, but how long you survived, how many enemies you shot down, and more. Once again, the lack of online leaderboards in the Sega 3D Classics line is a bummer; I’d love to compare Link Loop Land scores with friends.
3D Fantasy Zone II rectifies the frustrating elements of the first game, while significantly increasing the amount of content you’re getting. If you buy one Fantasy Zone game on the 3DS eShop, make it 3D Fantasy Zone II.