A playthrough of Sega's 1988 role-playing game for the Sega Master System, Phantasy Star.
Phantasy Star was Sega's answer to the likes of Enix's Dragon Quest series on the NES, releasing around the same time that Square launched the first Final Fantasy in Japan.
It was one of the first of what we now refer to as console JRPGs, it was the first game of its type for Sega's console, and it was extremely successful given how small the Master System's market share was in Japan and the US.
The game places you in the role of Alis, a girl who lives on the planet of Palma in the Algol star system under the tyrannical rule of King Lassic. When she see her brother Nero, a member of a rebel faction, killed in the street, she swears vengeance. Over the course of her travels across Algol, Alis meets and joins forces with the other heroes, including Myau (a cat that looks like Pikachu), Noah (a powerful wizard, also known as Lutz in Phantasy Star II), and Odin (a brawny warrior).
Instead of the traditional medieval European backdrop that Dragon Quest (https://youtu.be/7L9M8ApJ3T0
) is set against, Phantasy Star goes with a fantasy sci-fi setting. Swords and shields still play a role, but they are joined by the likes of laser guns and lightsabers, and enemies run the gamut from orcs to android security bots. You travel between planets on a starship, and you regularly have dealings with the indigenous (non-human) people on these exotic worlds.
Though the unconventional setting garnered the lion's share of attention, the game was notable in several aspects. As the lead hero, Alis is strong-willed and capable fighter who happens to be a woman. She doesn't need to be rescued, she's not prone to hysterical outbursts, and men don't lewdly proposition her or stare at her boobs. She also thinks nothing of wading through hordes of monsters in a bright pink dress. It's refreshing to see a game that doesn't use femininity as a character foil - her gender is a complete non-issue, and the game does an excellent job of normalizing it without pandering.
The story is more "adult" than pretty much any other JRPG of the late 80s, save for its sequel on the Genesis (https://youtu.be/LlV6MI2vFgY
). It implicitly juggles political and racial issues without being preachy or corny, and it builds the lore of its cultures enough that you can invest yourself in it, despite the relative simplicity of its plot. For 1987, it was surprisingly heady stuff.
In addition to its progressive storytelling, Phantasy Star was also a technical achievement in its day. The presentation was light-years ahead of the likes of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, and it leaned heavily on the advanced abilities of the Master System. The battle scenes feature vividly illustrated and animated enemy sprites placed atop detailed backdrops that change based on your location, and the dungeons are viewed from the first person. Unlike games like Ultima and Wizardry, Phantasy Star features smoothly scrolling 3D corridors that somehow manage to look better than they did in Sword of Vermilion, and that was on the Genesis. Pretty amazing for an 8-bit machine!
It would be easy to forget how old the game is thanks to how advanced it was, but it is important to keep expectations grounded in reality if you want to enjoy it. It is a product of the eighties, after all. There is a lot of grinding involved, and the maze-like dungeon designs combined with perspective and the lack of an automap feature make for a bit of a slog at times. You'll need a pad of graph paper on hand to get through some areas.
The music of the US version is also a bit hard to bear. Though the Japanese system had an optional FM synth upgrade available, the rest of the world was limited to the bleeps and bloops of the Master System's rudimentary PSG abilities. I know some people get warm fuzzies for it, but I absolutely loathe the console's "sound aesthetic." The soundtrack is excellent, but it's largely ruined by the shrill, harsh tones of the PSG. There are hacks of the game out there if you want to play it in English with FM sound, and I'd recommend them unless you want a purist's experience.
As playable as the game still is today in its original form, I'd recommend the version available on the Nintendo Switch for its quality-of-life improvements, like emulated FM sound, automapping, and the ability to speed up gameplay. It's a classy upgrade that doesn't compromise the integrity of the experience, and it's pretty cheap, to boot.
It isn't perfect, but for a 34 year old game, Phantasy Star holds up admirably well, and it set the stage for one of Sega's most fondly remembered console game franchises of the 80s and 90s.
No cheats were used during the recording of this video.
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