The World of Asian RPGs
Sega's Phantasy Star series was one of the leading Japanese RPG franchises during the time of its existence. The high quality and historical importance of its first title attracted the attention of many players, and its sequels gained as much popularity and recognition. The fan community of Phantasy Star was among the strongest ones for Asian RPGs, in Japan as well as in the West. Everything promised a long life and tremendous success for the franchise. Instead, Phantasy Star turned to be a rather small and short-lived series, ending with the fourth installment, which was followed only by online games. One of the reasons for that was the relations of Phantasy Star games to each other. They were all set in the same world, and it was possible to follow one gigantic plot line from the first to the fourth game. The fourth game concluded this plot line in such a way that it was difficult to say something new within its limitations afterwards. Nevertheless, the early success of Phantasy Star and its tremendous influence on the genre is impossible to ignore.
All the greatness of the series was already manifested in the first game, Phantasy Star for Sega Master System. Among all the pioneers of the genre, "Phantasy Star" was the most powerful one. It was a game that captured the spirit of the genre-to-be much earlier and clearer than the contemporary installments of its rival series. From the story line to characters, setting, and gameplay, it was a hundred per-cent Japanese RPG, the first RPG with distinctly Japanese features. Its story involved such motives as revenge, world domination, and mind-controlling forces. The protagonist was a simple girl on a personal quest, drastically different from the usual nameless adventurers of the time. You had a party of different characters, among them a talking cat. The graphics had a distinct animé look, and the setting was a Star Wars-like world which combined technology and sorcery. The gameplay was also advanced for its time. Lack of automap for first-person dungeons made the game unnecessarily difficult, and as in most early RPGs excessive leveling up was required, but it didn't prevent "Phantasy Star" from becoming the most influential Japanese RPG of the 8-bit era.
The sequel, Phantasy Star II for Genesis, continued the innovative trend of the first game, introducing many story elements which later became very typical for the genre. Personal relationships between the heroes, emotional moments, a large-scale conflict made "Phantasy Star II" a very powerful game for its time. The part sci-fi, part fantasy setting was as impressive as ever, and there were even bits of social criticism. The game had hardcore gameplay with complex dungeons, but its very high difficulty level which demanded continuous leveling of the characters was one of its downsides. The first and the second game were later re-made for Playstation 2, with better graphics and many gameplay enhancements, including the reduction of required level building.
Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom is commonly known as the "black sheep" of the series, criticized by the majority of the fans for being very different from the rest. The events of "Phantasy Star III" take place before those of the other games, and its setting therefore tends more towards traditional fantasy than sci-fi. The rather unexciting battles were another reason for the lack of recognition towards this game. Criticisms aside, "Phantasy Star III" was in fact a very interesting game with a unique concept: instead of playing as one main hero, you played as a whole family through several generations, and could even make choices concerning your marriage.
Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium returned to the traditional setting and style of the first two games. Its events concluded the story arc of the series, ending with the final battle against the ultimate evil. "Phantasy Star IV" was a considerably easier game that provided challenge without being tedious. The story line was in many aspects very similar to that of "Phantasy Star II", and the general weak point of the game was its lack of originality and its lower value as a stand-alone product.
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