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SummaryFixing what was never broken
The GoodThe original Phantasy Star was a landmark title, the first game in history that possessed the unique characteristics of a Japanese-style RPG. Now, Sega decided to start their series of remakes (called Sega Ages and arranged in volumes) with this legendary game. Unlike previous re-releases of Phantasy Star (as part of Phantasy Star Collection for Saturn and GBA), this is not just a port, but a real remake.
Some of the additions were pretty nice. In the original Phantasy Star, characters didn't talk after having joined you, and most people you encountered simply gave you information in a dry and mechanical way. Dialogues and characterization were the really outdated aspects of Phantasy Star, and the creators of the remake realized that. They basically re-wrote the entire script, making it much larger and more detailed. The best addition is the "Talk" option, an enhanced version of the one implemented in Phantasy Star IV. At any time, you can press the L1 button to read a dialogue between your party members.
The gameplay underwent many refinements. One of the most important additions is the crystal system, which can seriously speed up the game. You can buy some (rather expensive for the first half of the game) crystals in stores, and then equip them on your character. If you equip two crystals at the same time, you might obtain a so-called collaboration attack. For example, Fire and Heal crystals result in a devastating fire-based attack, Wind and Cure produce ailment status treatment for the whole party, and so on. In order for those combinations to work, you had to equip a fitting weapon - for instance, if you equipped guns on Tyron, you couldn't use paralyzing Thunder + Cure combo, which didn't go with that kind of weapon, so you had to equip axes to make it work. After one or two uses, the crystals broke, so you had to buy new ones. This feature added some depth to character customization. Crystal-using made boss battles much easier, and in some fights they became almost essential, like the ones against the two last dragons.
Difficulty level has been drastically reduced. You can also reach much higher levels than in the original. That said, the final parts of the game, on Dezoris and in the tower that leads to Lassic, can still be quite challenging. Regular monsters become brutal and can take a lot of damage, forcing you to use a lot of magic. Leveling up, careful dungeon exploration, strategic usage of healing and attacking spells are necessary to make it out alive. Most dungeons on this stage of the game still require several tries.
My favorite change was the addition of an item called Atlas. When used in dungeons, this item would create an automap for the next hundred steps. I really don't like first-person dungeons without maps; this frustrated me to no end in the original game.
There are also many other, less significant gameplay enhancements. There are more weapons and accessories than in the original, including cool two-strike weapons. You also have to pay more attention to weapon management because of the crystals, so carrying two kinds of weapons for each character (like claws and fangs for Myau) was often a good choice. There is more treasure to find in the dungeons. Everything costs more, but you can also collect much more money. You get less items from the enemies, but you also don't really need them, and when you do get them, it happens without the annoying often-trapped treasure chests.
The BadI really wanted to like this remake, but the whole experience was just... lukewarm. I don't think it had much to do with the problems of the original game. The point is that the two gaming experiences are vastly different. The original, with all its flaws, was a game of exploration, while the remake is the usual linear affair that would be much more appropriate in a modern, narrative-intense Japanese RPG.
The most irritating change they made here was radically reducing the open-ended nature of the game. In the original version, once you got the dungeon key, you could theoretically enter almost any dungeon in the game. You would of course be killed if you entered a dungeon with stronger foes by mistake, but many dungeons were populated by enemies of roughly the same strength, so you had your choices. In the remake, many optional quests became obligatory, required to be completed in a particular order. For example, Tarjimal's cave, which was an equipment-related side-quest in the original version, is now an obligatory quest you have to perform before tackling Medusa Tower, otherwise you cannot obtain the key for it.
Equally annoying is the new "triggering" system. In the original game, you gained information from NPC conversations, but you weren't obliged to talk to every single one of them in order to advance the story. The remake is full of "quests" that force you to repeatedly talk to the characters and perform needlessly complicated actions to obtain items and unlock areas that were perfectly accessible in the original version.
One would think it isn't such a big deal; but bear in mind that, despite having more dialogues, this remake doesn't really enrich the story of the original game. There, lack of narrative was compensated by the open-ended gameplay; here, nothing fills the void. You are taken through a linear series of boring dungeon-crawling escapades without any notable events to sustain your interest.
I don't quite understand the decision of allowing the player to save only in towns. In the original game, you could save anywhere. In the remake, saving is a pain, especially when you reach Dezoris. Since the damn planet consists almost entirely of ice caves, in order to access any location you'll have to go through one or two caves at least, and then walk a considerable amount on the world map. By the time you got to the dungeon you were already half-dead, since regular enemies suddenly become really brutal there.
The graphics are functional, but they don't have the charm of the original game's superb visuals. Phantasy Star was famous, among other things, for being one of the most gorgeously-looking games of its generation. The remake fails to capture the spirit of its visual style, replacing it with clean, but lifeless graphics. Particularly the new anime scenes and the 3D dungeons scream "low budget" and have little of the original game's appeal.