Mark III/Master System
Phantasy Star (ファンタシースター Fantashī Sutā) is the first installment in Sega’s renowned series of the same title. It was released for the Sega Mark III/Master System, in Japan on December 20 water glass bottle, 1987, and then for the Master System in North America and Europe in 1988. It is considered one of the pioneers amongst role-playing video games, both for its advanced graphics technology, and for being one of the first story-driven games released in the West. It is also notable for being one of the first games featuring a female protagonist after Ms. Pac-Man.
The game was ported a decade later as part of Phantasy Star Collection, which was released for the Sega Saturn and PlayStation 2 in Japan and for the Game Boy Advance in North America, where critics deemed it as a historically relevant step for its genre. It was also released for Virtual Console on the Wii in 2009. It had a 1989 sequel, Phantasy Star II.
Phantasy Star was one of the pioneers of the traditional console RPG format, featuring fully traversable overworld maps, complete with interactive towns, and sprawling dungeons. The player engages in random enemy encounters, both on the overworld map and in dungeons, which saw a change from the top-down perspective to a first-person view. Unique amongst all games of the time was the faux 3-D graphics of Phantasy Star’s dungeons, a widely praised technological feature. Also notable were the animations of the enemy sprites, which featured considerably more frames than were common at the time. Battles featured the standard at the time turn-based format, with each player using a combination of weapons and magic to fight enemies. As the game progresses, the weapons and magic get increasingly more impressive. The option to talk was sometimes a useful alternative, but only for the few enemies that were able to communicate with Alis.
Phantasy Star is set in Algol, a solar system consisting of three planets. There is the lush and green Palma, the arid and barren Motavia, and finally, the icy and desolate Dezoris. As the story begins, Algol is ruled by King Lassic, who while originally benevolent, becomes a cruel, sociopathic tyrant after converting to a new religion. After a string of harsh political changes, small pockets of rebellion emerge but are mostly ineffective against Lassic’s iron rule.
When Nero Landale, the leader of one such rebellion, is killed by Lassic’s Robot-cops, his sister Alis swears revenge. As she travels and witnesses the many victims of Lassic’s oppression, Alis’ objective becomes less about revenge and more about liberation for the people of Algol. Joined by Myau, a talking cat, Odin, once a member of Nero’s rebellion, and the Esper Noah (Lutz in the Japanese version and further English games), Alis embarks on an adventure spanning all three planets. Along the way Alis talks to the towns’ people who may help her or give her secret information for finding special items. She encounters many personalities, from the well-meaning Governor of Motavia to the eccentric Dr. Luveno and other countless enemies on the way to find the weapons and other items are needed to eventually engage King Lassic and determine the fate of Algol.
The game was designed by Kotaro Hayashida and Miki Morimoto. Yuji Naka programmed and Rieko Kodama served as character designer. The game used four megabits (512 kilobytes) of ROM, which was several times as much as most early Master System games. In addition, five games could be saved with a battery-backed RAM chip. The game was relatively large at the time it was released.
The Japanese release took advantage of the FM sound capabilities provided by the Yamaha YM2413 chip available as an add-on module for Sega Mark III and built into the Japanese models of the Master System. However, as the North American and PAL hardware lacked this chip runners fanny pack, the releases outside Japan feature only the PSG soundtrack. The Japanese Virtual Console release, however, gives the player the option to switch between the two soundtracks, even for those living outside Japan. (The North American/European Virtual Console release is the same as the original release in their region and so does not contain the FM sound.)
Phantasy Star was first released for the Sega Mark III/Master System in Japan on December 20, 1987, with localized ports following in the United States in 1988 and Brazil in 1991 (It was the first RPG video game translated to Portuguese, the Brazilian official language). In Japan, it was re-released for the Mega Drive in a limited-edition cartridge designed for use in a contest. Later, it was released in compilations for the Sega Saturn, Game Boy Advance, and PlayStation 2 under the name of Phantasy Star Collection.
In the United States, Phantasy Star sold for the then-high price of $69.99, with some retail outlets such as Toys R Us selling for as much as $80
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.00. Although some home computer games had been known to sell for $100 or more, such as 1982’s Time Zone, Phantasy Star was the most expensive console game ever sold at the time. When the redesigned Master System II was later launched, the game was only $10 less than the console itself.
Phantasy Star also appears as an unlockable game in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 by beating the first boss on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with two controllers. It was also made available for the Wii via download from the Wii shop.
In 2003, Phantasy Star received an enhanced makeover and was released for the PlayStation 2 in Japan under the title of ファンタシースター generation:1 (Phantasy Star Generation 1). The remake remains largely faithful to the original game, with it still being rendered in 2-D, but with a smooth, colorful quality. Also, the characters now talk to each other, bringing out their personality and flavor to the player. The second and fourth installments in the series were to receive the same treatment and were to be released to the North American market as a single collection. After Sega shelved work on the Phantasy Star IV remake however, the North American release of the trilogy was canceled. It was the first game to be released under the Sega Ages line-up.
Originally slated for the United States and European release by Conspiracy Games, it was later announced as a part of the Phantasy Star Trilogy, a compilation of the remakes of Phantasy Star, Phantasy Star II, and Phantasy Star IV. The compilation’s future is uncertain however since Sega reclaimed the publishing rights for the United States and Europe. Sega currently has no plans to publish this or any of the other Phantasy Star remakes outside Japan, and with Sega having seemingly abandoned their plans for a Phantasy Star IV remake in favor of a compilation featuring the original iterations of Phantasy Star I-IV, it would seem likely that this game will remain a Japanese exclusive. (In August 2012, a complete fan translation of Phantasy Star Generation 1 was released for download on the fan site Phantasy Star Cave.)
Phantasy Star Generation:1 features newly designed graphics, arranged versions of music from the original game soundtrack, and fleshed out dialogue which results in both character development and a richer story. During the initial phases of its development, it featured super deformed characters and monsters in battle but was later changed to a style more consistent with the original series.
The game also features such a “Consultation” option, allowing party members to converse and help players to determine their next course of action. The Atlas item automatically mapped dungeons, a marked change from the manual map drawing required in the original game. Near the end of the game, players can purchase a sound test, allowing them to listen to the soundtrack at their leisure. Finally, completing the game enables the player to create a System File game save stainless bottle, allowing them to unlock a bonus in Phantasy Star Generation 2.
The game has been critically acclaimed since release. The August 1988 issue of Computer Gaming World previewed the game, describing it as Sega’s first 4 megabit (512 KB) cartridge and featuring “both space travel and multi-level three-dimensional” dungeons. The November 1988 issue of Boys’ Life predicted that Phantasy Star, as well as The Legend of Zelda games, may represent the future of home video games, combining the qualities of both arcade and computer games. The first issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, published May 1989, listed Phantasy Star as the #2 game in its “Top Ten Games” list (behind only Blaster Master for the NES), describing it as a “new breed of adventure game that could set the standard for future RPG titles.”
In 1990, Roe R. Adams (who worked on the Wizardry series) wrote in Computer Gaming World that the game was “the big shot in the arm for Sega,” stating that it is “accepted wisdom that the tremendous response to this game propped up Sega long enough for it to introduce the Genesis 16-bit machine last Christmas.” He described the game as “really different” and that it “was a science-fiction game with a neat twisting plot, good sound, and a large array of weapons, armor, spells, and other assorted goodies.” He also praised the game’s “team concept” where “throughout the game, characters would join a player’s team in order to help him/her win, each bringing unusual skills or magical talents.” He also praised the “fantastic combat system,” stating that, “Not since Dungeon Master had such a good and explicit graphic combat system been seen.” The March 1992 issue of Sega Pro magazine gave the original Phantasy Star a 96% score, describing it as “the best role-playing game to date on the Master System.” RPGamer gave it a perfect score of 10 out of 10 in 2007.
Phantasy Star is widely regarded as one of the benchmark role-playing video games and has been well received by players since the time of its release and into the present. In 2006, 1UP and Electronic Gaming Monthly placed it at #26 on “The Greatest 200 Videogames of Their Time” list, which puts it as the second highest-ranking RPG on the list, behind only Phantasy Star Online at #21. In 2001, Game Informer included it on its own list of greatest video games at #94. The staff praised it for its innovation and graphical superiority (specifically to Dragon Warrior). The original game’s success led to the development of Phantasy Star II and eventually spawned an entire franchise.
Nintendo Power’s staff has praised the game, saying that Phantasy Star “was the first RPG to break out of the Dragon Quest / Dungeons & Dragons mold of generic Arthurian fantasy by introducing sci-fi elements. Among its many other accomplishments were the inclusion of characters with actual personalities, the introduction of event scenes, and the presentation of pseudo-3-D dungeons that were a technical marvel at the time.” It was also one of the first games to feature animated monster encounters, and allowed inter-planetary travel between three planets.
An important innovation in Phantasy Star that would later become common in console role-playing games was the use of pre-defined player characters with their own backstories, in contrast to computer role-playing games such as the Wizardry and Gold Box games where the player’s avatars (such as knights, clerics, or thieves) were simply blank slates. Critics and fans alike have also noted that Alis is one of the first female heroines in video games, alongside Samus Aran of Metroid and Chun Li of Street Fighter, who did not journey for love or treasure but for personal vengeance. She is widely seen now as a great example of a well crafted lead female character.