Saturday, August 26, 2006

Game Review: Phantasy Star

At the suggestion of kazekage, I picked up Sega's "Phantasy Star" series a few weeks ago, and completed the first game yesterday.

The big surprise for me, right on the intro screen, was the fact that the main protagonist of "Phantasy Star" is a woman. Bear in mind that this was made in 1987: sure, Samus Aran pulled her big reveal the same year, but for a woman to brandish a sword and lead a team in a role-playing game? Practically unheard of, and it's not exactly common today either. To top it all off, Alis Landale is assigned a motive traditionally reserved for male heroes - vengeance. That's a nice bit of gender equality where I didn't expect to find it, so props for the forward thinking, Sega. Of course, all this is a bit diluted by the fact that Alis is practically a non-entity - characterization throughout is at a bare minimum, and party members barely interact.

That's more or less my take on the game: a bit of a see-saw between innovation and formula. The plot is textbook RPG - evil king, band of rebels, dark spirit behind it all - but the story (such as it is) plays out on three different planets, which is definitely new for me. Gameplay is similarly hit-and-miss: the typical overhead view is combined with a three-dimensional first-person perspective for exploring dungeons, and that's a nice way of alternating styles to keep things interesting. But the EXP system is absolutely horrific, because the game starts you off at a level with stats below the most basic combat situation. Consequently, you have to spend a lot of time getting into random fights for EXP, right at the beginning of the game (thank God for turbo speed). And that's just so you can set foot outside the first town - every character that joins you later starts at level 1 and needs to be beefed up as well. It probably extended the gameplay for another few days, but didn't strike me as contributing anything particularly useful to the experience.

The music is above average; most of the themes are a bit shrill and tend to grate after a while, but I loved the Towers melody and the Final Boss track is catchy too.

Well, obviously there's no comparison to today's RPGs; it doesn't even rate with the RPGs of yesterdecade. However, once you jump the hurdles, "Phantasy Star" does prove entertaining on some level of "retro gaming", enough so that I fully intend to pursue the sequels and see what happens next.