Monday, March 12, 2012

Phantasy Star

Just finished Phantasy Star 2 which I’ll write about later but first I want to talk about the original Phantasy Star.

Phantasy Star was created by the team headed by the legendary game designer Reiko Kodama and the equally worthy of praise programmer Yuji Naka. Unlike most other RPGs that have a Tolkien-esque fantasy setting, Phantasy Star is more sci-fi although it does have some fantasy elements like magic and swordplay just to mix things up and keep them interesting. While RPGs today take place in a wide variety of settings and universes at the time of release the setting of Phantasy Star which combines fantasy and sci-fi was a big change of direction and even today there’s not much else quite like it.

The overworld and towns aren't as impressive as the rest of the game admittedly
 Phantasy Star takes place in the Algol star system. Algol is ruled by King Lassic who has become a tyrannical dictator. When one of the members of the rebellion, Nero, is killed by King Lassic’s enforcers his sister goes against all videogame female conventions and instead of getting herself kidnapped or something else as helpless, she picks up her sword and sets out to kick King Lassic’s ass.  One of the aspects that surprised most people, including me, was the strong female lead character, probably due to the influence of Reiko Kodama, a member of the fairer sex working in a male dominated industry. I absolutely love games that are brave enough to feature strong female roles, I just find them so much more interesting, and I’ve nothing but praise for Phantasy Star for being such an early example of a game with a strong female lead.  There’s three other characters to pick up along the way, including a talking cat but it’s Alis who is the life and soul of the game.

The games story is told through some gorgeous anime style cutscenes. Remember this game is from 1987!

Phantasy Star was released a mere two days after the original Final Fantasy in Japan and a good 2 years before it in the West. I believe it’s the much better game. The first thing that you will notice is just how gorgeous this game looks. It’s seriously the best looking 8-bit game I’ve ever seen and I’ve played many Megadrive games that look significantly worse. All the enemy sprites have animated attacks, something the FF series didn’t manage even into the SNES era, and the 3D first person dungeon effect is silky smooth thanks to the wonderful programming skills of Yuji Naka. The game came on a massive for its time 4 Mb ROM cartridge with battery backup memory. Of course there are some limitations, you can only fight multiples of the same enemy and only one is displayed on the screen and the while the music is catchy the awful master system soundchip lets it down. I hear the Japanese master system has an FM sound chip that makes the music sound much better.

 Phantasy Star is inspired by Western dungeon crawling RPGs like Wizardry rather than the Dragon Quest influence of most RPGs at the time. If you plan on playing it be prepared for a steep challenge. You’ll have to do lots of grinding to get the Meseta, the games currency, and exp to buy the best equipment and to level up.  The game is a lot less linear than similar RPGs of the era so you can wander too far and be destroyed by a random encounter that is way above your current level.  The latter half of the game is non-linear and has you exploring the surface of three different worlds in the Algol system to find dungeons that contain the game’s best equipment. There’s not an awful lot to the battle system, most of the depth is provided by the conservation of supplies as you dive into the games dungeons.

I still can't get over how good the pseudo 3D effect is in the dungeons.

Phantasy Star might be a product of its time but I still found it really enjoyable. There’s a few annoying artificial progress road blocks that required a faq, one of the most annoying being a shopkeeper that won’t sell you an item called secrets. You have to pester the shop owner 3 times before he will sell it, which is very counter intuitive. However if you like a good old school dungeon crawl then Phantasy Star is probably the best you can get on any 8-bit system. It’s such a shame that it came out on the Master System and the series never reached the heights of popularity that it deserved.


  1. Would you believe I've never played this game? Well, it's true. I've always wanted to, but I've just never gotten around to it for a number of reasons. I really have to rectify that soon. And after that? I'll play Phantasy Star II for the first time :)

    Anyway, great write-up, as always. You really got me wanting to play this one -- and pronto!

    1. I just hope you like your dungeon crawlers because Phantasy Star 1 and 2 are rough going. Lots of grinding and very difficult. PS1 is a bit simple but PS2 is well worth sticking with, it's got a cracking ending, but I'll leave that for when I write about it :)

  2. Excellent write-up, but yeah - PS1 was simple but still fun if you like crawlers. I actually never played this on the Sega Master System either. I played 2-4 later on, and loved all 3 of them. I didn't get around to playing and beating the original until the Sonic Genesis collection came out, and I unlocked it there.

    1. I didn't play this on the Master System either. I played it on a PSP emulator. It works pretty great as a portable RPG, I find most crawlers do. Pity the GBA collection has that bug that deletes your save!

    2. Ouch - I had not heard of the GBA bug that has that issue. Luckily I had no such issues on the Genesis Collection one I played. It was a serious throwback game - reminding me of some of my earlier RPG titles like Dragon Warrior and Ultima: Exodus

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