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Virtually Overlooked: Phantasy Star


Sega has graciously ensured the Wii's status as an excellent RPG platform with downloadable versions of, among other classic RPGs, Phantasy Star II and III. IV is in our future, as well, having been released in Japan and rated for US release by the ESRB. Even Phantasy Star Online is playable on the Wii via GameCube backward compatibility.

There's still one obvious void, and it's one that is also found in compilation titles on other systems: Phantasy Star. Well, and a few Japan-only text adventures. And Phantasy Star Gaiden. But while it's basically totally unreasonable to expect those titles in English for six bucks each, it's not really out of the realm of possibility that Sega could include Phantasy Star on the Virtual Console to complement its sequels.

1988's Phantasy Star was the first thing on everyone's mind when Sega Master System support was announced for the Virtual Console. Well, my mind went to ALF first, but Phantasy Star was a close second. While the Genesis was a fairly big deal in the US, its predecessor, the Master System, failed to make any headway in a NES-dominated market, and thus thousands of fans wowed by the spectacular Phantasy Star II missed out on its predecessor.

Phantasy Star came out in the US in 1988, one year before Dragon Warrior and two years before Final Fantasy, and yet it eclipsed both games in visual presentation, story, and complexity.

The story centers around Alis, a young woman driven to defeat Lassic, the dictator of a three-planet solar system, as an act of revenge. As she travels and meets up with other like-minded individuals, her thoughts begin to turn from the personal (taking revenge for the death of her brother) to saving the people of Algol from Lassic's rule.

Her journey is realized in-game as a combination of traditional top-down RPG exploration and combat and diabolical 3D dungeons, the code for which was supposedly programmed by a young Yuji Naka, whose thoughts had yet to turn to anthropomorphic sidekicks or drumming on tables. These dungeons were impressively animated for the time, making the PC staple of first-person dungeons a bit nicer to look at and more easily navigable.

Old-school RPGs are notoriously difficult, and Phantasy Star is far from an exception. The first battles are crushingly difficult, and it requires a lot of grinding before Alis is out of danger of death from every encounter. Complicating this further is the fact that one (beautifully animated) sprite represents every monster in a particular group, and thus you have no choice over which you'll attack. If the computer doesn't choose to let you concentrate on one first (and it doesn't, ever), you'll continue to take four or however many hits per round until you've finally gotten all the monsters down to near-death.

First-person dungeons are also a problem for modern gamers used to things like landmarks and having any idea where to go. To use the cliche, break out the graph paper, kids! I feel that if there's anyone out there who played through things like Etrian Odyssey and Shiren the Wanderer and wasn't already a super old-school RPG player is probably sufficiently trained to take on something like Phantasy Star.

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