Unranked: Phantasy Star III

Phantasy Star III
Sega Genesis

Phantasy Star III was one of those games that took over my neighborhood at one point. The game came out earlier that year, and it seemed like all of our friends were drawn to the two kids who had a Genesis to watch them play this game.

I was a late adapter to the Genesis like so many Nintendo households. We did not end up getting one until 1992, but a game I did remember was Phantasy Star III. I liked that it was an RPG like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, but it had science fiction elements, like the ones on Star Trek The Next Generation, which had become my absolute obsession around this time. You got to marry characters and then make choices about how you played the next part of the game.

The merging of science fiction and fantasy together was fascinating to me. While Final Fantasy had some sci-fi elements such as War Mech, Phantasy Star III was much more blatant in how it blended genres together and made up its own rules a bit.

I really thought this was a cool idea. I do also have to confess that, as an adolescent, I did not want to date much. I did eventually with minimal success. However, I absolutely loved the idea of getting married. Games that gave you choices about marriage absolutely fascinated me and drew me in.

Plus, pretty women and androids with green and red hair too. I would discover anime right after this, and a lot of the aesthetics of role playing games made a lot more sense afterward.

So, the plot of Phantasy Star III goes something like this: Rhys, a prince, is about to marry an amnesiac named Maia when a dragon steals her. Rhys, and a few generations more of adventurers including robots, go out into the world to try and stop a thousand year old conflict. It turns out there is much more to Maia than meets the eye.

This is normally where we discuss coverage of the game in Nintendo Power, but since Phantasy Star III came out for the Genesis, we will pull some coverage of the game from the November 1991 issue of Computer Gaming World, which reviews the game with the headline “Can Computer Gamers Convert to Cartridges?”

After setting up a comparison to console games like Final Fantasy and Lands of Ys and console adaptations of PC games like Wizardry and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the reviewer dives into a thoughtful essay about the game that is pretty progressive for the time as well. They call out the sexism in the “save a princess” trope and lament that the women in the game are often minimized, at the end of the day, into being marriage choices at the end of each generation.

Looking at this game now, it does frustrate me that there is no woman as protagonist like in the first game. It does seem like such a move backwards.

The cover for Phantasy Star III is excellent. The protagonist is heading up a stairway towards a villain with some wonderful dark colors around it. I have always loved the purple used for the Phantasy Star III cover. I had a poster of it for years.

Phantasy Star III has been reissued a number of times. It was on the Virtual Console. It is also on a Phantasy Star specific collection and two Genesis collections, including the one for most recent console generations, which is how I played it for the podcast.

As I concluded in our episode about Phantasy Star II, the main legacy of the Phantasy Star series is its extremely lofty, and often unrealized, ambitions towards something very grand. The series attempts to combine science fiction and medieval settings with space exploration, intergalactic wars, generational marriage choices that define game play, that are the fodder for much contemplation.

Generations of Doom certainly fulfills that rubric. When this game came out, I was deeply drawn to the idea of playing the game over a number of generations which allowed gamers to choose between two brides, which then influenced game play in the next generation. This reminded me a lot of the X Men “what if” comics that were popular at the time. I also had a crush on Mieu too, so the chance to marry her was pretty cool.

The different possible paths one could take, even in something fairly straightforward like this, was quite compelling for not only playing through the game, but the potential of replay value.

However, there are some significant flaws that get in the way of this.

The grinding in this game makes it an absolute chore to get through. In my most recent play through of the game, which was on the newish Genesis collection on the PS4, I really struggled to get moving in this game. Unless you spend a significant amount of time grinding, I felt like I am always on the razor’s edge of having my party defeated, which happened a few times while streaming.

The battles themselves are interesting. I like the changing music during battles to signify how you were doing, but otherwise it’s very samey and the first-person perspective is uninteresting. The enemy designs aren’t well done. They look really pixel heavy and blurry, but especially on a larger TV.

It is pretty wild how good the first game in this series looks, design wise, and this one is fairly ugly outside the beautifully detailed, but again fairly samey, town designs.

Something I do really like about this game is how it shows you visual portraits of both characters during the conversation. This is very clever and both personalizes and humanizes the characters. I am sure it changed how gamers viewed them.

I think if you are willing to really settle in and play this game, there is a good game in here. However, it is such a chore to get through that it is not really worth your time unless you really want to play it. I did and still could not get through the game.

I would love a more modern, retro style, game in this vein. I think the generational gimmick can work, but it needs to be kept to 5-10 hours per generation. Less time, less grind, and more of an emphasis on modern systems. I would love to play a game like that.

The premise of Phantasy Star III is really interesting, it just is not implemented really well here.

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