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Take that, fucker!

Being able to compare the original Phantasy Star to the other RPGs of it's time - the first Dragon Quest, the first Final Fantasy, Ultima III - with objective eyes... there's no comparison. None. Phantasy Star is the best RPG of the 8 bit/early PC era, and it's not even fucking close. Yes, there were issues, and it's simple by the standards set by later RPGs, but comparing what Phantasy Star brought to the table compared to the others, only Final Fantasy makes it respectable, and even then, it's the hockey equivalent of winning 6-1 instead of 13-0; after awhile, you start looking for moral victories, because neither scenario is competitive.

That Sega were able to get this much game, with this good a system, and this involved a story, into a shitty Master System cart is beyond me. What's baffling to me is that we had to wait literally years until the next RPG came along that wasn't named Phantasy Star that had to outdo the original; Phantasy Star II came out in 1989 and was loved by a select few that weren't turned off by the price or the fact that it was all text (this was pre-Sonic, remember), and we didn't see a better RPG than Phantasy Star 1 until we got the translated Final Fantasy IV, which itself was butchered and bastardized. If I had to rank them, Final Fantasy IV would be an INCH above Phantasy Star II (and that ranking could change), which would both be well above Final Fantasy II, if that makes sense.

It's hard to compare RPGs of different eras; you can't argue the technical aspects because they're so different between systems and eras. You're really judging on three merits: 1) How "timeless" is the game, from both storyline impact and ease of play, 2) how high is the frustration/reward factor, and 3) how does the game compare to other games of it's era. Phantasy Star 1's only arguable failure is in area #1; the storyline is timeless, but also simple and has been aped from generation to generation by lesser games (ignoring the branching that Phantasy Star 2 + 4 created). The game has some technical issues; damage output was wildly inconsistent, making it hard to put forth a real strategy in the harder fights, and also making the strongest weapon in the game - the Laconian Axe - virtually worthless in the two last boss fights; I was much happier sitting back and picking apart Lashiec and Dark Force at 20 guaranteed HP a pop with the laser gun. And any game that could potentially have the player getting stuck forever is a game with a design flaw; thank God I didn't save after killing Lashiec the first time or I'd have been fucked, as I didn't bring a transer, didn't have MP for Fly, and Myau died.

Going back to those three points I talked about, timelessness is usually what does in older games. Ultima III was my first RPG, but it's been relegated to history because it's so hard to play nowadays. The original Dragon Warrior is very simple compared to later games. The original Final Fantasy has been so badly outdone by later remakes that it's hard to believe I enjoyed the NES game - and the hour or so per playthrough I would spend buying potions and antidotes - as much as I did. Phantasy Star does shine in point 2; there's a high payoff for the initial frustration, though I can't imagine playing this game as an eight year old; I hated graphing maps - I don't care for it in Etrian Odyssey, either - and would have lost it in Baya Mayla; if anything, the internet, GameFAQs and The Phantasy Star Cave have made this game even better than it was 22 years ago, simply because we're not wasting time wandering around looking for places to go and graphing all day. If anything, to me, this can be looked at as the precursor to modern RPGs that virtually require a strategy guide to get anything out of them; I'm not sure that's a good thing. As for point 3, I've established that Phantasy Star blows away the originals of it's era; only three years later did an 8 bit RPG approach the quality of the original Phantasy Star, that being Dragon Quest IV. It took Enix four tries to approach what Sega was able to do in one.

These three points showcase the failures of other RPGs; only the greatest RPGs of all time can hit all three points. As stated, previously great RPGs of the past era fail on point 1; everything from the early Ultima games to Dragon Quest; even Phantasy Star gets knocked out of "greatest of all time" running very easily on that point. Point 2 is something that modern RPG developers need to learn about; if I'm working anything over sixty hours on your game, there had better be a virtual orgasm waiting for me at the end; once you start approaching triple digits (hello, Dragon Quest VII), there's no payoff that's worth that work. The 16 bit Final Fantasy games shine here; FFIV and VI had great, all-time endings. Other RPGs that shine in this category are Chrono Trigger, the Suikoden titles and Phantasy Star IV, the latter proving that being able to tie up a series counts for bonus points when done well. Phantasy Star II suffers because it's too frustrating to get from one part to another just to have a depressing, ambiguous ending. A lot of Dragon Quest games suffer because of the sheer amount of grinding necessary for a standard ending. As for point #3, this is a key factor, and usually is served best with the eye of retrospection. For example, a lot of people put Final Fantasy VI as the best RPG of all time; for awhile, I put it as my favourite game of all time. But once I took off my rose coloured glasses, I realized that FFVI wasn't even in the top 3 of it's own generation. The second half of the game knocks it from a pedestal that is reserved for Phantasy Star IV, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IV.

(I should put in a fourth category: the Prima Standard. Simply put, how necessary is a strategy guide to get through the game and/or get just rewards? The more necessary the guide, the lower the score. As mentioned, Phantasy Star 1 scores somewhat low because a bit of guidance is needed to certain story arcs, and through some of the harder dungeons, but a lot of later games fail this test miserably. Suikoden games are the lowest scorers here, because it's virtually impossible to recruit 108 people - some of who have a small window to recruit - without a guide, especially when you realise at the end that if you didn't make it, your favourite character will die! A lot of 16 bit RPGs did this too, with having to go to every pot, cupboard and dresser for items, many of them crucial. And of course, the modern RPG developers fail this test too, since glossy, ridiculously expensive strategy guides have become the norm. Bethesda, Namco and Squeenix, I'm looking directly at you.)

So while Phantasy Star isn't the greatest RPG of all time, it's still a memorable RPG, and in my eyes, is the best RPG of the 80s.

Of course, this leaves me needing a JRPG to play, at least for the week until the games I need to review come pouring in. I'm not sure where to go. On the one hand is Crimson Gem Saga, which is a great game, but I am still stinging from losing an hour's worth of work because I dropped the fucking system. Then you have games like Tales of Vesperia, which I tend to try before I remember that I really don't like Tales games. I could finally break down Phantasy Star 3 or 4 - games I haven't finished due to various memory issues through the years - but I'm not sure I want to dive into another Phantasy Star game just yet. There's other, lighter fare such as Lufia, but I didn't really care for Lufia as a kid, and even now, it just seems like a cookie cutter JRPG that gets by with a good soundtrack (and also fails the Prima Standard). I might also go with Dragon Quest V. And shit, there's other, less classic RPGs out there, like a half finished game of Dark Cloud 2, or Phantasy Star Portable, or even the 360 Phantasy Star Online game. I am not short for options... which is part of the problem, actually.


Sep. 8th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
Tales of Destiny II - 2

Do you mean actual Tales of Destiny II, or Tales of Eternia?
Sep. 8th, 2009 03:59 am (UTC)

I think. The US ToD2, which I do believe is Eternia.
Sep. 8th, 2009 08:33 am (UTC)
It is.