Game Appreciation 101 (Part I): The Phantasy Star III Project

It took about 21 years, but I finally appreciate Phantasy Star III. Not that I was playing the game for that long, mind you. It just took me that long to see everything it has to offer and while it’s still flawed, I now have a bit more respect for the final product.  Like a number of Sega Genesis owners back in 1991, I didn’t like the game all that much. The visuals were dull compared to the original and sequel, the story was a confusing mess from the start and unless you paid good money for the strategy guide, it was tough to know what to do in a few key moments. A mere two save slots didn’t help either in a game with four possible outcomes. In my case, my younger brother and I played through the game and only completed two of the four endings. We didn’t shell out for the guide book, but concentrated on power-leveling the party members until getting through dungeons was easy.  I think all that grinding plus the game’s not so hot localization and depressingly bland color palette was what really killed PSIII for us, so back on the shelf it went for about a decade…

I recall wanting to give the game another shot around 2002, but I just didn’t have the free time, what with me working in a game shop and writing for the magazine and website run by the store’s manager. As we sold Genesis (as well as other classic) games, on occasion, we’d get a customer or three asking about the PS series or coming in to sell off a bunch of Genny titles and there would be a PS III in a stack of games.After listening to perhaps the fourth or fifth person in a few months tell me how much they hated the game, I decided to make a mental note to give it a replay at some point before I fled this mortal coil. Thankfully, THQ and Sega must have read my mind, as Phantasy Star Collection hit the Game Boy Advance in November of that year. Amusingly enough, I recall the game being a bit hard to order and then keep in stock once we got the few copies we bought in, so I actually didn’t get one of these until a few years later from a eBay seller (for less than the retail price, thank you much)…

My next attempt at getting back to PSIII came when I was really bored sometime in the summer of 2004. i remember finally breaking down and unearthing one of my Genesis systems from a bin of consoles (what, doesn’t everyone have one of these?), grabbing a stack of games and then deciding to concentrate on PSIII just to finally get those other two endings I never saw. This particular part of my project didn’t get off the ground as I found that both save slots on the cart I had were near key moments in separate story lines and I didn’t want to overwrite them. So, I played a few other Genesis and Mega Drive import titles I’d been meaning to complete for a while but never had the chance to.

Flash forward to 2006 when Sega releases the excellent Sega Genesis Collection for the PS2 and PSP and *ding!*, thanks to the inclusion of Phantasy Star II, III and IV, I’m interested in playing the game again. I also ended up with the PlayStation 2 version, so my master plan was to play through the game twice on the PSP while traveling and the PS2 at home. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men and yours truly went the way of all flesh thanks to some insane goings on with the website I was writing for at the time. Needless to say, progress halted once more and back on the shelf the games went again. Fortunately, I’d made enough progress in both versions and had save games that were pretty close in terms of party levels and plot progression.

Two years later and 2008’s Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection arrives for both the PS3 and 360. I decide to go for the 360 version just to stop making my PS3 work so hard and put a few hours into a bunch of games on the disc just to unlock as much of the bonus content as I can. Surprisingly, I didn’t touch PSIII at all, instead going for the rogue-like charms of Fatal Labyrinth (an even more criminally under-appreciated gem on the Genesis). It wasn’t until sometime in 2010 when I decided to get serious about completing PSIII, but thanks to my current one-man army status plus some health and other issues, it took over a year on and off to finally see everything in the game.

For the record, I went with the PSP version (after putting about a week into the GBA version played on a DS Lite) for my portable choice and the 360 version as my home choice initially, but after my 360 died twice during the process, I switched to the PS2 version even though I hated the muddier visuals when compared to the original and smaller PSP version (which looks the sharpest, despite the smaller screen). The game still has translation issues, enemies that pop up on screen like in a carnival shooting gallery, a clunky combat interface and once you get too many levels into your party, it’s supremely easy to beat most of the enemies and bosses. Nevertheless, I ended up liking the game for what it tried to do with the series by not just copying what had come before.

Nostalgia renewal aside, I still have some complaints. It’s too bad Sega hasn’t seen fit to do what Square Enix has done with the older Final Fantasy titles and remake them from the ground up for different platforms. I often imagine how the PS series would be received if all four of the original games had gotten new localizations and perhaps a graphics overhaul that kept the 2D fans want, but added a lot more life to the environments and characters. For my money, the original Phantasy Star’s pseudo 3D scaling and rotation is still remarkable (despite the walls all looking like cinder block hallways in some urban apartment building). Perhaps we’ll see Sega one day give the series some real love, but I guess that would take a bit of time and money better spent on new IP…

4 thoughts on “Game Appreciation 101 (Part I): The Phantasy Star III Project

  1. I really enjoyed this post.
    I’m a big Phantasy Star fan. Phantasy Star for the Master System rocked my world when I first played it and I think it’s why I never once wished I had a NES over my Master System.
    Don’t scream fanboy just yet 🙂
    I still had love for the NES. I have some great memories playing Zelda, MT Punch Out, Duck Hunt and Excite Bike at my buddies place.
    I know I played PSIII back in the day but I’m having a hard time remembering much of it. I know I didn’t like it as much but I didn’t hate it. Phantasy Star 1 and 2 were and still are my favorite Phantasy Stars. I know some feel that PS4 is the best but for me it’s a solid 3rd place for the 16bit Phantasy Star family.
    I only started playing Phantasy Star Online because it was called Phantasy Star. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It is so very different from the ones I grew up with but it’s a great game. Phantasy Star Universe on the other hand I didn’t like at all… and I really give it a shot. For me it was too silly; both in the humor and many of the characters.

    Speaking of PS remakes, I have both the Japanese Sega Ages 2500 Phantasy Stars; Generation 1 and 2. Man Alive! If only these were translated into English. They are really fantastic.
    I’ll admit when saying this it might be because I am such a fan and because the originals hold a great amount of nostalgia for me but I’m trying to put that aside and I still think these are fun games. Imagine these games on a smart phone to remove the expectations of modern game consoles. I think they would still be a very enjoyable adventure for any RPG gamer.
    I’ve started playing the remake for PS1 (Generation 1) and the language does make it difficult. I was level 16 by the time I finally got my road pass to leave Palma. Which is something that happens very early in the game. I have Alis, Myau and Odin in my party but I find it hard to remember the menu’s each time I return to the game.
    I hope I live long enough to see these come out in English.

    I also enjoyed Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the xbox 360. The menu of all things really stands out. It’s modern looking while being entirely retro themed and I found the tune that accompanied it to be really very awesome. It really sucked me in.
    I couldn’t put this collection down until I manage to get all the xbox achievements for it 🙂

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  2. Oh, fear not – my own Phantasy Star experiences are similar. I had a walk through for the first game that Sega sent out to anyone who sent them a letter asking for one, but it’s disappeared over the years. I have a few other SMS walkthroughs and letters on Sega stationery here that I may scan & post at some point just for fun, as I had an ongoing correspondence with Sega’s customer service team that lasted from about 1990 to 1994.

    I didn’t grab those Sega Ages collections (or the import Saturn PS Collection), so it’s nice to hear what’s on those discs. I guess that’s two more (plus one) I’ll need to grab at some point!

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  3. I had no idea Sega offered a walk through for Phantasy Star (or any game for that matter) way back in the day. I’d love to see a scan of something like that.
    I really could have used one to find that hidden door for Dark Falz in Phantasy Star 1. I finally found it but as much time passed looking for that door as I had spent playing the rest of the game!

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    • Sega used to actually send out simple walk throughs for certain games, most of which were double-sided copies with basic hints and boss tips. If I recall correctly, the Phantasy Star one was multiple pages and had some map layouts for the trickier areas. I wish I could find it, but I think it vanished with some SMS games I sold off in the late 90’s. That’s the second copy of Phantasy Star I bought in that gallery photo.

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