Friday, June 3, 2011

Phantasy Star Review

Martial law has been declared across the star system, and your brother was beaten to death in the street for rebelling against Lassic's government.

I've always known about Phantasy Star, and I've briefly test-driven the roms a few times, but I've never dedicated time to beating any of them. In the past, I don't think I had the patience. But a few days ago, as I mournfully looked at my well-played copy of Dragon Warrior 2, I was desperately in need of something to play. I found Phantasy Star.

Phantasy Star is a world not unlike Earth. It's made of concrete, houses, shops, cars, airplanes, governments, passports, fast food, guns, violence, death, friendship, family, moving sidewalks, spaceships, money, and corruption.

Alis and her friends will explore first-person dungeons, travel to other planets, find treasure, and exact an unsettling revenge for the death and destruction evil King Lassic has wrought across the 3 planets of Palma, Motavia, and Dezoris. One imagines life would be a lot like this if the Sol system had three habitable planets.

But nothing engrossed me like the first-person segments. The first-person buildings are far smoother than, say, Moraff's World, but a lack of any overhead view makes them a serious challenge. Without mapping these places out manually, many areas are simply impossible to navigate because everything looks the same. Liberal use of makes the impossible into a nice challenge, so modern gamers have little excuse to avoid this game. Sometimes these areas are used masterfully, for example: an abandoned installation in a later town is represented in first person, and walking through this building conveys the feeling of actually being in a very strange and faceless cinderblock building. Ultima Exodus attempted first-person segments, Phantasy Star nearly perfects them.

Over time the series has spawned maybe sequels and MMORPGs. Admittedly, I'm just getting into the franchise.This game, however, started it all. Its $5.00 pricetag offers no excuses to the Wii owner -- buy this game now! You may have been putting off Phantasy Star in favor of another series like Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior, but if you're looking for a more serious story in a world much more familiar and exciting then look no more. Nothing else will make you miss 1988 like Phantasy Star. Pretend you rented it from the video store for $5.00 (more like $10.00 in 1988)--and hurry, because the entire solar system is counting on you and your friends!

The artwork is an early example of anime art reaching America, and the sprites have the distinctly 1980s highly-detailed style. The world feel so complete, that it's a wonder so many games chose to go the fantasy, instead of sci-fi route. In Phantasy Star, the towns feel like real towns (no 3-house "towns"), and exploring some buildings in the first persons creates a surreal pseudo-3d environment. It is like nothing else you have ever played.

Many RPGs feature a random monster trying to destroy the world. This isn't really scary, because everyone knows dragons and giant monsters don't really exist. But Phantasy Star (and FFVII) feature human enemies with crazy goals. It's easier to believe that Lassic is running a town into the ground because he has declared martial law and blocked the trade routes than it is to believe you are reviving an elf prince under a sleeping spell. In Final Fantasy, you save that town, and this is expected. In Phatasy Star, the demolished towns keep on being shitty--and that's realism; Phantasy Star doesn't offer easy moral answer to every situation (it's got its share of cliches, no doubt). Often the heroes do nothing to save the day.

In fact, the entire quest is questionable. Should Alis be seeking vengeance? Even bloodbaths like No More Heroes 1-2 and willing to ask this question. Unlike Travis Touchdown, however, Alis can't just walk away: Lassic rules all three planets in the system and his crimes are arguably worse than the Santa Destro Corp.

The story remains puzzling in the end, though some closure is offered. Playing through Phantasy Star this week has been one of the most memorable RPG experiences of my life. I anticipate exploring the Algol System in Phantasy Star II, and wonder what Alis's brother meant about her "being reborn." Other games abandon characters and stories in each game; Sega offers cliffhangers. Phantasy Star for the Sega Master system: the greatest 8-Bit RPG of all time.


mrjordak said...

I've never seriously tried to play this game, but I'm tempted to just because of those Storm Trooper soldiers XD

Bryan Ochalla said...

I've been interested in this game, and I've wanted to play it, since I was a kid. For some reason I've never gotten around to it. Sounds like now is as good a time as any to jump in, though, eh?

8bitcity said...

Now is the perfect time!

Anonymous said...

The Phantasy Star series is really criminally overlooked and underrated. Usually I recommend that people play them in reverse order- PSIV, PSII, and PS1. The first two games have their points, but PSIV is the strongest of the lot, and the only one that I recommend without caveats.

As for PS1, it's really amazing when you place it in historical context. This game was a technical marvel in its day and looks much better than its contemporaries.

X_Legend said...

Definitely overlooked, despite some mainstream appeal. I'll admit to being a sucker for the mainstream mmorpgs like everquest and wow. Phantasy Star was like a cooler Final Fantasy, it's a shame I didnt play any of the online ones.

famicomfreak said...

I was actually playing this game until something happened....hmmm what was it? Oh yeah Pokemon White and Black came out!

Anonymous said...

"one of the most memorable RPG experiences of your life"? high praise! i'll have to put it on my radar.

The Dread Pirate Guy said...

This was easily the best 8-bit RPG around. It was definitely one of the best 8-bit games ever created.

You can find it hidden on Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection.

Matt Dickinson said...

The opening town looks too much like a board game, imo.

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