Review by sanhedrin

"A standout of its era and highpoint in its genre."

The experience of playing a modern console RPG is more akin to watching a bad anime that makes you press a button to continue the action. Sort of like a hand-cranked Nickelodeon you’d find in a penny arcade. Things weren’t always this way. Classic console RPGs were known as highpoints of their respective consoles: the NES had Final Fantasy, and the SMS had Phantasy Star. Somewhere along the way, the NES has edged the Sega Master System out of our collective gaming memory, and the shame is that a few of the system’s classic games have been more or less forgotten as well. Phantasy Star was its system’s greatest game and what many still believe to be the finest console RPG ever made.

The biggest innovation this game is known for is the 3D dungeon exploring. There’s not a lot to go into here as most modern gamers are familiar with the first person perspective. Suffice it to say that many of today’s gamers whet their 3D spatial senses on Phantasy Star. The battles are done in a cool first-person style that seamlessly melds into the movement animations of dungeoneering. Damage is indicated uniquely: sword flashes appear on the screen for sword damage, claw marks for you cat-like character, and bullets fly from off-screen for the guns.

The quest is fairly open-ended in that there isn’t any irresistible force pushing you in a certain direction story-wise. Taking a note from PC RPGs (as it did for the 3D dungeons), there are certain tasks that need to be accomplished to push the story along but nothing forcing you to do it. Nonlinear to a very small extent and few forced battles. The elements of the quests are fairly well conceived except for one notable exception involving a cake.

Music is definitely a high point here. The themes are catchy aboveground, foreboding and mysterious in the dungeons, and atmospheric throughout. The BGM of the ice planet is downright haunting. The atmosphere and especially music of the ice planet stands out to me as one the emotionally evocative moments in my personal videogaming history. Dogs jumping through windows make scare you, Dead-Or-Alive bounciness may titillate you, but this is the only game I know of that can make you feel cold and alone.

The 3D dungeon crawling and excellent color palate the game employs almost make Phantasy Star seem like it transcends the limits of 8-bit gaming. This is probably because the bar for 8-bit gaming was set by the NES. This game stretched the limits of its console, its genre, and indeed of its era. It’s a classic forgotten to most gamers except those with the pleasure to own the Betamax of consoles.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 10/14/02, Updated 10/14/02

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