My Phirst Phantasy Star

After playing Picross S: GENESIS & Master System edition, I felt like I should play one of the games featured. Most of the arcade ports were a hard no, and other games I was interested in weren’t necessarily easily available. But Phantasy Star had a well-reviewed port on sale for $3.99 right in the Nintendo Switch eShop! Bonus: sources online claimed it would only take about twenty hours to finish, and they were right!

Brief Spoiler-free Review

Phantasy Star is good! For its age. And it’s old.

Nineteen eighty-eight, friends!

The SEGA AGES quality of life additions really make it a lot easier to jump right in without needing a guide, although be prepared to just kind of…go places and do things without knowing why, in true vintage RPG fashion. Helpfully, pressing the + button gives you a legend of all the spells, items, weapons, and armor – some of the old abbreviations are less than clear, such as TIT. SWORD, or PROT.

The weapon list in the pause menu showing abbreviated weapon names such as SHT. SWD, TIT. SWD, LAC. SWD, et cetera

I wasn’t kidding about the names.

I would recommend keeping track of stuff NPCs tell you (sometimes it’s important much, much further down the line), as well as making a sort of world map for yourself (or use one already made). I have some more specific tips but I’ll leave them for the next sections.

Okay, Spoiler Time

The game starts out with your dying brother telling you, Alis, how much King Lassic sucks.

First spoiler: he dies

Eventually you figure out Lassic has sold his soul to the devil Darkfals in exchange for immortality, and is apparently conducting bioweapon experiments and/or human sacrifices to prop up his chaotic rule. But honestly, for much of the game, it’s not really clear how Lassic is causing the entirety of the Algol star system to fall into rot and ruin.

I went back and apparently the manual does tell you what happened.

Oh, by the way, apparently your dad used to be King of the Algol system? You’re asked if you wanna be Queen at the end. I said yes, but apparently if you refuse it’s no biggie.

Was he? Why was our royal brother working at a spaceport, then?

In terms of early gameplay, I’d call this “Dragon Quest rule of thumb” – you’ll need to Very Carefully level a bit and get some Mesetas for some equipment outside the starting town before you can really go anywhere. I died a few times because I simply ran into a mob I couldn’t handle. The fact you can’t target specific enemies makes this even worse – I kept a gun-type weapon on Odin pretty much the entire game as it hits all enemies, essential for clearing big mobs efficiently.

A sworm Alis can handle, and a sworm Odin’s Laser Gun can handle.

Luckily, there’s a very nice lady in Camineet who will always heal your party for free, and the fees for the hospital in other towns always seemed to be fairly reasonable.

The real hero of the game, Suelo.

There’s only two healing items in the game, Cola and Burger, which you can purchase at a “First Food Shop” (I can guess it was likely ファーストフード in the original). Cola heals for 10 HP and Burger for 40, and yes, that’s not very much. There’s also no MP restoring items, which means you need to be very conservative with spell usage throughout the game. (In other words, unless you’re fighting the boss.)

Notice the not ideal MP levels on Alis and Myau

The SEGA AGES dungeon auto-mapping function also will forewarn you of pits (although sometimes you kind of have to fall into a pit) but bosses have to be guessed at a bit more. (The automap also doesn’t display what floor you’re on, which can be disorienting for bigger dungeons.)

What floor of what dungeon is this? Who knows!

As you progress, you can travel from your home planet of Palma to the other two planets in the Algol star system: Motavia and Dezoris. Some shenanigans involve trading a fancy pot for a talking cat, buying a cake from a guy in the bottom of a cave so you can secure an audience with the governor of Paseo/king of Motavia?, and breaking a not-so-mad scientist out of prison to build you a spaceship.

Closeup of talking cat(?) Myau

This would make a good cross-stitch pattern.

Yeah yeah, we brought cave cake, robot guard.

Fun fact: you need a little robot to pilot your spaceship. We found this one in a hunk of junk that we melted down with a chemical compound a spider in prison told us about.

Because there’s no nameplates on the world map, expect to just kind of wander into towns and dungeons and hope that an NPC will tell you where you are. (Or use a guide, as I did.)

The map on right does at least tell you what planet you’re on…

In fact, it seems like a lot of stuff you can do isn’t required. Poking around on some forums, I found some poor person who accidentally beat the game before beating Medusa, and really, there’s no reason to! (Sorry, Odin, I know you prolly wanted revenge…but the Laconian Axe is no Laser Gun.) The guide I used had a particular order of doing things that definitely could have been rearranged, especially given the EXP and Meseta boosts of the SEGA AGES version. (The lowered encounter rate, however, was sometimes inconsistent…there were a few times I got a cluster of encounters that seemed odd, and other times where I seemed to waltz through an entire tower with only one or two battles.)

Sometimes instead of a boss, you find a guy selling cake.

Once you reach level 20, stat growth seems to slow to a crawl – I managed to beat the entire game at level 25 with the only hiccup being bad RNG on the final boss. Even then I managed to come out victorious, albeit with half my party dead.

Well, as long as you don’t wipe, right.

You get three pages of inventory, which seems like plenty, until the key items keep stacking up. There’s a few key items that you don’t need after a certain point, and a couple you don’t need at all. I should have definitely dumped the Compass Odin tells you about as soon as I got it, as the dungeon auto-mapping renders it completely unnecessary.

Three screens equals 24 items, apparently.

And I agree with the guide I used that the Land Rover isn’t ever needed (the Hovercraft, on the other hand, you will use constantly). The more space for Burgers, the better.

Apparently we just pulled it out of there?

One of the cool things that I didn’t really test out until much later in the game is the ability to talk to certain enemies…and avoid battle! Unfortunately, this is sort of convoluted – each party member has a TALK command, which will work on certain enemies. Others require you cast a CHAT spell or use a MAGC HAT item. Yet others require the TELE spell or the SPHERE item. Use the wrong action and your whole party loses an entire turn. If you do manage to successfully talk to an enemy, sometimes they will tell you useful information.

Well, if I knew y’all wanted to be friends, I would have talked with you earlier, you little knife-wielding desert dwellers.

The best benefit, however, is casting TELE on a Dragon enemy ends the fight without you having to deal with…a Dragon enemy. They’re not the worst, but it is likely worth the MP to just not. The SEGA AGES bestiary that can be accessed from the opening menu will tell you if an enemy you’ve fought before can be talked with, and how.

All in all, I agree that the SEGA AGES port available on Nintendo Switch is a great way to play the original Phantasy Star without the pain of meticulously mapping out each dungeon. The last Switch port of an old game I played was Fire Emblem:SDATBOL (no that really is the acronym), and that was much worse. Do not recommend. The third Fire Emblem game is a better version of the first one for a reason.

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