Review by Danny Major (@GuyFawkesRetro)
No game has been so important, so influential in it’s origins but so forgotten by a generation of role playing fanatics. Some games gave birth to the ideas of tactical gameplay, some artistic influences and some just emulate the previous and make better on the genre. One game however, re-invented and totally invigorated an entire genre that the west had ignored, reviewed the gamers’ views on the perception of story telling, showed the world what a JRPG is and changed the face of console gaming forever. That game is Phantasy Star.
RPG fans will always tell you their favourite game. The game they first played and the game that still strikes a chord in the mind of their alternative second life conscience. Some will give you an in depth time line of the story, characters, areas & maps and most likely the entire team behind the game, including the composer, not to forget the young intern who made the tea in the office. These people are role playing gamers and they are serious end of the gaming community. Of course, as highlighted by certain journalistic and reviewing platforms on the internet in recent times, RPG games are a dying breed, along with its fans. Mention RPG in today’s industry and you’ll most likely get a mixed reply that incites a love for Final Fantasy, Mass Effect or ‘ Yeah, RPG’s are in Call of Duty and they make a big noise’.
But we would not be discussing this issue if was not for a team of people from SEGA, that included the legendary Rieko Kodama ,Yuji Naka the former head of Sonic Team and Tokuhiko Uwaba, the composer.
Released in Japan, December, 1987 for the SEGA MKIII, Phantasy Star took the industry by storm. This game would be the platform of future RPG’s, by any developer, including Nintendo. The game also set SEGA up for a very unlikely push for the MKIII console against Nintendo’s Famicom. With the Famicom taking gamers to ‘action adventure’ heaven with Zelda, SEGA knew they had to push the limits and boundaries if they were to make a difference in the genre.
So, SEGA did what? The visuals, along with the artistic design are flawless for a game of this age. Notably, the radiant colours are striking, easily handled by the Master System. Secondly, our hero and protagonist, Alis Landale, Alys or Arisa, is a young woman. Not your typical 80’s gaming hero. These simple ingredients along with superb sound and music, easily combines with the storyline. The storyline, consisting of religion, politics and cruel dictatorship, is set on the planet of Algol, along with the planets Palma, Motavia and Dezoris within the Algo star system. Each planet has its own characteristics from sprawling deserts, to great white futuristic cities with a mass of space ports, to underground caverns filled with monsters and giant flying insects. Our hero Alis’s mission is to track down and defeat her brother’s murderer, King Lassic, who had him murdered for leading a rebellion against the brutal kingdom he reigns over. King Lassic has not always been like this, but after deciding he wanted to change religion, he’s become a bit of an arse, as you do.
The gameplay is as you would expect, JRPG, but an RPG respectively. Although being a basic RPG, this being because it was one of the first of its kind on a console, still packs a punch today. The storyline is not as strong as you would expect from listening to the hype. The game is more recognised for its technical advancements. The fighting system may have confused some seven year olds in 1987, but this is what makes the game enjoyable.
While having to juggle and save life energy for bigger enemies within those amazing 3D dungeons or the forests, Alis is able to power up in her Exp Points and her Magic Points. This can be done easily with patience and steering clear of any woodland or caves, just stay in the open to fight simple creatures like a Scorpion. Also, collecting money from the dead creatures in a treasure chest will enable you to save up and head over to the shops to purchase new swords, shields and magic. It’s worth doing this, simply because some enemies can’t be out run or defeated while on a certain Exp-Lv or with out a more powerful weapon. The landscape is a great to. Attention to detail on the trees, water and some settlements are groundbreaking, while it lacks character design in the form of ‘Humans’. A party of helpers will aid you on your quest of revenge, which is one of the earliest examples of a fully accessible RPG party on a console.
A Multi Fighting System is delivered with great intentions, but control over the team that aids you is limited. It helps to defeat the tougher opponents, but has no real bearing on the story. The story does develop some what, giving you enough ammunition to at least be sucked into it. The real basis of touching on corruption, greed, politics and murder infuse you with a space age, far off galaxy fantasy feel.
While you get to tackle most of the political issues in the game, it doesn’t forget what you want. What you want, is of course is strong back boned turn based action and that’s delivered with might. Searching dungeons, space ports and planets while trying to devise your own style of gameplay is paramount to enjoying this title and it doesn’t disappoint in that aspect, but can be frustrating if you don’t usually delve into early JRPG games. But, none the less, this game was designed to overhaul SEGA’s image against Nintendo in Japan, break the western curse of mediocre action platformers and give us a glimpse of what was to come in the future of story telling, role playing adventure titles.
With such a great collection of attributes in one game that includes a smooth Turn Based fighting system, great graphics and cool digital, (if not a bit 8bit cliché) music, it’s hard to see how anyone would not enjoy playing through this must have part of gaming history. It’s just a shame that it has almost been forgotten. What Rieko Kodama, Yuji Naka & Tokuhiko Uwaba have done here, is basically re-invent modern RPG console gaming as we know it. With storylines spanning across a galaxy of planets, roaming 3D ‘FPS’ style dungeons and music that accompanies the aesthetics and emotions of the player, this game could most likely be the most important in it’s genre of all time, an evolution in role playing games for Japan and the west. The game demands respect, but only if you have the time to give it what it deserves. It shouldn’t be forgotten.
Ok, not the best on the system by far, but great battle music and a steady stream of action effects during battle make up for a pretty annoying main in game theme after a while.
While touching on modern day politics and corruption, the in between battle sequences are a challenge, but enjoyable to the last
It shouldn’t have to age, it’s an underrated classic that should forever live at the top of RPG gaming history. It deserves more respect because of what it achieves.