There are a few games that stand out when you talk about role playing games (RPG). Over the years I stopped drawing a distinction between western, computer, tactical, and Japanese RPGs. There were slight differences which never really mattered to me. In my mind I had an idea of what the genre was, and it was hard to put the idea into words. Now it’s even harder as most games seem to be some combination of action, adventure, and RPG. Back in the 90s though, I knew, or thought I knew, what an RPG was.
Final Fantasy was the first RPG I can remember playing. It opened the door to many great games I probably wouldn’t have tried, and it explained how to play the game. I learned about equipping weapons and armor, learning magic, leveling up, and preparing for a boss fight. These were things I didn’t know I was learning. I also had no idea when stuff like this would be put to use, I was only eight years old at the time. Then a friend of mine rented Phantasy Star IV, and like so many other weekends we gathered at their house to play it. I don’t think they had ever played a game like this before, but I recognized what it was after a few minutes.
This was one of the few times I was bringing something to my group of friends. I was bad at games! Especially console games. My family had a PC and I played computer games like Dune II, Doom, X-Com, and Heroes of Might and Magic. We did own an NES and played it until the blinking light issues got too bad. Then we abandoned it. I still played at my friend’s houses, but most of the time I played on our PC. This time though, I seemed to know more about what we were playing. When we got to our first roadblock, I think it was Zio, I knew we had to grind for a few levels so we could beat him. I also had to explain that this was how we would gain levels and learn new skills. It took a while, but in the end, we beat that boss. If you played the game before just imagine three ten-year-old kids yelling at each other in a basement while playing a Sega Genesis and that’s what was happening. I don’t remember too much more about that day, but the game left a mark on me.
Maybe it was the comic book cut scenes, the cool environment, the strange characters, or just the fact that it was different. I never forgot the game. This also started me playing other RPGs and knowing what I was doing. The fact that this was the fourth game in the series wasn’t lost on me. There were three other games out there, and I wanted to play the others to see if they were as good as the one, I had played.
It took a while before I could go and play all of them though. One of the friends I played Phantasy Star IV with rented the third game the next week. We didn’t get very far before we went back to the fourth, which he had also rented. We didn’t understand how long it took to beat an RPG. Even though I had played Final Fantasy, I didn’t know how long the game was, and back then, I don’t think anyone really kept track of how long we played. You would just go until you got board and then you would go out into the woods or off to the sand dunes to play.
When I started collecting video games in the late 90s, the first system I went after was the Sega Genesis. It’s the system most of my friends owned, and the system I had the most memories of playing. Some of the first games I went after were the Phantasy Star games. As a side note, I think my terrible spelling is in part due to video games. Why the hell did they spell it with a “Ph” instead of just calling if Fantasy Star! Anyway, I was able to find two, three, and four rather easily. The first game seemed to be a mystery to me. One other memory from this time was playing these games and having the same stupid conversation with my brother. He would see the game as say, “Why does this look like Final Fantasy?” I would tell him because it’s an RPG, and he would then tell me it was a rip-off of Final Fantasy then inform me he was going to play some “real” Final Fantasy. This happened with every RPG I played.
I had assumed they were all on the Genesis/Mega Drive. I had no idea what the Master System was at the time. No one I knew owned one, and I hadn’t watched a commercial for one. Now it seems strange as video game history is written down and the is much more accessible so, you could find the information, if you wanted it. Back in the early to mid-90s, you just didn’t know unless you had a friend who owned something or had heard about it. If they were like my friend, then they would tell you, but in a way that made you feel stupid for not knowing about it!
Eventually, I asked my friend Drew, they guy who always seemed shocked when I didn’t know something he knew, and he told me Phantasy Star was on the Master System. I never saw a Master System until about a decade later. The first game would show up on a Game Boy Advance collection, but I never got into it because the fourth game wasn’t on the system. It wasn’t until six years ago when I started looking at the Master System and started collecting some of the games for it. Phantasy Star was one of the first game I went out of my way to find.
Part of me wishes I hadn’t played these games out of order. It wasn’t an option though. I did beat them in order though, and that was fun for me. It didn’t really change the story much as I already knew what happened based on the story of the fourth game. I knew most of what was going to happen in the game for the most part. The first thing I noticed was the graphics being much better than Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The story was also much better than those games. When I did a review of this game, I had played the first games in the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series so I could compare all three. Phantasy Star was my favorite. The graphics were better, the game play was better, the story was better, and I had more fun playing it. It wouldn’t have looked as good on the NES, and I’m pretty sure the NES wouldn’t have been able to pull off the everything in the game.
In the Phantasy Star you are playing as Alis as she tries to avenge the death of her brother. This leads you on a quest across three planets. You meet three other characters along the way, each of them has their own issues with the evil King Lassic mostly because he is evil. You get to know each of them, which is a step up from Final Fantasy, and is much better than Dragon Quest. What really makes the game, and the rest of the series, stand out is the science fiction setting. You travel to each of the three planets in the games solar system and eventually meet the real evil called Dark Falz. It’s name changes throughout the series for some reason.
The sci-fi setting made it stand out a bit for me. Most RPGs from the late 80s and early 90s were a fantasy setting. A group of adventurers with swords and magic fighting goblins and orcs. This was different, for the most part. Phantasy Star did have some monsters from a fantasy setting, but most were unique. Another thing that made it stand out was the animations during battle. In Dragon Quest you had to use your imagination, in Final Fantasy you could see some movement from your characters only, but with Phantasy Star you watched as you him the enemies and say them swing at your party. The game is very colorful! The only thing I think is a bit dumb are the dungeons where you switch to a first-person perspective. It made the dungeons a little hard to navigate at first.
Phantasy Star is an excellent RPG which created a story which could only get bigger.
Phantasy Star II was supposed to be a Master System game but ended up being released on the Genesis/Mega Drive. This helped the series when the system became more popular, and it hurt the game a bit as somethings were cut or done better in the first game. The big thing was the backgrounds on the combat screens. In the first game they mimicked the location of the battle, in the second game the battles take place in a strange void with a grid design. This kind of makes it feel like you fight enemies in a Tron-like environment. The change I do like is the overhead dungeons instead of the first-person perspective. I just like the overhead perspective on the games.
The story in Phantasy Star II is more in-depth and deals with issues which weren’t normally in RPGs at the time. This is what I thought at least, until I started playing more RPGs from the 80s and found some stuff I didn’t pick up on as a kid! This game does away with any fantasy tropes and goes all in on the science fiction. You deal with racism against mutants and aliens, there is a computer system which controls everything, characters in your party are killed off, new members sometimes have less than heroic origins, and you deal with the idea of humanity being an invasive and dangerous species.
The one thing that stands out is the ice planet Dezoris. The native species is portrayed as being liars and they aren’t trusted by the people of the other planets. It seems strange to me. The other aliens, or species in this system are more accepted by the humans, or the people who look like humans. It was weird noticing this as I played more of the games. In Phantasy Star II it seems to stand out more for me. I think it had to do with the running theme of our dependence on technology.
There are two big enemies in this game. The first is Mother Brain, a computer system designed to make our lives better, and the other is Dark Falz, who was renamed to Dark Force in this game. Seriously, his name changes for no reason. Mother Brain became tainted by Dark Force. However, given every other piece of science fiction with a machine controlling our comfort, I’m pretty sure it would have turned against this solar system’s version of humanity at some point.
The game has a larger cast of characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There are some call backs to the first game which is nice. You can tell this game takes place a thousand years in future by how the world is different. So much has changes, people have become lazier, and space travel was abandoned. This leads to one part I think was added as a time saver. Mother Brain blows up one of the planets! It does set the stage for the third game or is used to explain how the third game is connected to the rest of the series. The reason I think this was a time saver is because you didn’t have to go to each of the planets and then to a space station to fight the bad guys. Phantasy Star II’s development was rushed, and this plot point sped the game up a bit.
This isn’t an easy game! I think it’s the hardest game in the series. It’s beatable, it’s just a very difficult game, especially at the end of the game.
Phantasy Star III is the game which doesn’t really fit into the rest of the series. It also is the easiest game out of the four. I felt like it had good ideas and just never capitalized on any of them. It was also made by a different team, and it looks like it as the art style is different. It looks more muted and older than the other three. It feels like you stepped into an alternate reality of the Phantasy Star world, and it plays like it.
Instead of going to different planets, you travel to different environments in this world. It can be very confusing when you walk around. There is a sense that this world has been around for a long time prior to you viewing it. There is also very little connecting it to the previous games. As the story unfolds, you eventually learn why things are so strange. You’re on a spaceship which escaped when Mother Brain blew up one of the planets. That’s one of two connections to the rest of the series. It’s very interesting how this ship created it’s own mythology while they were floating through space. Over the years the people must have tried to understand what was going on, and like we do all the time, came up with myths to fill in the blanks.
There is also a huge, missed opportunity in this game. They came up with the idea of following generations of a family. So, you play as three different characters during the game. This is a great idea, but it doesn’t change the story much. You always get the same ending no matter what path you take. You wouldn’t know this at first though. I only did one play through when I reviewed the game, but it would be fun to see the other characters in the game. You can see them depending on why you have your main character in the first two generations marry at the end of each scenario.
At the end of Phantasy Star III, you must fight Dark Force, which is an incredibly easy fight. This version, which thankfully is still called Dark Force, is only a piece of the real one. It latched onto the escape craft as they were leaving the system. This is the only other connection to the rest of the series. There are some other things which are similar. All of the games have the same technology such as vehicles, androids, and spaceships.
I like this one even if it’s the weakest part of the series. It was interesting to see a story set outside of the Algo star system, and it could have set up more of an anthology series. It could have been better than it was.
Phantasy Star IV is amazing! This is the best game in the series in my opinion. This game is on par with the great RPGs on the SNES, and I would say is just as good as the PS1 RPGs. Unfortunately, this would be the last game in the series before Sega would turn them into MMOs. The game returns to the Algo system where things have largely returned to the way they were in the first game. Except for the planet exploding. The debris from Palma, the exploded planet, have become an asteroid field. Then a fourth planet also comes into play as the plot unfolds.
Dark Force comes back, several times, as the reason for the Algo (Algol) solar system is explained to the player. An explanation which just confused me but made perfect sense from a video game standpoint. You find out that Dark Force is just a pawn for a being called the Profound Darkness, who was imprisoned by the creator or God figure. Why didn’t this creator kill the Profound Darkness? Don’t think about it. Just move on with your life. Unless you want to really analyze the story of the game that it. It’s just a plot device. Without it there would be no reason for the game to exist.
This game is one of my favorite RPGs. The use of comic book cut scenes was amazing, the art style made it look like an anime, the characters were awesome, and the setting was great. It was strange playing the fourth game in a series first, especially since these games are connected. This game goes over what happened in the first two games and gives you a reason for the third game taking place. So, if you haven’t played the other games, you won’t be missing anything.
I remember telling my friend Drew about this game back in the mid-90s. He was someone who took the console wars seriously. I’m not sure why to be honest. At one point he told me there were no bad games on the SNES, and the Genesis games were awful. I hadn’t played the SNES before at that point, and I was pretty sure he had never played the Genesis. One Friday night we were playing Chrono Trigger, I think, and he was telling me how it was the greatest game ever made. Asked him if he had ever played Phantasy Star IV, and he told me no. While I don’t remember the whole conversation, I’m pretty sure he dismissed it because it was on the Genesis. It was just they way things were in the 90s.
It might have been a bad game to compare Phantasy Star IV with. I hadn’t played Chrono Trigger at the time; I didn’t really have a frame of reference for it. I would still put Phantasy Star IV in the same category as Chrono Trigger though.
This series is great, and it’s interesting that it has a definitive end to it. We never got a Phantasy Star V which I feel was a case of Sega being Sega. They seem to sabotage their franchises in one way or another. Looking at the history of Sega you can see they were always shooting themselves in the foot. They did keep Phantasy Star alive though, and they didn’t do something stupid like calling Phantasy Star Online, Phantasy Star V. We also got a Phantasy Star 0 later, for some reason.
I still wish a Sega would make a Phantasy Star V at some point. If you look at other series, they don’t all follow in a continuity all of the time. It was interesting that Phantasy Star kind of did. There were also thousands of years in between the events of each game. They could explore some of the stories that happened during that time. They could also look at what happened on some of the other escape ships like they did in Phantasy Star III. Maybe they will continue the franchise at some point. I know I would buy a Phantasy Star V if it was ever made.