Phantasy Star III is a game with a checkered history. After Phantasy Star II’s success, Sega wanted another hit. Phantasy Star III came out one year after the previous game (1990) and came out in the US in 1991. It’s largely considered to be a poor sequel, and not a terribly good game. In many Japanese books about the game, most people talk about the development of Phantasy Star III as being difficult. It was too large, too ambitious, and had too little time to give the story what it needed.
So, let’s start with why people think it’s a poor sequel. The music has several ambitious elements. For example, your party size changes the world map music, much like Dragon Quest II. The battle music changes from round to round, and seems to be reacting to the “danger” level of the battle. Unfortunately, it often sounds like a Russian dance troop invaded the area. Many people say the music isn’t as catchy as the music in Phantasy Star II.
Phantasy Star III has large sprites and a more “realistic” look to the towns in comparison to Phantasy Star II. However, the graphics often feel clunky, and the screen size frequently leaves you walking into dead ends that your party should’ve been able to see. It’s easy to get lost since the sheer size of areas frequently leaves you with little landmarks to explore. You end up doing certain dungeons several times in the game. This means you either get sick of going through the tunnel to Aridia or you constantly find yourself getting lost in a dead end in that same tunnel. Phantasy Star II did have mazelike dungeons, but you usually didn’t have to go back through one.
Elements of the game feel lazy or rushed. Your hero should know Lena (his fiance before he fell for Maia,) but he seems oblivious. Your map system, the monitor, is missing a lake in one area, and hints at plans for areas that were never completed. You can use telepipes and escapipes to break the game (trapping you in a castle, say,) or skip large portions of the game. A guy dies, and then blesses your wedding. The final boss is in a treasure chest.
Finally, there’s the issue of plot. Phantasy Star II has a strong sci fi feel to the game. Phantasy Star III takes at least a third of the game for the sci fi elements to be obvious. Phantasy Star II starts with a utopia, a man with nightmares, and bandits running around with dynamite. Phantasy Star III basically has a fantasy flavor through a lot of the game and starts with a dragon kidnapping a bride. Phantasy Star III’s translation was shortened. Elements like dialogue for some NPCs and details like last names were lost in translation.
Even the battle system feels different. The battles in Phantasy Star II had a strange VR look to the world in comparison to Phantasy Star III’s more realistic battle arenas. However, monsters in Phantasy Star III have a number of strange elements. Some have silly attack animations (a giant stone head waggles his ears at you, a giant wiggles a finger, etc.) Some are huge like a mini-boss type encounter and are utterly uninteresting. Some just look bizarre, like a flying squirrel hanging upside down with a wolf’s head that pops up in many mechanical areas.
So, ignoring all that, what’s the game like? The plot of the game says that Layans and Orakions fought in the past. Laya and Orakio made their people swear to not kill. Laya’s people proceeded to play around with monsters and magic and Orakio’s people proceeded to play around with making robots. There’s a cyborg staggering round the desert hoping to see Orakio and his black sword one last time. This sense of history is pretty ambitious. You do get several different final characters. If you replay the game, there’s little hints toward what’s going on. For example, if you’re not there to take care of Lune’s invasion, apparently Lyle heads over there to take care of it on his own.
Still, the game has a lot of flaws. I think a modern gamer would probably not find the good points to be worth their time.