Description (fairly minor spoilers, which you might also get from the manual):

One of the older ConsoleRPGs, Phantasy Star was released in 1988 (in the US) for the Sega Master System (Sega's 8-bit system, which didn't receive much fanfare compared to the NES). It does show its age, in more ways than one, but some people still regard it as one of the better ConsoleRPGs of all time.

The plot of the game is extremely straightforward: Alis, the main character, witnesses her brother Nero's murder at the hands of Lassic's (the evil ruler of Palma) troopers. Nero tells Alis that she should carry on his quest with the help of Odin, a man well-known in another town. Vowing revenge, Alis grabs her sword and armor and sets out to defeat Lassic, a journey which will take her to the remote reaches of all three planets in the Algo star system. [note: I'm giving this about as much text as the game does...]

The game definitely has the feel of some other older games of similar genre (Bard's Tale, FinalFantasyOne), in that the game focuses more on wandering around, exploring rather complicated dungeons, and killing stuff (as opposed to newer games, which seem to have less complicated dungeons, less required levelling, and more character interaction). Just wandering around outside the first town demonstrates this point rather well; Alis is *very* fragile at low level, and it is a nice long while before groups of owlbears become non-scary.

The dungeons (and the overworld, for a while) also have a nice feel of a struggle against attrition--finding the key items in each dungeon is a race against time, as the party's HP, MP, and curative items slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) dwindle.

Dungeon exploration is a very restricted 3-D sort of thing (the party can face in one of the four cardinal directions, and movement is in discrete steps). Despite this, the graphics are pretty good (especially when considering NES games of the period). The dungeons are also well-designed (and very easy to get lost in, especially with all of the pit traps). The game designers did feel the need to exploit one particularly aggravating "feature" of the way the dungeons are drawn, but it was thankfully not overused (I don't recall that it ever comes up in any situation in which you have to figure it out).

Combat is turn-based; before each round, each character in the party (and each of the enemies) chooses an action, and then the round plays out, with order of action determined by each character's agility. Targetting of enemies does not have the interesting "feature" of FinalFantasyOne's combat whereby a strike aimed at an enemy which has already died is wasted. Instead, the party only ever encounters groups of one sort of enemy at a time, and damage is dealt to a random (live) enemy from the group. The enemies' HP are also displayed, something one doesn't see much in RPGs these days.

There are only four playable characters in the game, and they all join the party and stay there.

Character interaction in the game is somewhat lacking, being limited to a screen or two of text as each character is encountered, plus very short blurbs from random villagers.

As noted above, the number of items in the game is very small. Over the course of the game, Alis and Odin get perhaps six levels of armor and weapons; Myau and Noah get two or three (in some cases, only one). There are two kinds of healing items in the game: Cola and Burgers. There are a couple of utility items, and also a large number of plot items (on the order of the number of types of non-plot items). It's probably a good thing that there aren't more items, though, since the party is limited to carrying 16 items around.

Perhaps the game's strongest point (aside from having dungeons that one can actually get lost in) is its nonlinearity. The first section of the game, in which Alis collects the rest of the party, is fairly linear, as Alis' travels are limited to small sections of Palma (the green planet) and Motavia (the desert planet). In the second phase of the game, Alis explores more of Motavia in her quest for a spaceship. After she gets a spaceship, however, the whole game opens up; large sections of Motavia and Palma as well as Dezoris (the ass pl... uh, excuse me, ice planet -- it has most of the game's truly aggravating dungeons) become accessible, and the vehicles necessary to perform further exploration (the Hovercraft, Land Rover, and Ice Digger) are there for the finding. The rest of the game consists of a system-wide hunt for the items needed to win the game, both those required and the merely helpful (almost all of the best equipment must be found). These bits may be done in almost any order (it's even possible, given some luck, to beat Medusa without the Mirror Shield).

Phantasy Star was also made before games started suffering from what some people refer to as "severe numbers inflation". Characters max out at 65535? experience, which gets them to level 30, with around 200 HP. (This limit takes a fair amount of work to achieve; the game can be completed with characters somewhere in the level 23-26 range). Enemies all have HP on the same order as that of the PCs; no enemy has more than 250 HP (except possibly the final boss [my memory is fuzzy]). Possibly as a consequence of this (no easy way to make progressively harder bosses), the game only has a small handful of bosses, which permits the dungeons to be that much more draining.


AndrewSchoonmaker: I think I probably expressed most of my sentiments towards the game in the description above; while the game does require a fair bit of patience (as levelling is more or less required; from my limited experience with DragonWarrior?, I'd say they're roughly equivalent in the amount of levelling necessary) and has no plot to speak of, the gameplay is very solid. The nonlinearity is executed better than in any other game I've played (the WorldOfRuin? in FinalFantasySix being second) and the interplanetary travel allows more interesting restrictions on what can be done when (one vehicle doesn't open everything). The game is also fairly hard; even with a reasonably levelled party and the best equipment in the game, Lassic's tower is no picnic, since you don't have virtually unlimited healing. The fight with Lassic is a bit random (sometimes he taps characters, and sometimes he clobbers them with TwoByFour?s), and magic other than healing and a couple of the utility spells seems relatively useless (nobody has enough MP to use magic in every fight), but these are minor problems. They also did a fairly cool job with the ending credits (hey, it's the last thing I remember of the game... :-) On the whole, I'd give it 5 stars out of 5, with the caveat that you have to be ready to play a game wherein you run around killing *lots* of stuff whilst trying to avoid having your face et by dragons.

PhantasyStarI is one of the games with Medusa? (of which there are several, but I don't remember enough to start the node now)

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Last edited June 14, 2002 12:08 (diff)