The weakest entry in the Phantasy Star series. The black sheep. We’ve heard it all. While the other 8- and 16-bit episodes are praised as hallmark RPGs, Phantasy Star III often gets the shaft. Still, I’ll always harbor a soft spot for this weird, unusual spin on the series’ formula. Phantasy Star III isn’t considered weak because the developers were lazy or wanted to play it safe. The exact opposite is the case. Phantasy Star III floundered because it was too ambitious for its time. The subtitle Generations of Doom gives a major plot element away: While you start your adventure in the role of Rhys, the prince of Landen, you will face your final adversary in the role of one of Rhys grandsons. But while Enix’s Dragon Quest V tells an emotional, generation-spanning tale of growing up, overcoming hardships, becoming a father, and facing more harships, you will always feel a little detached from Phantasy Star III’s story.
Two times, after important plot events, you will be asked to choose one of two possible marriage prospects, often from your own party. After a shot cutscene, the plot will simply move forward a number of years, the former hero and his wife become side-characters, and his offspring takes center stage. The presence of two androids, redheaded claw-wielder Mieu and transformable powerhouse Wren, gives the three generations a certain sense of continuity, but Phantasy Star III clearly lacks the emotional punch of Yuji Horii’s masterpiece.
Phantasy Star III’s other problem is the (at least at the outset) very loose connection to its two predecessors. The game begins like the usual fantasy fare. You’re the prince, your bride is abducted, you set out to get her back. In the end, Phantasy Star III will take its rightful place in the series’ canon, but it’s a long, often arduous walk until then. While the enemy-encounter-rate is typically high, the dungeons were scaled town quite a bit in comparison to the extensive labyrinths you traversed in Phantasy Star I and II. Back in the day, this was heavily criticized; today, it allows for a brisker pace and also a bit less grinding.
One of the game’s definite high points is its great soundtrack. Instead of a simple battle theme, there are many smaller compositions that change depending on the battle-situation. The elegance of Lucasarts’ iMuse system is of course nowhere to be found here, but it’s still a nice touch. The overworld theme is another high point: While beginning quite simply, every additional party member also adds another voice, leading to a heroic piece of music in the later stages of a generation. And there’s of course the beautiful, sweeping title track—just look it up on YouTube, will you?
Phantasy Star III was my entry into the whole RPG genre. A friend brought it from a video rental store, mixing it up with Thunder Force III and thinking he had rented the furious shooter. While he was dearly disappointed, I was hooked from the first time, I saw and heard the game’s introduction. So don’t believe all the negative hype about Phantasy Star III. Behind its flaws and niggles is an interesting RPG simply waiting to be discovered.
Article by Thomas Nickel
GameSpite Journal 12: Phantasy Star III