While those kids who ended up with the Sega Master System instead of an NES can easily be said to have gotten the short end of the stick with platformers, and the overall quantity of games for the system, they were extraordinarily lucky on the RPG front, particularly in North America. When the first RPG for the NES was Dragon Warrior in the summer of 1989, those who made the less popular console choice had long since been spoiled rotten by Phantasy Star.
Designed by Rieko Kodama, perhaps the most underappreciated creative forces in the industry, who would later go on to bring us Skies of Arcadia and Valkyria Chronicles, Phantasy Star was a true gem of an RPG, and easily a good decade ahead of its time. When everyone else still had tiny static monster sprites sitting on black backgrounds, Phantasy Star had screen filling animations, set against detailed custom backdrops for a wide variety of possible terrain. When Dragon Quest II was still unusual for featuring a party of named, recruitable characters, Phantasy Star had characters with introductory cutscenes with highly detailed illustrations. When other games still had generic heroic cyphers out saving the world out of a general sense of heroism, Phantasy Star was giving its characters personal motivations. When it was rare to see more than a seagoing ship as a means of expanding the player’s world, Phantasy Star featured a wide array of vehicles, including a spaceship allowing travel between three different planets. Vital information could only be obtained by communicating with monsters in one of three different ways, something rarely seen in RPGs even today, and dungeon interiors featured a first person 3D perspective, with smooth animation even when turning, which no other game featuring tile-based graphics has ever attempted to that degree.
In addition to pushing the envelope for RPGs in so many ways, Phantasy Star had an impressive legacy on the Genesis, with two sequels actually building on the story, recurring characters and settings (along with a bizarre spinoff full of inconsistencies that throws off the numbering), and a nicely satisfying conclusion. These sequels still maintain something of a following today, but sadly, the original is rarely revisited by fans of the genre. While it was far ahead of its time in the ’80s, the somewhat frontloaded difficulty leaves it a relic of the past for many.
Article by Jake Alley
GameSpite Journal 12: Phantasy Star
7 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Phantasy Star”
Man, I played through this earlier in the year and dug it. I noticed some of the things you had mention, but I didn’t really think about how advanced it was for us westerners. A tough game indeed, but definitely worth checking out, especially in comparison to the original Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.
Not that cartridges or cards with battery backup were ever particularly cheap, but I’ve heard that Phantasy Star sold for $70-$80 when it was first released. At that price in 1987 dollars and being on the less popular 8-bit console, it’s no wonder why the poor game isn’t as fondly remembered or acknowledged as NES RPGs were.
Of course, ignoring it’s a mistake because it’s really forward thinking for a Japanese RPG. Cutscenes for certain character introductions, battles where monsters have attack animations, the ability to save anywhere…This is pretty cool stuff for a game about as old as Final Fantasy and the first two Dragon Quests.
All the early RPGs cribbed from PC RPGs (and D&D in Final Fantasy’s case), but in some ways Phantasy Star comes off as a bit more wRPG inspired than the others as well. More human-ish party and NPC field sprites like the Ultimas, trapped treasure chests like the Wizardrys, first-person dungeons like every-friggin’-thing, talking to monsters like…Well I don’t know exactly what that’s like, but I’m sure it was probably in some wRPG somehow.
I must confess that, even with save states, Phantasy Star proved to be just a little too archaic for me. At the beginning of the game, you can literally only survive one random encounter (two if you’re lucky) before needing to return to town. I stuck it out for a couple of hours (kill an enemy, return to town, kill an enemy, return to town etc.), but I just couldn’t muster up the energy to continue.
Graphically, it’s just so bright and wonderfully drawn — so much so that it puts most NES games to shame. Superior hardware and all that.
Thankfully I jumped back into the series recently with PSIV, which is just a phenomenal 16-bit JRPG. The great pacing, quirky characters and simple-but-fun battle system remind me of FFIV, but with much better writing. With such a strong localisation, it’s just a shame that the spell/tech names are so cryptic, but you get used to it.
Personally I’ve always enjoyed the GBA port of Phantasy Star. The great music,graphics, everything really shines on the handheld.
Phantasy Star 1 almost plays like an early Genesis game and that’s the biggest compliment I can give it.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration on the early grinding front. I mean, there’s totally some front-loaded grinding since it costs a fair bit to first get to Motavia, but if you were having to go heal after every single fight… did you miss the little cave in town with a wad of cash in it? Did you forget to equip things? Did you run over to the forest and start fighting owlbears before getting a level or two off sworms and scorpions?
oh man, i loved phantasy star, so many good memories with my sega, i need to dust it off again
Phantasy Star is definitely big on the grind, but the handy way to get around that is to grab the Phantasy Star Collection release on the PS2 as part of the Sega Ages 2500 series as it allows you to play it with experience/meseta multipliers to take the edge off it. You can also select the region of your choice as well in the collection, so no dramas in selecting the English language version of the game despite the fact that the Cllection was only released in Japan.
Given how tightly woven the 8-bit and 16-bit Phantasy Star games are, to get the most out of the series you need to play through all of them to appreciate the amazing levels of connections between the titles. You’ll also pick up on the various motifs in PSO as well by giving them a decent playthrough.
While it didn’t help with the grind, the recently fan-translated release of Phantasy Star: Generation 1 on the PS2 (the remake of Phantasy Star 1 that never got released outside Jaan) allows you to enjoy this classic game with greater depth than before. Shame about the grind in that one though, as it’s arguably just as painful as the original. Either that or I lack patience now that I’m older. Mind, it’s not too tricky to hack the game to bump up your exp or meseta if you have the tools. That’s what I did anyways – it was tricky enough playing through it in Japanese with only limited ability in reading and understanding the language, let alone grinding like a crazy person!
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