Growing up I was a Nintendo kid with a PHD in Squarest RPG's. I thought the world started and ended with Final Fantasy and no matter how compelling your argument I couldn't be swayed. As an adult I have come to realize that there are many other great JRPG franchises from the 8 and 16 bit era that are just as deserving of my time. A major contender for the title of best JRPG franchise is the Phantasy Star series. Other than a few hours with a Genesis and a copy of Phantasy Star 2 (or was it 4?) at my aunt's house, I had never played any of the entries. With my trusty emulation machine in hand I decided it was time to rectify that.
Enter Alis, Odin, Myau and Noah and the wonderful world of the Algol system. I figured if you're going to give it a real shot you might as well start at the beginning, so that's what I did when I flashed up Phantasy Star from the Sega Master System. Right off the bat I was impressed by the "cut scenes" and battle animation. For an 8 bit system these were some impressive graphics to be pumping out. On par with some 16 bit offerings if I may be so bold (and it's my blog so I'll be as bold as I damn well please). The overworld graphics were on par with other games from that era and the menu system was rudimentary and functional. But all in all I was buckled in for a fun ride in an old car and I wasn't going to let a few aged menus stop me from enjoying this title.
Phantasy Star is unique in that you can save anywhere at anytime. So playing it on my RetroPie didn't actually give me any unfair advantage over the games mechanics (not that it would have mattered one lick to me anyway). However something I did discover very quickly was that this game was clearly designed in an era long since gone from video games. Cryptic messages from townsfolk, perilous dungeons with no map, no markings and nothing to guide you but a compass and a stack of graph paper (if you are so lucky). Now pre-teen me would have sunk hours into this exploring every corner, manually drawing out each map like a modern day Lewis and Clark. Grinding on enemies until I was able to fell them in a single blow (ok I may have still done this part). Sadly modern day me has neither the time nor the patience for such exploration. To paraphrase one of my favourite YouTube game reviewers
'There are too many games to waste time stuck or lost in a retro title'
So I did what any reasonable gamer with not enough time and a desire to see a story through would do... I followed a walk through. Now you may be thinking
'First save states now walk throughs? This guy is a fraud, he's no real gamer'
I can assure you not only do I not care what you think of how I enjoy my hobby, but I'd wager that no one else does either. How many people out there have shelves of guides, tip books and Nintendo Powers that all offer tricks and walk throughs for some of the toughest games from the 80's and 90's? Well the internet is the modern day magazine and I say go for it. So I did.
What I found in the 30 or so hours it took me to journey across the 3 planets in the Algol system with Alis and company was that this was a solid way to start a franchise. They get a lot right; combat graphics, story, simple levelling up system and difficulty (of monsters). They also had some areas for improvement; not being able to select which target to attack for focused fire, needlessly drawn out travel between planets/towns and difficulty (of dungeons).
At the end of the day I was happy I had waited to take this adventure with Phantasy Star, so much so that I fired up the sequel today and plan to make that my next take down. A little part of me is sad that I don't have the time and lack of responsibility that pre-teen Sean had, but as long as I've got save states and walk throughs I'll be able to enjoy all these games that carefree little guy missed out on.