The fact that Sega designed Fantasy Zone II for the Master System rather than the System 16 board was quite a disappointment. So with the 2008 release of the Fantasy Zone Complete Collection, Sega and M2 went the extra mile to make good on this old mistake, by creating Fantasy Zone II DX.
It’s actually a remake, but not any old remake – similar to Game Center CX / Retro Game Challenge and Mega Man 9, it’s a brand new game developed using retro-style graphics. Rather than simply mimicking the low-res pixel art, the developers actually programmed it to be compatible with the System 16 hardware. They created a new revision of the board, called System 16C, which has more RAM than the original A and B revisions, but is otherwise functionally similar. They even burnt ROMs for use at some promotional events in Japan, and the game is currently emulated in MAME. As a result, it features an aesthetic style exactly like the original, except even more colorful and surreal.
M2 did more than just upgrade the graphics, as they fixed up the other missteps. In the original Fantasy Zone II, each level consisted of several subsections each with a unique background, which you could transport between via warps. This has been changed so each level has a “Bright“ and “Dark“ rendition – the Bright level is the default version, but the Dark equivalent has different graphics and enemy patterns, and even tougher bosses. The Dark stages are so scary you won’t find the standard Shop balloons either, and need to scavenge for hidden shops to buy things. In the Bright levels the shops pop out at the beginning of each stage/life as in the other games, so you don’t need to hunt them down anymore.
You technically never need to enter the Dark areas, but enemies give more money, and completing these stages is the only way to get the best ending. There are three endings in total – in the bad one, where Opa-Opa turns evil, it even references the Harrier and Uriah from Space Harrier as coming to destroy him, further tying together the two series. Of course, in tightening up the levels, a lot of the crazier backgrounds from the original Fantasy Zone II unfortunately had to be ditched, but the developers picked the best and used those as a basis.
Further tweaks have been made in other areas. Opa-Opa controls slightly differently, as there’s a brief animation of him turning around when switching directions. The Power meter is gone, but if you take a hit with a special weapon equipped you’ll lose the weapon though still survive, which makes things a little bit easier. Usage of super bombs like 16 Ton weights are now unlimited, though they need to be charged for about a second before they can be dropped. All of the bosses are taken from the original Fantasy Zone II; they’re not exactly new, but their attacks have been changed so they’re like older siblings of the bosses from the first Fantasy Zone. Each stage opens with a unique Engrish-y introduction text, similar to the one that displayed in the first level of the first game.
The soundtrack consists of updated music from Fantasy Zone II, but it’s all been so heavily rearranged you can barely tell. It uses the same FM synth as the first game, and is provided by veteran shooter soundtrack composer Manabu Namiki. There are more weapons too, including the eponymous “Drop Tears“, which are required for the best ending. You even get the option to buy speed enhancements after getting killed by a boss, fixing one of the most aggravating aspects of the series. This might actually be the best Fantasy Zone yet.
The 3DS version, released in 2014 under the name Fantasy Zone II DX Double, includes the same 3D effects and options as the first game, as well as true widescreen. It also includes a new score attack mode called Link Loop Land, where you control Upa-Upa and take on an infinite number of enemies.
As you kill them, you rack up gold and increase a combo multiplier. Your default weapon is a multi-shot, which you lose if you get hit. Replacements will pop up quickly, but get hit again and it’s game over. It’s a ton of fun, especially since destroyed bases will explode and take out everything around it, which is essential considering how flooded the screen gets after a few minutes of play.