As soon as I heard that Phantasy Star was making a return as a digital exclusive on the Nintendo eShop, there went that not needing to ask for a review code stuff. Yeah, I immediately bought it outright (it’s a mere $7.99) because back on the Sega Master System, it was the first JRPG I played and it’s been a game I’ve gone back to a few times, the last being om the Game Boy Advance where we got three of the first four games squeezed onto a single cart (to mixed results). Yes, I still have that one in the library, but I’m not even going to bother comparing it to what’s here (just yet) because once you fall down the Phantasy Star rabbit hole (Rappy hole?), you’re not coming up for air anytime soon.
The gorgeous Switch version recreates that original experience flawlessly with some mostly very welcome additions. In addition to options for screen size (great) and smoothing filter options (I found both unnecessary, but they’re there if you want them), an honest to goodness mapping feature for the dungeons is the biggest and best option. Way back in the day, I got stuck at one point in the Master System version and had the wild idea to write Sega of America to ask for assistance. You can read about the results of that here if you like (go on, I won’t tell a soul). You also get the Japanese version (in Katakana or Hirigana) and the International version, both with the option to hear one of two soundtracks. I’m more used to the Master System’s chirpy and tinny-sounding tunes, but the Mark III’s FM soundtrack is a revelation in that it enhances the aural experience to a hefty degree. Still, after listening to a few of the great FM tracksI’m currently running my first play with the SMS cuts for the nostalgic factor.
Speaking of nostalgic factors, the inclusion of two game modes may get a few feathers fluffed. Maybe. The original game has a somewhat (okay, VERY) punishing difficulty thanks to too many random battles that made traveling early on quite painful for poor Alis (and as you acquire them, her party of three). You pretty much had to fight one or two battles just outside the starting village and limp back to heal and save just to end up with a small amount of Meseta you’d burn through to buy supplies and better gear if you really did some quality grinding.
The new AGES mode lessens the random battles and bumps up the Meseta dropped significantly (and to an almost comic extent in the latter case). That’s both good and bad news, though. Sure, you can now fight less, level up faster and buy new gear sooner than later. All good things unless you realize you’ll be rocking an overpowered party that can, with the new dungeon mapping, pretty much not have to worry dying unless you rush too much into trouble and aren’t prepared to heal. Should you desire a nicer means to play fair, what you can do is start off in AGES mode and make enough bank to afford nice gear and build up Alis a bit, then switch to Original mode and play normally. The game lets you do this with no trouble and you get five save files to mess with if you want to play either mode with no swapping.
At least Sega and M2 kept the limited inventory for each character that forces hoarders not to fill every space in everyone’s inventory, which as the potential negative side effect of losing key quest items forever because certain players are going to be too stubborn to let something go. Yes, the game’s most notorious flaws weren’t changed either, so ABSOLUTELY read that rather excellent digital manual because it notes those flaws right on the first page. Once again for those in the back: there are a few cases where you can get trapped in a dungeon if you don’t have a certain item and/or you can completely miss out on a necessary quest item (or items) by hoarding (PROTIP: just don’t hoard – you really won’t need to in this game).
Hmmm… this sounds like a review, doesn’t it? Eh, it’s not really one, but you can consider it a super high five recommend as well as a huge thanks to Sega and M2 for getting this out and doing such a superb job. I’m hoping this does well enough that there’s a look at getting this out on other platforms and sooner than later. Hey, it’s not as if it can’t ever happen (er, see above).