Genre: RPG Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1988
Every Sega fan knows of Phantasy Star. As a franchise, it sits alone atop the Sega pantheon. Even though it’s been over 20 years since the last traditional RPG installment, the series still commands incredible respect from those who know their gaming history. Over the years, the Phantasy Star line has undergone several revisions and design changes, but it remains a true Sega classic, one every gamer worth his or her salt needs to experience. The best way to start that journey is where it all began, on the Master System.
The original Phantasy Star was something of a marvel when it debuted in Japan in 1987. Featuring stunningly detailed graphics and brilliant 3D dungeons, it was unlike anything ever seen on a console to that point. The level of quality it boasted should not be surprising, given that it was created by some of the most brilliant minds Sega had at the time, including Yuji Naka and Rieko Kodama. Together and with an incredibly talented team, they made a game that starred one of the first female heroines in gaming and showed off the Master System’s graphical capabilities. It was a prime example of just how great Sega could be.
Its impact was a lasting one, and its popularity remains high, despite the fact that its been more than two decades since the last official entry in the series. Phantasy Star Online, while a great spinoff, has never managed to produce the same kind of loyalty among Sega fans as the four original titles. This is despite Sega’s tepid treatment of the quartet over the years, which has included a bugged compilation on the Game Boy Advance and a collection on the Saturn and full remakes of the first two games for the Playstation 2 that never left Japan (parts three and four were never remade, leaving the Generations series half incomplete). Fans have been clamoring for a new game, but Sega has not listened, so they are left with only the four games in all their classic glory. And how glorious it is on the Master System!
Phantasy Star starts out as a simple tale of revenge. As Alis Landale, players set out to dethrone the mad king Lassic, whose soldiers have brutally murdered her brother Nero. Alis seeks to free the Algol Star System from Lassic’s tyrannical rule, and she takes her brother’s place in the rebellion. With the help of several characters, she unravels a crisis thousands of years in the making that extends beyond Lassic and all she has ever known. Her journey takes her across three planets and pits her against some of the most powerful foes in Algol, leading up to the final confrontation with Lassic and the sinister Dark Force (called Dark Falz in the U.S. version. Thanks, proofreaders!).
Phantasy Star is a traditional, turn-based RPG, and it’s old school in every sense of the term. There’s lots of grinding involved, and random battles are frequent. How players feel about that will vary, but no one entering games of this era should be surprised. Personally, I didn’t find it to hurt the experience, although being lost in deep dungeon with a dead character or two does make one wish for a lower encounter rate. With enough experience and the proper equipment (always, ALWAYS have escapers and tranfers on hand until you find the flute and wand), the game is not that difficult. A word to the wise, though: bring a transfer or save at least two magic points for Alis when you face Lassic, otherwise you won’t be able to leave his castle!
I don’t know what to say about the game’s presentation beyond what the screen shots here can tell. The graphics are colorful and well-detailed, and enemies animated nicely when they attack. The 3D dungeons scroll very smoothly and are malevolently designed (download a map or get some graph paper), and the game overall just looks great. The variety and creativity of the monsters that populate Algol is incredible, and all of them are fantastically drawn and animate well. Little details, like the battle background sharing that of your current location and the signature attacks of each character really make Phantasy Star stand out from the pack. It also has some of the best music on the Master System, even better if you have the FM synth mod or compatible machine. There’s just so much goodness packed into this 4mb cartridge, that I’m amazed Sega managed to fit it all.
The scope of Alis’ adventure, more than anything else, is perhaps what really made Phantasy Star one of my favorite games of all time. Everything just seems so vibrant and original; it was unlike any other console RPG I’d ever played. The game was huge for its time, as well. Traveling back and forth between three whole planets of different environments and population made the game seem just so massive to me. The ability to save anywhere was greatly appreciated, as one never knew what was around the corner in the dark bowels of the many dungeons waiting to be explored. Would be it be a measly bat or a mighty dragon? I’d better save, just in case.
Overall, Phantasy Star is one game that simply must be played. Only the inferior sound of the U.S. version caused me to not give it a 10. The story is very good, the presentation is top notch, and the quest is quite long for an 8-bit RPG. While it’s not necessary to play it in order to enjoy the sequels, doing so provides a broader understanding of the Algol mythos and makes the plots of parts two and four shine much brighter. Take my advice, spend some time and cash and find a copy. There’s no better investment on the Master System.
SCORE: 9 out of 10