Phantasy Star - Review

The game that started it all.

By Jake Alley

Review Breakdown
   Battle System8
   Replay Value5
   Time to Complete30 hours 

Phantasy Star

   For those few who owned the Sega Master System, Phantasy Star, the first console RPG ever released in the US, was a truly mindblowing game. A vast world to explore (actually three of them), illustrated cut scenes, and the ability to speak to intellegent monsters are just some of the innovations none attempted to emulate for years after its release in the mid-80s.

   Perhaps the most impressive feature of Phantasy Star, especially for its time, are the in-battle graphics. When a battle begins, the player is treated to a full screen portrait of a monster with full animation on attacks. Needless to say, this means only one type of monster can be encountered at one time. However, multiple monsters of the same kind are common. Interestingly enough, it's impossible to chose one's own targets in such situations. Phantasy Star is also one of the rare variety of games where one can talk to intellegent monsters, and in fact, this is the only way to obtain some rather important hints.

   Outside of combat, Phantasy Star offers an interesting mix of gameplay. While normally one wanders around the world from the standard RPG top view, when one enters a cave or other dungeon, suddenly gameplay switches over to a fiendishly designed first person maze. Additionally, the player must painstakingly seek out a variety of vehicles in order to fully explore the three planets that compose Phantasy Star's setting.

Amazing graphics  

   For the rare breed with an ear for 8-bit music, Phantasy Star is an auditory treat. The music is all quite complex in composition, and blends smoothly from one track to another upon entering and leaving combat. The variety is also fairly impressive considering the age of the game. Sound effects aren't quite as pleasing, occasionally the sound of a monster attacking will come as a low whining tone. For the most part though, the sound is as good as possible for the hardware.

Vengence is a great motivation.
Sad scene  

   The plot of Phantasy Star is not quite like any other RPG out there. While the main backbone of the plot is the standard "kill the evil emperor" fare, it contains some rather odd quirks. For example, at the beginning of the game, you have to save up to buy a fake ID in order to get past the police and into the space port. Then you have to pay even more, and pass the health inspection, in order to get a passport. Obtaining your own personal spaceship involves even more such dealings with the locals. In fact, the game is a relatively even mixture of standard RPG "bring item x to person y to get key z to progress the plot" gameplay and exploring the world hunting down clues and vital equipment. The only problem with it all is that the translator's grammar is simply atrocious. "But does the breezes knows..."

I usually sell that word immediately.
More sadness  

   One of the most innovative features of Phantasy Star has since evolved into a staple of the modern RPG; cut scenes with graphics far beyond those normally found in the game. In modern RPGs, this translates as anime or CG cut sceens, but Phantasy Star made do with large illustrations. For their time, these were quite impressive, and they serve to move things along quite well.

Hey look, it's Tidwell!
That's a big dragon  

   As wonderful as Phantasy Star was for its time, the modern gamer may be turned off by its challenge. Nothing in the game is frustrating per se, but there is a certain amount of mapping and character building involved. There's also a challenging degree of exploration in general. The best equipment in the game, which is more or less required to win, is scattered all around an entire planet full of very deep caves.

   All in all, Phantasy Star is mind blowing for its time. It is by far the most robust and impressive RPG ever to grace the Master System and rivals most 16-bit games in complexity. If you have the means, and you don't mind the grainy look and the character building, it is definitely a game worth playing.

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