Genesis / Megadrive

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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.

The text implies you're heading off on a journey of bravery and wits. It then drops you in the middle of a town to try to get married. Note the lovely sprite work, and what seems to be two moons. These are important much later in the game.

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.

This is the upper right corner of a town. Try to guess which NPC advances the plot, and how to get out of the town.

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.

The shopkeepers in Phantasy Star II had large portraits and unique welcome and farewell text. The tiny portraits in Phantasy Star III seem like a step back.

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.

This introduction sounds like it would be ancient history in a fantasy game. While Phantasy Star II had an ancient battle in the introduction, it was a nightmare, and it showed the heroine of the first game.

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.

The clouds have dramatic scrolling, and the battlefield has layers to give the impression that the back row is farther away.

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.

This is a shot from the introduction of the game. The same shoreline, empty of stranded women, is shown when you get a game over.

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.

The fortune teller actually gives you the plot for the entire game. However, by the time the events happen, you'll likely have forgotten this little optional bit of dialogue.

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.

Personally, a game with romantic subplots isn’t a selling point for me.  However, I do find the presence of romantic subplots or romantic subtext to be fascinating in games.  I think you can break down many of these romantic subplots into a couple of categories.  One would be “sexy” games which are frequently a JRPG and a dating sim combined.  Another would be games with canon pairings.  A final would be games with romantic subtext.

A “sexy” game is one where you tend to have a harem of girls that you can date, and the game tends to be packed with innuendo.  A good example of this is Ar Tonelico. This game plays around with some of the common elements in a dating game, and is advertised in ways that focus on the sexualized aspects of the game.  In the first game in the series, the plot specifically plays around with conventions.  For example, a common dating game plot is a man entering a room to find a girl wearing only a towel.  In the case of Ar Tonelico, a girl in a towel handcuffs the main character to a bed and says that she has to imprison him to keep him in her life.  The scene may have “sexy” imagery, but it’s intended (and is) creepy in the game.  At another point in the game, a cutscene involves a crystal being inserted into a female character with dialogue that makes the metaphor obvious.

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Sorcerer’s Kingdom is a game published by Sammy in the US, and by Masaya in Japan.  It came out in 1992, and has an ambitious strategic battle system.  It also typifies many early SNES and Genesis RPGs.

Before a battle, you can explore a field normally. Note the dithered sprites that are common in Genesis games.

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One danger in a review is becoming academic about a topic.  For simplicity, I’ll make an example of a book.  George Elliot’s Daniel Deronda is largely considered to be a flawed book by the author, scholars, and readers.  The main flaws are the length, a difficult topic handled poorly, and a subplot that barely intersects with the main plot.  However, the ways that the book are flawed and the difficult topic are exactly the sorts of things that academics find interesting.  While I would say the book is interesting, I definitely would not say that it should be someone’s first Elliot novel, and I would not read the book again for pleasure.

Gate hacking uses items taken from enemies to unlock forbidden areas in .hack//.

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Shining Force came out in Japan in 1992 and a year later in the US.  It was one of the more popular strategy games in the era.  Most console strategy games either copy Shining Force or use elements copied by Shining Force.  The first game in the series really has only one remarkably awkward element.

The team in Shining Force relaxing in their base.

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Traysia came out in the US and Japan in 1992 from Telenet.  The translation was by Renovation which tends to make rough translations.  Traysia is a game that I would call self indulgent.  While the game is decently long and expansive, it’s  also deeply flawed.  The flaws range from design decisions, bugs, translation errors, and more. There are spoilers about the endgame in this article, since it’s really impossible to talk about its style of plot without mentioning them.

The introduction to the game shows the hero saying his farewells to his sweetheart.

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There are games that are classics and tend to be ones that you reference when discussing other ones.  Final Fantasy VI, according to some people, is an apex for the SNES.  The Dragon Quest series shows traces throughout the NES era games.  Phantasy Star II is commonly cited for having a ambitious plot.  You must understand that this game came out in 1989 for the Genesis.

A cyberpunkish woman with guns behind her.

If you can't tell by the prices, the game is grindy. Still, I love her farewell of, "Later, ace!"

Phantasy Star II is a game that is lonely.  I constantly find myself interested in lonely games.  Final Fantasy II is lonely since the world is tragic and empty, and it’s mostly struggling against a massive force.  Exile is lonely since you lose more and more companions as the game goes on.  Tecmo’s Secret of the Stars even tries to be about outcasts, despite the translation.

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Exile came out in the US in 1991 from Renovation.  Renovation was basically translating Telenet games into English, and they tended to be kind of rough translations.  In 1992, Working Designs worked on Exile II for the Turbo Duo.  However, the US history of the game isn’t the full story by a long shot. Click here to see Hardcore Gaming 101’s detailed article.

El-in was destroyed.

Sadler explores El-In. It's had better days.

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With older games, a common complaint is that the graphics are dated.  Usually this is followed up with “It’s just too ugly.”  Problem is, I think a lot of people don’t know what to expect graphically for various systems.  For example, Dragon Quest VI was a graphical showcase of the day, but people have said that it’s unusably ugly.   Now, you can say, for example, that you hate the Dragon Ball Z esque art style of the sprite work.   You could say that the spritework doesn’t match the tone of the game.  However, most people criticizing retro game graphics do it from the perspective of the game not being – say – Halo without any understanding of what a good or bad game looked like in the era.

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Maten no Soumetsu came out in 1993 from Kodansha.  Kodansha also published Blue Almanac, another RPG for the Genesis in 1991.  Maten no Soumetsu is a game I’d define as another kusoge.

Graphically, I would say it is ambitious mostly due to a day night system that results in shifting colors across the game.  Since there are so few Genesis RPGs out there, it’s hard to condemn one for having unattractive graphics.  Maten no Soumetsu has bright colors, minimal badly used dithering, and some complexity in the sprites used.

Three beds, some pots in a side room, and the mom.

The inside of the Hero's home.

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