While I definitely understand why so many praise the first Phantasy Star, the second is not one I cared much for. I can respect it for introducing people to J-RPG, but it was more of an awkward diversion than a sequel, despite the numbered title. However, if there is one entry I hear less than average praise for and comes up as the black sheep, it is the third entry. It had a one year development time, a completely different team working on it, and generally troubled management. In fact, Hiroto Saeki became fatigued during development since he was the sole director and co-writer of this title. I honestly do not know if this is a display of passion for the project or the pure destruction of it.
The King’s quest for his Queen
Before we get into the current events, a small backstory is elaborated. In your homeland known as Landen, world-sweeping wars were fought 1000 years ago between the armies of the brave Orakio and the evil dark witch Laya. Both were apparently killed in the end of these battles, but neither of their bodies were ever found. After this, we cut to the current day where you as the Orakian Prince Rhys, are about to get married to a woman named Maia. She suffers from amnesia and was found ashore barely two months ago, but Rhys and Maia fell in love and decided to spend their lives together. However, just as they are to be wed, a dragon of Layan kidnaps Maia and Prince Rhys leaps after her in order to save her.
It is here where the story goes from a good start to an exciting adventure. First off, I love how simple the plot starts out: you just want to rescue your wife-to-be, which is an admirable and charming quest, if nothing new. They never try to make this grander than what it is and instead makes the world itself more interesting. You will meet up with towns that are suffering from the harsh cold, one that is against your heroic forefathers, and even two towns that are in complete paranoia of each other due to making up bizarre stories about their opposing town.
This is something I love about the progression, as it keeps the events fresh and interesting, while also making them connected to a bigger threat that will eventually unfold. While the characters you meet will not be as memorable, they still add enough background-story to make them intriguing, such as one mysterious warrior who seems to spy on you, or a cyborg that has lived since the mentioned wars. It gives all a clear background to them and while I wish they could have explored them more in order to make the characters deep on a personal level, this is still commendable and fascinating.
This is made even better by the fact that the townsfolk have dialogue that are well translated and well written. Through this, they can easily convey information on what is going on, or a sense of atmosphere, creating interesting towns and a world to get lost in. Although this is not even the game’s strongest point. You see, you will be able to get married and play as the descendant of your characters, which will again get married and have a child of their own, making you see the world develop and be affected by the pathways you have decided to take. This will also affect who your descendants will be and even the ending, adding to an actual world-building in progress through your decisions.
I love how this story can be as simple as saving a damsel in distress, and progressing gently to involve other towns’ issues, political problems and the history of the world itself, with a lovely mix of medieval style and sci-fi. I do wish we could explore the party-members you acquire more as they seem to only spoon-feed small details and never follow through. There is also a lack of diverse towns to explore with more cultural aspects, than just the political and environmental, such as traditions. Still, what we have here, is substantial and for an old 16-bit RPG, this is truly groundbreaking. Hiroto Saeki and Yang Watt should be proud of what they created.
Story Score: 8/10
Stroll to save the princess
Would you be surprised to hear that Phantasy Star 3 is also a J-RPG like its predecessors? We still have combat that is turn-based, where you can either choose what actions characters should perform before battles or autobattle, and explore towns and dungeons to find clues and tools for progression. This is nothing new, but Phantasy Star 3 takes an odd shift from its predecessor that makes it a step forward, though a clumsy one at that.
Let us start with the simpler part: the exploration. Clues are well provided in towns and by subtle hints in the overworld, making it so that you are always pointed towards where you probably should investigate or what you might need to do. This is great as you are always on the right track and makes for engaging exploration. What does not help here, is how slow the game is. Your character slugs around with every step and it can be agonising how long it takes to get from one area to another. This does especially not help within the dungeons, as they are mazes with dead ends and plenty of enemies roaming inside them. Why could there not have been a run-button included here?
The combat is sadly not much better. While it is quicker to choose actions thanks to a simpler menu, and animations that are not prolonged, the fights themselves are rather war of attrition. Sure, there can be elemental weaknesses, but the only real issue you are going to run into, is poison. No, it does not make your health go slowly down, but instead neglects you from being healed unless you are cured. Not even inn’s will save you here. This I find to be a nice change of pace, as it forces you to deal with an issue right away before actually being able to cure, making it far more severe. However, this is about it for interesting combat-mechanics. You can fight multiple different enemies within one fight, but that is it. There is a reason for why I used this entire paragraph to mainly talk about the unique take on poison.
Then we have areas where Phantasy Star 3 and other RPGs aged terribly. Phantasy Star 3 does not include description for items, spells or stats for equipment, not even in the manual. Because of this, you are going to need a walkthrough or some form of a guide in order to find out what elements do. Also, only being able to save at inns, means that backtracking can be a hassle if you ever fail inside a dungeon. All of this sadly makes Phantasy star 3 a slog to get through, despite that exploration can be fun, and some decent ideas to simplify the combat. Not even the fast-forward button in the Sega Genesis Classics will save you here.
Gameplay Score: 3/10
Like an admirable fan-game
I am quite fond of the direction the developers went with the style for this entry. It all has a medieval style with overblown attires, but enough eastern take with strong colours and updates to the normal armour and weapons, to make it into something original, yet familiar. I also love how they still use portraits to give characters distinct faces, and add subtle details, like the innkeepers that have keys for the rooms hanging on the wall in the background. The towns and overworld are visually pleasing with strong pixel-art and characters that are well designed. Sadly, there is a lack of variety in towns, as they are only distinguished by the weather and do not even have different buildings from one another. The empty spaces the houses contain, are also just uninspired and could honestly use more decoration to become believable. The same can be said for the dungeons as they need more variety and more intriguing design for how much time you are spending in them. At least some comes with different themes and backgrounds.
Then there are the battle-screens and the best thing I can say about these, is that they include parallax scrolling in the sky when outside, and reflects the area you are in with flying colours. These scenes are otherwise static, with stiff enemies that do not convey believable animation and almost look photoshopped into this game. The attacks are not exciting at all, with little to speak of for diversity. Even the slashes are barely visible on these encounters. As for the enemy-design, they can be at least creative, as some are bizarre, like the lion hanging from the ceiling. Although they do fall into the colour palette-swapping category, the enemies are intriguing and creative.
As for the music, it is definitely medieval, with low tunes, and long echoes in order to create a clear atmosphere. It is calm, mysterious, or uncomfortable in the all right ways, making it a pleasant soundtrack that knows how to create memorable tunes for each area. It is even able to simulate organ-music, which is no easy accomplishment on the Genesis. While there are few songs, all are long and diverse, making them engaging to listen to throughout the entire adventure. Even the themes for when battles occur are great and changes depending on if the fight is standard, your situation is dire, or if you are going to be victorious. There might be an overall lack of variety, but the quality is fairly strong at least.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Will you take her to be your lawfully wedded wife?
There are actually multiple endings and different paths to take, including one hilarious secret dialogue you can unlock in the beginning of the game. It all makes for some great reasons to play through this game again, especially since the story holds up. However, the game is hard to recommend for another playthrough due to how slow it all is. Still, seeing a different path is intriguing for “what if”-scenarios being actually played out. You just need a lot of patience.
Extra Score: 5/10
I kinda liked Phantasy star 3, but there are some major problems here. It has a great story, intriguing replay-value, and I do like the direction they took with the art and music. The game is a chore to get through due to being slow and too little are explained mechanically though, and while I loved exploring and talking to people, I cannot say there is enough variety visually or auditory. If you have the ability to speed up this game by either emulation or the collection-packs with save-states, it is definitely worth a shot. In fact, due to how strong the story is and the interesting ideas, Phantasy Star 3 really deserves a remake. It might be not the strongest in the series, but the one with the most lost potentials. I guess giving a project to someone unfamiliar in this territory, can actually make for some interesting changes.