By Kurt Kalata

You really have the admire the Japanese for their ability to take something foreign, muck around with it, and transform it into something totally cracked out. Case in point: Sega's Fantasy Zone. Initially released in the arcades in the mid-80s, Fantasy Zone steals a lot from William's classic arcade game Defender. Unlike many side scrolling shmups with autoscrolling, you have full control over where you fly. In each stage, there are several enemy generators - your job is to fly around and destroy all of them. Once you do, you'll fight some huge boss characters, then move onto the next stage.

The hero of the Fantasy Zone series is Opa Opa, a rotund egg-shaped ship that appears to be sentient. He has a pair of wings for flying, and sprouts feet when necessary. Opa Opa's design shares a lot with Konami's Twinbee, and both series help defined the subgenre affectionately known as the "cute-em-up".

Given the drastic enhancements in technology between 1982 and 1986, Fantasy Zone looks and sounds far, far better than Defender ever did. The world of Fantasy Zone is filled with green meadows, shining rainbows, bright waterfalls, and enemies with big goofy grins that only seem slightly annoyed when you pelt them out of existence with your laser guns. The game is especially known for its huge boss characters, ranging from evil blocks of wood to legions of snowmen. They're all pretty impressive, especially for the 8-bit home versions.

The controls are initially a big tricky to get a hang of, since your ship has a sense of inertia and continues to move even after you take your hand off the joystick. The camera often has trouble when you change directions, often making it difficult to see what's in front of you (how about that, camera problems in a 2D game.) Once you get over that initial hurdle, then Fantasy Zone becomes an absolutely blast to play.

One of the coolest aspect of Fantasy Zone is the ability to buy weapons. Opa Opa initially starts out with a simple twin gun and Gradius-style bombs. Every bad guy drops coins, which are worth more if you swipe them up quickly. Every time you start a level or a new life, a little red balloon that says "Shop" will float out. Hit it, and you can spend your cash on engines (speed ups), lasers, mega-bombs and other assorted goodies. However, each time you buy something, the price of the item increases for the next time. Additionally, most of the weapons have time limits, so there's only so much destruction you can cause with the powerful laser weapons, and most of the time, you are unable to use any of these against bosses. Unfortunately, if you die fighting a boss, you won't be able to re-equip yourself with anything, often leaving you underpowered for the task at hand.

There's actually a whole lot of economic strategy that comes into this. You can buy the fastest engine so you can swipe up all of the coins dropped by bosses, but doing so will often make the boss battle more difficult, since your super fast speed will make it hard to precisely dodge the many projectiles spewed out. It's actually a good idea to buy multiple weapons - once you run out of one, a little "Select" balloon will pop out, allowing you to switch to another weapon. It's also handy for a breather, because the later stages can get pretty rough. Furthermore, you can either blow your money on weapons all throughout the game to make everything easier, or save up your cash for the final stages, in case you need the extra money to buy extra lives. Which actually may be a good idea - there are no continues in Fantasy Zone, and a Game Over means starting from scratch. They aren't terribly long games, usually lasting anywhere from six to nine stages, but a whole playthrough from start to finish can maybe last fifteen to twenty minutes.

Although Sega is credited with Fantasy Zone, Sunsoft played a large part in the series as well. The arcade flyers credit the company, and Super Fantasy Zone was made entirely by Sunsoft, so it's possible that it's Sunsoft's title as opposed to Sega's own (much in the same way Wonder Boy was made by Escape/Westone, and Puyo Puyo was actually made by Compile, though both are considered Sega properties.)

The best way to play the Fantasy Zone games is the Fantasy Zone Complete Collection, released for the Playstation 2 in 2008. This include the original game (arcade and SMS), Fantasy Zone II (SMS and arcade), Super Fantasy Zone (Mega Drive) and Fantasy Zone Gear (Game Gear). Also included are spinoffs, like the Pac Man-esque Fantasy Zone III: The Maze AKA Opa Opa (SMS and arcade), and the obscure paddle game Galactic Protector. In addition to an alternate remake of Fantasy Zone by Sunsoft called Fantasy Zone Neo Classic, Sega went the extra mile and included a brand new remake of Fantasy Zone II, programmed the System 16 boards. It does not include the 2.5D remake of Fantasy Zone released earlier in the Sega Ages line.

If you don't feel like importing, the arcade version is also featured as an unlockable on Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Unfortunately you have to get a high score in Flicky to unlock it.

Fantasy Zone (Arcade)

Fantasy Zone (Arcade)

Fantasy Zone (Arcade)

Fantasy Zone (Arcade)

Fantasy Zone IIDX (Playstation 2)

Fantasy Zone - Arcade / Sega Master System / MSX / Nintendo Entertainment System / Turbografx-16 / Saturn / Windows / X68000 / Playstation 2 / Playstation 3 / Xbox 360(1986)


Arcade Flyer


PS2 Cover


NES Cover


Arcade Flyer


Turbografx-16 Cover


SMS Cover

The original Fantasy Zone for the arcade is often considered the best of the series, if mostly because it's running the strongest hardware. The home systems (at least, up until the 32-bit era) just couldn't handle the insanely bright colors or capture the sound of the super happy, Latin-inspired soundtrack. While it sets down high standards for the rest of the games, it does have some quirks - mainly, it's quite difficult, even on the lowest difficult setting. It does introduce several aspects that have become mainstays in gaming, as you refight all of the bosses at the end of the game, and your final enemy is gigantic, evil version of Opa Opa. Strangely, the Japanese and USA versions feature slightly different arrangements of some of the songs - the difference is most apparent in the song "Hot Snow".

The Sega Master System port, like most arcade translations for the system, can't quite match the arcade graphics but captures the gameplay almost perfectly. Some of the bosses were undoubtedly too much for the machine to handle, so they changed a few of them around completely, including gigantic fish and an evil turtle. The only lamentation is the lack of damage indicators on the enemy generators, and the absence of the radar. A Famicom version was released by Sunsoft is pretty decent, and still manages to look decent despite the 16-color limit, as well as keeping the radar.

A few years later, Tengen released their own version for the Nintendo Entertainment System version. This version has completely different graphics than the Famicom game and not only looks substantially worse, but has funky controls and lots of flickering. Still, it's better than the MSX home computer version, which has terrible graphics and unbearably choppy scrolling. The Turbografx-16 version comes closer to the arcade, but still lacks graphical details, and the music is still pretty bad. The first arcade perfect port was for the Sega Saturn, released under the Sega Ages label. While certain entries were bundled together for released in America and Europe (Space Harrier, Outrun and After Burner), Fantasy Zone got neglected, and was left in Japan. It includes the original soundtrack as redbook audio, in addition to a vocal song (along with a karaoke mode), and a replay mode complete with an expert playthrough.

There were also a few computer ports in Japan. It was released for Windows as part of a Sega classics anthology. The X68000 version, released in 1989 by Dempa, is practically arcade perfect, along with a few bonuses. There's a totally new level based on Space Harrier called Dragon Land, which features enemies from Sega's other arcade series. It's hidden though.

To reach it, you need to break down the radar into numbers. Starting at the right side, count 1, 2, 3, etc. Now, in each level, the first pod you need to destroy corresponds to that numbered pod on the radar. For the first level, you have to destroy the #1 pod first, second level destroy the #2 pod first, etc. Instead of just dropping a regular coin, they'll drop a letter. If you collect all seven, it'll spell out HARRIER. When you beat the seventh stage, you'll be taken to Dragon Land.

There's also a hidden option screen. To reach it, you need to hit the touroku (register) key. Now, if you're using an emulator like WinX68kHighSpeed, this button isn't assigned to anything, since it doesn't exist on a standard Western keyboard. You need to go into the config and map it somewhere. In the config, it's one of the buttons in the upper portion with some kanji on it. Just map it, go to the title screen, press it, and you're there. You can also set Arrange music, which uses MIDI instruments instead of the arcade synth. If you want to skip all of this, just download these save states for Win68kHighSpeed.

Fantasy Zone was revived as part of the Sega Ages line for the Playstation 2. Released on the Sega Classics Collection in America, Fantasy Zone is an almost exact duplicate of the original game, except it replaces with sprites with cel shaded polygons. While they suffers from some unsightly jaggies, the designs perfectly match the originals, and the overall effect is pretty cool, especially the 3D effect on the backgrounds. There are two modes - one is just like the arcade game, while the other adds some extra animations, four new levels, and bonus stages after boss fights. These stages, which last about 30 seconds, switch to a behind-the-back view as Opa Opa tries to collect coins being spurted out from the dying boss. It's almost reminiscent of the unreleased Space Fantasy Zone. Overall, it's an excellent port, and definitely one of the best of the 3D Ages, if mostly because it's so faithful to the original. The only disappointment is that the music is exactly the same as the arcade - they missed out a great opportunity to remix some of these excellent songs.

As an additional bonus on the Fantasy Zone Complete Collection, the disc includes a game called Fantasy Zone Neo Classic. (It's unlocked by opening the menu screen for the game, selecting the "Mark III" version, then holding Right on the d-pad until it unlocks.) I'm a bit sketchy on the details, but I believe it's supposed to be a port of Famicom version created by Sunsoft. It's very similar to the arcade game, but with slightly different (and not quite as good) graphics, different music synth, and some altered enemy patterns. It's cool for fans to play, just to see what was changed from the actual arcade release, but it's nothing relevatory.

MP3s Download here

Opa Opa (Arcade)
Opa Opa (X68000 Arrange)
Opa Opa (Neo Classic)
Saari (Arcade)
Keep on the Beat (Arcade)
Hot Snow (Arcade USA and JPN)
Ne Ne Doushite (Saturn Vocal)

Fantasy Zone (Arcade)

Fantasy Zone (Arcade)

Fantasy Zone (Famicom)

Fantasy Zone (X68000)

Fantasy Zone (X68000)

Fantasy Zone (PS2)

Screenshot Comparisons

Arcade

Turbografx-16

NES

Playstation 2

SMS

Famicom

Neo Classic

Sega Master System Boss Screenshots

On to Page 2

Back to the index