Phantasy Star Online is fondly remembered by those who played it, and Phantasy Star Online II still has an active community of players. However, the early games in the series are virtually forgotten by modern JRPG audiences. Drawing inspiration from both Dragon Quest and Star Wars, the franchise is as much sci-fi as it is fantasy. The first game was released on the Sega Master System in 1987 and has since been ported to numerous platforms. The most recent release was on the Nintendo Switch in 2018 as part of the Sega Ages collection. This version of the game keeps everything that made the original great, while also making the game far less painful to play.
Phantasy Star: The Interplanetary RPG
Phantasy Star takes place in the Algol star system, located in the Andromeda Galaxy. The player takes on the role of Alis, who is on a journey of revenge against the evil King Lassic for the murder of her brother. On this journey she will be joined by a man named Odin, a wizard named Noah, and a cat named Myau. Their journey will take them to all three planets of the star system. Things begin on the lush green world of Palma, and the party eventually travels to the desert wastes of Motavia and the icy plains of Dezoris.
As previously mentioned, the story combines science fiction with fantasy. Characters fight using swords, shields and magic, but also use space ships to travel between worlds. Phantasy Star isn’t the only series to use this combination, but it’s probably one of the better examples. Despite the technical limitations of the platform it was made for, each planet has its own unique culture. The scale and scope of this story is truly impressive for the time in which it was released.
Playing Phantasy Star
Phantasy Star uses basic turn-based combat. Simply input your character’s actions and see how everything plays out. There is only ever one enemy displayed on screen, even if you are fighting multiple enemies. The HP for each enemy is displayed at the top right of the screen, and that’s really the only way to tell how many enemies you are fighting. The player doesn’t have the ability to select which enemy the characters are attacking. This can be frustrating in situations where one enemy is almost dead, and another hasn’t taken any damage yet. The characters may all attack the one at full health, leaving the other one alive to cause problems next turn.
Dungeons in Phantasy Star are explored in first person view. In the original version, this made exploring dungeons a real pain. Every hallway in a dungeon looks exactly the same as all the others. This means there are very few points of reference, and it’s almost impossible to know if you’re in an area that you’ve already explored or not. The Sega Ages version of the game adds an on screen map that fills in as you explore each dungeon. This makes dungeon diving a much simpler task. This version also reduces the encounter rate, and increases the amount of EXP and money received after battle. This virtually eliminates any need for grinding. If you prefer the difficulty of the original version, that is available as well.
Phantasy Star’s Impressive Tech
The Japanese and North American Master Systems used different sound chips. By turning on FM sound, the player can change the sound to the Japanese sound chip. This adds more layers to the music and audiophiles will enjoy this option. The sound track by Tokuhiko Uwabo is solid. Most RPG composers at this time used sweeping melodies that would feel more at home in an orchestral setting. However, the music in Phantasy Star would feel more at home in a rave than in an orchestra hall.
The cutscenes in Phantasy Star are presented in a format that is similar to comics and manga. Most of them are still images with dialog text underneath. These cutscenes seem basic and primitive by today’s standards. However, at the time this game was released, just having cutscenes was a huge technical achievement. The game also has some impressive animations. Specifically, the first person animations while exploring dungeons are incredibly smooth. This was also one of the earliest RPGs to have enemies with attack animations, instead of just static images all the time.
VIBE Score 7.5/10
Phantasy Star is an old game that can be difficult to go back to. The Sega Ages version is considerably easier to play than the original. However, the archaic nature of the game can still make it a bit of a chore. The changes made to the Sega Ages version don’t change the core experience of playing through the game. Whether or not that’s a good thing will depend on whether or not you’re accustomed to this old nstyle of RPG.
32, living in Arizona with a passion for video games, music and movies.