Old RPG review #3: Phantasy Star

Guess what guys. I have spring break next week! Which means I'll be doing a lot more of these RPG reviews. Been quite busy with homework the week before, but I think I have enough time to do some of these. I'll be doing one each day of the week. Don't worry, most of the RPGs I plan to review I've already played completely through, so I know a lot about them already.

For my third act, we will look at Phantasy Star, one of the oldest known RPGs, and one of the few games on the Sega Master System. I'd say it's the most popular and successful SMS game there is. This is so an old school RPG for that matter. I played it via the Phantasy Star Collection on the GBA, since I don't own an SMS.

On to the Phantasy Star review by me.

Setting: This takes place in the fictional Algo star system where you can explore up to three planets. Palma, filled with jungles and lava, Motavia, the desert world, and Dezoris, the ice planet with really weird inhabitants. Paseo's lava pits can be annoying, until you gain the hovercraft. Motavia has anthills that are obstacles, and Dezoris is confusing as hell with cave passages and very few towns. It's pretty neat, and the game has more of a sci-fi feeling rather than a fantasy one unlike most RPGs. The homes you see in the first town in the game are an example, not to mention the apparent starport nearby for space travel. The game does have its fantasy elements though, as your characters will use magic and there are mythological creatures and what not (yes you might run into the archetypal dragons that are ever-present in every RPG ever). Grade: A
Characters: Only four characters in the game. Of course, they each come with different statistics, but all are generally good enough for the game anyways.

Alis: Our main protagonist and one of the few female mains I've seen in a game. She's well rounded as a character, with fairly good attack and magic usage. She is avenging his brother Nero (why is he named after a terrible Roman emperor?) and wants to liberate Palma from King Lassic's rule.

Myau: A cat. An enchanted talking cat maybe. I don't know anything about that but Myau is an interesting character. The cat has nice attack and defense, as well as supportive magic which helps heal the party. The cat comes equipped with Alsulin which helps get...

Odin: Not the Norse god, just some soldier-like fellow who had an unfortunate fate with Medusa, but you cure him and he joins you. He is your fighter-type for the game who can equip axes and laser guns, and is brilliant attack. He is however lacking in defense for some reason though, plus being the fighter-type means no magic usage at all.

Noah: The last character you get and the main magic user. His Wind and Thun spells will be very useful for boss battles, and can deplete a ton of HP from your opponents. Unfortunately, he is a very physically weak character.

Overall character grade: B-
Gameplay: Walking around on the overworld and in towns is nothing too interesting. Later on, you gain access to vehicles which are usually required for certain segments. The dungeons and towers are so cool to move through though, as they are in a first-person persepective. The battles are random, sometimes you can walk a long distance before a battle triggers, while other times you may only walk one step (I never liked this). Battles are turn-based, and I will discuss more of them in the next segment. There was one major caveat with this game and it had to do with the key items. They do take space in your normal inventory, which sucks, but there isn't much in the way of hints as to where you need to go. At one point I went through the most complex tower in the game (Baya Malay) and ended up having to go back at the very end because I forgot the Nut of Laerma (I got the Prism, at least). A long trek all the way back to Dezoris too, dammit. There were at least two points in the game that I remember where you could get stuck, and be forced to lose the game. One is at a cave at the western part of Dezoris, where a guy tells you to go left at the fork, but it really is a trap that puts you in a room where you cannot leave unless you use the EXIT spell. Another is right after the Lassic battle. If Myau died in the battle there and you don't have MP for Noah to use RISE or Alis to use FLY, as well as not having a transer item, you're screwed there.

Dungeons/Towers: As I said before, the dungeons and towers are cool, but for the love of god, they are confusing to walk through without a guide. Not to mention that your characters' slow walking speed and the very random battles don't help at all. I was using all sorts of maps just to get through them. The aforementioned Baya Malay Tower, which is where you go near the end of the game before Lassic, was the most complex dungeon I've ever been through, and I had the unfortunate fate of going through it twice because I forgot a key item. The fact that it's that confusing really brings down the score. In the dungeons, you'll also be dealing with doors and pitfall traps, the later is very annoying as there is often no visual clue as to where it is. You can use the TRAP magic spell (by Myau) to disengage a trap though. Grade: C-

Battle system: Battles in this game can be pretty tough, especially at the beginning and the end of the game. You will fight one type of monster, and one monster is shown onscreen, but you may fight more than one enemy at a time. Like many RPGs, you attack, use magic, use an item, or run away in these turn-based battles. You can also "talk" to some enemies, in an attempt to negotiate with them to stop them from attacking. I found it useless to be honest. One good thing about battles in Phantasy Star is that you can see your enemy HP to gauge how much more is needed to kill them. This goes for bosses too, except for the final one. Usually, I attack regular enemies, trying best to conserve MP for the bosses, which there aren't many. After a battle is won, you get experience from the fight and enemies always leave a chest, usually containing MST (The game's currency). The problem is, these chests could be booby-trapped with a spear or a bomb damaging your characters. It's random, and sometimes it's just not worth taking a risk. One thing that troubles me is the speed of my characters as well as their evasiveness. In battle, speed seems to be randomized. Even if every one of my characters is highly-leveled and is fighting a weak group of Sworm or Scorpion like monsters, chances are one or more of them could attack before some of my other characters. As for character's dodging, for some reason it's also random, and seems to only apply to one character. Like Alis could dodge the same attack over and over from a certain monster, but gets hit by a different kind. Overall, the battles are quite cool, although at the beginning of the game you are pretty weak, so don't wander off to places you shouldn't be. Grade: A-

Items & Equipment: Equipment in this game is fairly expensive. I had to do a lot of grinding to get some of the best weapons, armor, and shields. In fact, I can safely say I grinded more for money rather than experience, and by the end of the game my characters were quite well in their levels. I found regular items to be either uselful or useless here. The burgers and cola are quite funny items for healing items, but they do well. I did not find Flashes useful, except for one dungeon. Items that help you communicate with enemies were also pretty useless. Since you can't remove key items from your inventory, there wasn't much space for the good items. Grade: C

Overall gameplay grade: B-
Plot: You're not gonna expect much for the plot of this game. Alis wants to avenge the death of Nero and restore freedom from the corrupt King Lassic. The plot reveals around going to several key places and characters, as well as getting the troublesome key items. Going from planet to planet was quite interesting. You gain Myau after trading an expensive pot with some guy, then use his Alsulin later to cure Odin from petrified state. Later, the governor of Paseo on Motavia wants to deliver a letter to Noah, who when you find him, joins the party as the final character. Near the end of the game you fight Medusa, and you need to have Odin equipped with the Mirror Shield to be able to beat her. Then you journey through Baya Malay Tower to the top, use Myau's new form to fly to the Celestial Castle to confront and kill Lassic once and for all. It's not over after that point, you later go back to the governor of Paseo to fall into a hidden dungeon, then confront the entity known as Darkfalz (Dark Force), who is the big bad of the Phantasy Star. Overall, the plot isn't much to speak of, but it's expected of this very old RPG. Grade: B
Music: Again, don't expect much. This is my personal preference, but I enjoy Sega's retro music compositions for Phantasy Star. The dungeon and tower themes especially are lots of fun to listen to, even if the dungeons and towers themselves are complicated. The battle theme however remains the same throughout for enemies and bosses though, and it gets old quite fast. The exceptions are when fighting Lassic and Darkfalz. Grade: B+
Overall grade for the game: B

Phantasy Star is a moderately difficult old-school RPG with some nice sci-fi flavor. The gameplay and characters are quite decent, but the grinding isn't. It's pretty tough at the beginning with just Alis as the character, until you get the other characters in your party. The buyable equipment is handy but you have to fight regularly to get all the good stuff. Dungeons and towers are quite complex, and can be a headache even though they have cool music and perspective. Battle system is nice overall, and it's nice to see how much HP the enemy has, but it's a bit random as to who goes first in a battle and who dodges attacks. Treasure chest prizes are random too, and you could get skewered by a trap. Should you get this game? Do so if you want something really retro. It can be very grinding to play through.