Phantasy Star
Box Shot
Phantasy Star
Platform: Sega Master System
Publisher: Sega
Designer: Sega
Genre: RPG
Players: 1
Published Date 1988
Reviewed by: Rob Strangman

In 1988 Sega was in a bind. Nintendo had constantly beaten them to the punch at everything - they liscensed all of the hottest games, sold more systems, gathered all of the good liscensees (leaving Sega with the meager leftovers. . . Parker Bros?) and therefore was the reigning king of the video game hill. Sega had to share what little of the market that was left with the ailing Atari Corp. Sega did have some good games then, but nothing to even be compared with the megahits that Nintendo offered. Someone at Sega got wise, though, and decided to port over what was to be the first in a genre normally reserved for PC gamers - an RPG. The RPG they released gathered great reviews and boosted interest in the Sega Master System (although still not enough to really loosen Nintendo's grip. . . that's why you don't see a lot of SMS websites). Sega had finally beaten Nintendo to the punch at something (and would do it again a year later with the release of the Sega Genesis, the first true 16-bit console). The game? Phantasy Star.

Phantasy Star was one incredible game for its time. The amount of things that you could do and see in PS were immense compared to Nintendo's first RPG offering (Dragon Warrior, released in 1989). The story revolved around a young girl named Alis. At the beginning of the game (in a great looking opening) you find out that Alis' brother, Nero, has been badly injured by soldiers for investigating the affairs of Lassic. Nero tells Alis with his dying breath that he tried to discover Lassic's plans, but he couldn't do much by himself. He then says that she must seek out someone named Odin. With that, Nero dies, and Alis swears to avenge his death. . .

As the game progresses, Alis hooks up with other characters. There's Myau, an intelligent cat-like creature that has a strange vial hanging from his neck. This turns out to be Alsulin, which can turn people who have been turned into stone back into humans. Then there's the aforementioned Odin, who (surprise, surprise) has been turned to stone (guess who gets an Alsulin bath?). Odin is a strong warrior, the only member of the party that can use rifles. Finally there's the enigmatic Noah, who's the magic user of the group (she's also the weakest, strength wise - what is this, some kind of RPG stereotype? You never see magic users lifting anything heavier than a staff, and the strong guys can't use magic).

The graphics, while bleh in some areas (particularly the overhead scenes) are FANTASTIC in others. The battle scenes are really good looking - you fight from your party's viewpoint, and the backgrounds match the different areas that you're in. The monsters are nicely drawn and well animated. The best looking effect has to be the dungeon scenes - they're unheard of on an 8-bit system. They're in first person 3-D, and the scrolling is seamless (unlike a lot of other games that have this kind of dungeon setup, where static screens are used). The cinema displays scattered throughout the game look as good as the opening does, which is fantastic - the amount of detail in the pictures is unrivaled by any other 8-bit game. The music is good, but annoying in spots - the town music can get monotonous, and the battle music grates after you've heard it for a while. I blame most of this on the SMS' lame sound chip. The control is pretty tight, without the jerkiness that some RPGs have. There is an lot to do in PS, but it never gets overly confusing - but you can get lost in the dungeons very easily. Make sure you make a map!

One of the coolest things about PS was the mix of fantasy and sci-fi. You use magic and lasers, you fight robots and dragons, and you drive vehicles - the Hovercraft, the Landrover and the Ice Digger are the ones that you actually control. There is a fourth, a spaceship named the Luveno, that is piloted by a little robot named Hapsby. He takes you to different planets in the Algol star system. Believe it or not, you're not confined to just one planet in PS - you get three! You travel between Palma, where you start, Motavia (the desert planet) and Dezoris (the ice planet). Using the Luveno is the only way to reach Dezoris (in the beginning of the game, you are forced to use public transportation - commercial spaceflights to Motavia only). The mix of fantasy and sci-fi really work in PS - hey, what other game can you play that has lasers and spells working together?

Of course, there's a downside - being an RPG from the late '80s means fighting a ridiculous amount of battles to gain experience and money (called meseta). You're attacked at every step of the way (in infamous RPG pop-up fights - take two steps and an enemy pops up). Another drawback in PS is that one enemy attacks you at a time - there's never a mixed group on screen. However, just because you see one enemy doesn't mean that's all that there is - look at the enemy stat box (in the upper right hand corner of the screen). Up to eight enemies can attack you at once!

There are some amusing parts in PS - the drooling Zombies that attack you are a kick. There's also the woman Miki that you encounter - her question is "Do you like Sega games?". Answer yes, and she says "Of course! Sega games are best!". Answer no, and she's almost shocked: "If you don't like the game, why have you played it this far?"

Phantasy Star is considered by most to be the best Sega Master System game ever (in fact, it was the only SMS game to make EGM's Top 100 game list). I'd have to agree with that - and I'm not really crazy about RPGs! There were three other Phantasy Star games released on the Genesis (2, 3, and 4) but none of them ever quite matched the original. If you like RPGs and have access to an SMS then by all means, play this game! Just be prepared for Dark Falz. . .