Thursday 20 June 2013

Phantasy Star - Sega Master System - 1988

Phantasy Star is the first in a long running and highly regarded series of Japanese RPGs (which also includes several spin-off games and an MMORPG).  It was released in Japan in 1987 and in the US and Europe in 1988.  It was one of the first JRPGs available in the west preceding the English language versions of both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest/Warrior.  The series was originally a Sega franchise but remakes were released for other companies when Sega opted out of the console business.

Phantasy Star takes place in the Algol solar system which consists of three planets - Palma is a green planet (much like Earth), Dezoris is a world of ice, and Motavia is a desert world.  The planets prospered under the democratic rule of King Lassic.  Later, rumours started of a new religion coming from another galaxy which promised immortality to those who joined. This appealed to King Lassic, but after he joined he turned into a tyrant burdening the populous with massive tax rises, shutting down businesses, limiting travel and placing the towns under martial law. Soon after, evil creatures started stalking the land and Robotcops patrolled the towns hunting down anyone who dared to stand up for the citizens.

I like the varied graphics for the different planets.
The game starts on Palma in the town of Camineet.  The scene is set with Nero being fatally wounded by Robotcops while trying to uncover Lassic's evil plans.  This is witnessed by his sister Alis who vows revenge.  With his dying breath he tells her to seek out Odin who can help her on her quest....

Phantasy Star is a nice blend of fantasy RPG elements (melee weapons, armour, magic) and science fiction (interplanetary travel, laser guns, robots).  The game starts in the town of Camineet with you in charge of Alis.  The town is viewed top down and contains various dwellings, shops, a church (you wouldn't find that in a Nintendo game) and a short dungeon.  There are Robotcops preventing you from accessing the walkway to the Spaceport.

The shops consist of an armoury, a first food (sic) establishment and a second-hand shop.  "First" food shops sell burgers and cola which restore health.  The second-hand shops sell various useful items such as flashlights for use in dark dungeons or a pass to get to the spaceport.  Each armoury sells three types of (often unique) armour and/or weapons.  The dungeon in Camineet contains a chest which holds a small amount of mesetas (the local currency) to get you started.  Dead characters can be resurrected in the church and you are told how many experience points are required to level up.  The other buildings are houses which contain NPCs. The NPCs give stock comments when you speak to them, often giving useful background information and quest hints.  In one house you can rest for free which restores all your magic and health points (otherwise you would need to seek out a hospital for this).

No censorship in Sega games it seems.

Alis starts the game very weak.  I began the game by leaving town to grind out a few levels.  At first she can only survive one fight against the relatively easy insect sworms (sic) or scorpions before having to return to town to heal.  

Combat in Phantasy Star is very simple and not at all satisfying.  The combat screen depicts the type creature you face and the top right corner lists the number of enemies and their hit points.  Basically combat involves choosing the attack or magic option from a menu and that's it.  You can't target which creature you want to attack or do much else.  Defeated creatures drop chests (even ones who have no way of carrying them) containing mesetas and you are awarded set experience points depending on the type and number of enemies.

After gaining a few levels and acquiring a healing spell Alis travelled to nearby Scion where it was hinted that Odin was. There I was told he had headed off to a dungeon and had not returned.  I found the dungeon south of Camineet and discovered Odin had been turned to stone.  Dungeons are viewed in first person and can be quite confusing so need to be mapped.  This one was easy enough as I just kept turning left but others contain 'islands' where this tactic won't work.  Also, you can only see doors when directly facing them - you can walk down a corridor and be completely oblivious to any doors on your left or right.

Clues lead you to your first party member - a talking cat-like creature called Myau who carries medicine to cure Odin.  Your final companion is another female called Noah, who can be found in the bottom of a dungeon on Motavia.  I have listed my thoughts and impressions below....
  • I was impressed by the music and graphics quality in Phantasy Star.  The graphics are much more colourful and detailed than those in the two Final Fantasy games I have played.  The music also sounded richer to me.  I assume this is down to hardware differences rather than programming talent.
  • It has to be said that the text is a bit dodgy in places with some spelling mistakes (sworm, inprisoned), mistranslations (First Food shop), and some unfortunate abbreviations....

  • The abbreviations also meant referring to the manual quite a lot to find out what certain weapons, spells and armour were actually called.  For example, the misleadingly named FLY spell takes you back to the church you last visited.
  • As I said above I didn't like the combat.  99% of the time it involved mashing the button until all the enemies were killed and maybe casting the occasional healing spell.  The random encounters became downright irritating when travelling long distances on foot.  However, I did like the variety of weird and wonderful opponents.
  • The currency is quite well balanced.  You just about have enough money to buy what you need but there are always some nice-to-have items that seem to stay tantalisingly out of reach, such as the diamond armour at 15,000 mesetas. After I got this it was no longer worth opening chests as trapped ones can cause a lot of damage.
  • I did have to cheat and consult a walkthrough a couple of times.  An NPC asks if you have ever heard of the Hovercraft and only tells you where it is if you answer 'Yes'.  I answered 'No' because I hadn't.  Also information on how to progress the plot gets very vague in places and I was unsure where to go next.
  • Some games can get away with breaking the fourth wall.  Phantasy Star is not one of them.
Select 'NO' and she asks why have you been playing for so long.

In all I enjoyed Phantasy Star.  The plot is good but gets a bit nonsensical in places - there is a cake shop at the bottom of a dungeon; said cakes cost slightly less than a spaceship; how did I even know I needed a spaceship unless the plot forced me to buy one?  Also, in the Final Fantasy games it's easy to work out where to go, why you have to go there and what you have to do when you get there.  In Phantasy Star the NPCs only give vague hints such as "There is a magic sword in a tower on a forgotten island" or "Long ago I saw a giant rock float through the sky".  They make working out what to do next the main challenge in this game.  Other weak aspects are the previously mentioned combat and and lack of character development - apart from HP and MP increasing with each level there are no other stats to speak of.  Overall the good points outweigh the bad and I would have lapped this up back in 1988.  Nowadays, I couldn't spare the time to give it the attention it deserves.

The End (spoilers).....

At the top of Baya Malay tower where Lassic is supposed to reside, an air castle appears.  As hinted in the game feeding the Laerma nut to Myau causes it to sprout wings.  I did try this earlier in the game as he said he wasn't hungry even though he would happily munch on burgers.  Here it works so he can carry us to the castle.....

Unsurprisingly we find Lassic at the bottom of a dungeon.  We kill him.  The End....

Oh no it's not!  Even more unsurprisingly we get the usual JRPG plot twist.  We have to hurry to the governor.  Why?  Because the plot tells us to.  We find the governor is missing and immediately fall down a hole into yet another dungeon....

At the end of this dungeon we find Darkfalz.  After defeating Darkfalz the governor reappears.  I sped through the text here but I think the governor was turned into Darkfalz by Lassic for whatever reason.  Anyhow, the governor announces that Alis has royal blood and asks if she wants to become Queen of the Universe.  Hell, yeah!

I did find the ending left more questions than answers.  What were King Lassic's evil plans?  What was this new religion, where did it come from and why wasn't it mentioned again?  How did Alis and Nero not know they had royal blood?  Why did everyone important live at the bottom of a dungeon?  Will we find out in the sequel?  Probably not.

Our hero, heroines and cat thing.


  1. Wow... here's an oldie I haven't thought of in some time. Now, that being said, I did not originally play this title when it released on the Sega Master System. I had an NES back then, and my first experience with the series came on the Genesis with Phantasy Star II.

    Several years ago however, I picked up Sonic's Genesis collection, and this was one of the unlockable titles in that game, and I did enjoy its old-school charm, despite its shortcomings by current standards.

    1. I think I picked on most of the shortcomings which makes the review sound quite negative - but I enjoyed it enough to see it through to the end.

  2. I remembering reading that the story gets wrapped up in the later games; I don't know how true that is.

    After finishing my playthrough I found this webcomic. It has its moments, but is only finished up to finding the hovercraft. At least it looks like it's still ongoing.

    1. Thanks, Zenic. I'll take look at that webcomic when I have some spare time.

  3. Congrats on playing through until the end. I found it got fairly difficult after getting to Dez and having to trek through the long series of caves there. Good thing the graphics and sound are so easy on the eyes and ears (except for dat laser gun noise).

    If you find that you feel you're giving the classic RPGs too much of a negative spin, try playing some real crap ones first and the appreciation with increase manyfold. I can recommend a few (so can Zenic). :) jk, of course.

    1. Ah, that's the good thing about having a blog called My All Time Favourite Video Games - I can stop playing anything I don't like and move on.

      I do feel your pain on some of the games you've had to play.

    2. @Shen: I think we've yet to reach the truly crap games unfortunately. I think it'd be more agreeable to sensibility if we skipped some games, but where's the fun in that?

      Keep up the good work Wingnut. At least when I see an update from you I know I'm going to read about a really good game.

  4. Phantasy Star I, II, III- pioneers in their own right, but so flaw-ridden you wonder if they simply forgot to make the game good.

    Don't forget the "defense bug" in Phantasy Star I, the salt on the wounds. Did not enjoy grinding for nice armor, to get hit harder by tiny bugs than a boss. For a game about endurance, and 1 in 4 steps trigger a fight, this is huge.

    This franchise is a tragedy, but one of the few you'd bite the bullet for anyway.

    1. Harsh words indeed!

      I mostly enjoyed the game (did I mention I didn't like the combat?). I don't remember a "defence bug" - it couldn't have been very obvious. If you mean the enemies hit harder, I thought that was just a levelling thing.

  5. Hello, just discovered your blog, been really enjoying it so far.

    Regarding Phantasy Star is one of my favorite games for the Master System, probably one of my first experiences with rpg's as well. (I might be mistaken on that)

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

    1. Welcome, Miguel, and thanks for the comment.