Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Game 1: Phantasy Star (SMS) - Final Ratings

To start, now that I've finally come to the end, I'll weigh the RPG factors a final time, and then give my final review:

Phantasy Star (SMS) - Rating(15 RPP)
1) 4 - Character advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 4 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 2 - Items and equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 2 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 2 - Exploration: open world, visited locations remain open
6) 1 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

It's interesting to note that the game lost some points from my initial estimate. I guess after getting a thorough understanding, it's now obvious that there aren't any equipment or item decision. Everything is pretty obviously better, and equally viable options don't exist.
What did the heroes do? I don't know, but they were great weren't they?
So, on to my first use of the full rating system. I try to give a complete understanding with many examples. That's why I think it's fitting to ask, CAPICE?

Like most RPGs there's a good amount of fighting in this game, and like most the fighting gets repetitive. There are spells and some items that break up mashing attack, but with magic points so scarce (and no way to recover them in the field) I often found myself saving them for boss fights. They are interesting to watch with colorful graphics and animations for each monster. Don't get too excited though, these animations usually consist of a single arm moved in a slashing motion while the rest of the sprite is still. For the time, this was very impressive, as its peers maintained static images for some time.

However, some animations draw out way too long (looking at you flying eyes and zombies), and some sounds were equally annoying (again flying eyes, and my own laser gun top this chart). Consistency is lacking: one fight has monsters with 180 HP and the next will have some with 30, and damage ranges from 1 - 60; it's hard to judge how well I was doing or if I was able to take on a boss. In the end the only real challenges are the length of the dungeons and the final bosses, as well as the beginning of the game where a single bad encounter with an Owl Bear can lead to a 1-hit dead, game over scenario.
Rating: 5
It's done, you failed! Back to the title screen with you! Game over screens were harsh back then.
Some of the most detailed graphics are shown in cut-scenes introducing each character. These are memorable, and give a good impression of what your guys look like. It's a guess most often what someone can use. I've already mentioned the Glove on Myau, but how am I supposed to guess that the Laser Shield is equippable by Noah when every other shield is not? Also hidden are spell costs, but it doesn't change, so I created my own list (if I only I remembered to refer to it more often). Maneuvering the party is very smooth looking, especially the dungeons with. Each step transitions seamlessly into the next.

Unfortunately, there's no way to visually customize the characters, and they aren't seen in battle. Leveling up comes only from battle experience, and the benefits taper off at about level 20; I started to get only 1 or 2 HP for each level instead of 10 - 15. This seemed worse than just capping the level at 20, and with 10 levels of no spells and minimal stats, it seemed these last levels helped the enemies more as their stats increase as the party levels.
Rating: 4
This is the only time you get to fully see your characters.
All quests have one solution, which is unfortunate, as this is a missed opportunity for another first in the genre (at least on consoles). For instance, normally you can talk to dragons, but all chatting or telepathy seem to provide are small hints and a way out of battle. Why not have the Casba Dragon depart and leave the gem behind after talking to him? There's not a lot offered here beyond combat solutions. Some items are discovered by searching, but only after you've learned about them. A treasure chest containing the Dungeon Key doesn't appear until the appropriate plot flag is triggered. Other solutions are talking to someone three times, or using an item.

There are hints, and they're easy to follow, so I never felt lost for what to do (although I did find myself unable to find where things were a couple of times). How everything fits together isn't well explained though, and the flow from one thing to the next is often obscure or downright confusing. (The only cake shop in two worlds is at the bottom of a dungeon... really?) There are optional quests to take on, but without knowing what the main quest requires it's difficult to know the difference.
Rating: 2
Guess which house has the right pile of junk to find Hapsby...
Alis watches her brother die, swears revenge on Lassic, and then spends the rest of the game hoping to stumble over him. The story quickly loses steam and cohesion after getting the spaceship. At this point there's no clear direction to take, and all mention of Lassic disappears in the next few towns. Nothing changes in the story, and NPCs continue to give the same hints no matter how many times I spoke to them.

There is some background, but mostly it's related to completing the game and little to do with enriching the world. We learn nothing more about Lassic either, and only at the very end do we get a hint of background for Alis. Noah gets one side quest from his thus far unknown master, Myau gets to transform for a short while (not really explained), but Odin has no further interaction in the story (even after confronting and killing Medusa).

The story boils down to saving the world from an all powerful evil with no other concerns. I suppose I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the female heroine, which was rare for the time (or now even), but honestly, I don't see what would change if Alis were a man. (A side note: if Alis is killed during the last battle, but you still win, she will be resurrected by her brother's spirit for the epilogue. 1 point for keeping continuity.)
Rating: 4
Sadly, the Alsulin used to save Odin causes him to lose his ability to speak after this
Probably the least fulfilling aspect, the number of items are very limited and inconsistent in power level. A large gap exists between the best and second best, with some equipment available so quickly that the previous ones are obsoleted at the next town. Searching for treasure is an exercise in futility as many of the chests are empty with traps, or contain such a pittance that winning 1 fight gives more reward. (What is the use in finding starting equipment in the final dungeon?) With a limited inventory there's no way to have everything at once. A hovercraft takes up as much room as a burger. There's no way to unequip things. Only two healing items exist and inventory management becomes a pain when enemies start throwing flashers around like they're going out of style. In fact they did when I got a magic lamp. I was never hurting for money. I had just about enough to purchase most things as I came across or needed them.

There's no way to know if you've done everything. With secret doors, the completely obsessive can spend hours searching every wall of every dungeon. Another hidden feature is the wand; it is the only piece of equipment that has a use in combat (it'll act as an escaper: a 100% chance to run unless physically impossible). No hints, and no other equipment have an ability. Aside from blindly trying to use items in battle it's unlikely I would ever run across this. However, now that I know, I'm definitely going to make sure I try using equipment in combat in future games. I remember some Final Fantasy games had this as well.
Rating: 3
Why can't I leave Hapsby on the ship?
The best part of the game is the graphics, animation, cut-scenes, and smooth dungeon crawling. Exploring dungeons are a bit of a slog with the identical corridors; helpfully most dungeons have a different color. The planets themselves are unique and easily identifiable. Motavia (the desert planet) has ant lion pits, Dezoris (the ice planet) has... well ice, and Palma (Alis' home planet) has grass, forests, and an ocean. Yet, the size of these planets seem very small with the maps wrapping around quickly. Honestly, they could just as well have been 2 continents and an island cluster without much loss in continuity. I can only imagine multiple planets were used to fit the futuristic motif, but it led to illogical aspects like spaceships that can't reach a floating cloud fortress.

The sounds and music are rough. Boss music isn't menacing, some sound effects are grating, and nearly everything else is forgettable (the title music is the only memorable track). It's obvious that Star Wars had an influence, from guards in the guise of Storm Troopers to farmers in the desert that look like Jawas (not to mention light sabers). There's a mention of Sega Games that I found amusing at first, but its only purpose seemed to remind me that I'm playing a game, and the NPC actually questioned me as to "why did I play this far..."
Rating: 6
If I could control the space flight, maybe it'd feel like I was playing on different worlds.

Final Rating: 24 (40%)

Overall, I'm happy with this rating, and it does well to reflect my enjoyment of the game. Playing it now the game feels average, but I recognize a lot of historical significance. I'd really only recommend it for those interested in discovering the roots of Phantasy Star or CRPGs in general; for others, find a recap and move on to save yourself 20 hours. I know there are better games out there. I think it's less interesting to see a score for a single game, so onward and forward, and let's get some more up for comparison.

Next up is Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. A controversial series when considering what games are RPGs, this one should prove as close as possible though, and give me a nice break before getting into another heavy game with Ultima: Exodus coming up. I'm taking the night off for Valentine's day, but we'll pick this up on Thursday. I'll make the intro post tomorrow.

Lastly, as an aside, I participate in a speedrunning community; we take it upon ourselves to time-attack all types of games, even ones without timers. Phantasy Star happens to have a run completed many years ago. While it took me a good 20+ hours to get through on my first try, someone named Brightstar was able to beat the game (after much practice and planning) in just 5 hours and 40 minutes (direct link to video). That being the GBA version, walking is slower in dungeons, so the same luck and strategies would mean a much lower time. It amazes me that a game this long boils down to a quarter of the time when going straight for the goal.


  1. I love those graphics! And I laughed at the hovercraft-sized burgers. Or was that the burger-sized hovercrafts? ;)

  2. Sadly, this will probably be the best graphics for a number of games. It's hard to believe these are 8-bit. Probably the next time we'll see graphics this good is in the sequel. Not to say the NES sprites didn't have their charm, but side-by-side, it's easy to see who the winner is.

  3. I finally got to the end of you blogging your way through Phantasy Star! I feel like I went along for the ride with you, which is exactly the way it's supposed to be. :)

    As for speedplaying, it's pretty depressing with adventure games. While it took me 10 hours to finish Uninvited, I'm pretty sure I could do it in under an hour now that I know what to do. (sigh)

    1. I'm glad you liked it. :)

      I'm fairly sure Uninvited on the NES is less than 20 minutes. On computer that could probably come down to at least 15 with the quicker mouse interface. That's what we get for wanting to play a game fresh.

    2. Doesn't surprise me. That's 9 hours and forty five minutes I could have been doing something fun! Still, I can't see any fun in following a walkthrough for a game you've never played before.

  4. Hi Zenic,
    i had never played the game and bought it now on the Virtual Console due to your Blog. Since Christmas holidays i was constantly playing and had put approx. 25 hours in it for a win. I think a good game with a little length in the fights (due to animations etc.) but it was worth the try. Thanks for your input.
    Will play Zelda II as well but not before Easter i think. ;-)

    1. Hi Sebastian,

      Good to see the blog have a positive influence for you. I'll be getting back to it starting next week with what I hope is a more stable schedule. I hope you'll stick around to let me know how you enjoyed other games.

  5. " it seemed these last levels helped the enemies more as their stats increase as the party levels."

    According to my memories, and perhaps more importantly some FAQs I just checked, this is simply not the case. Enemy stats are fixed, leveling your party doesn't level enemies.

    1. I'm not sure why I would post it if I didn't experience it, but it's been too long from this game to be sure. Maybe it was only HP that increased.

    2. Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection (which your copy was on) was released by Backbone Entertainment, a successor company to Digital Eclipse and presumably employing many of the same people and techniques.

      Digital Eclipse's core business was releasing cheap modern ports of classic titles, usually with the signature background around the main emulation screen seen in your images.

      I don't know about anyone else, but my experience with Digital Eclipse over many titles was that their ports were *exceptionally* lazy and regularly featured bugs, and fell in a very awkward place between 100% faithful emulation and modern update (usually due to them adding features, reworking overlying menus, and other such changes to the original that were not given sufficient quality assurance).

      With all that in mind, I'd put money on this being a bug unique to the particular port you played, and it's not widely known because, frankly, with so many ways to play this game through other emulation means, and it needing to be unlocked on this collection before it could even be enjoyed, very few people were likely to have been crazy enough to play it in the particular way you did. :-)

      Probably a bit late given this is a 2012 post but I'd advise against playing ports of these titles unless they're exceptionally well-recommended ports. (The classic NES ports available on Game Boy Advance and various Nintendo electronic shopfronts are pretty solid, for example.) In most cases, the correct answer is emulation, or the original console.

    3. Well, I'm nearly done with these late generation ports included in compilations. The Shining Force games and the last Phantasy Star are the only ones left. I don't think game itself suffered from anything game breaking.

  6. Hi, just started reading through your blog from the beginning after making my way here from CRPGAddict. As such, this is the first game I've seen reviewed under the CAPICE system. A quick peek at a more recent post shows that the same system is still being used, so this isn't going to change anything, I suppose, but...

    While I find the above review to be very informative, I'm afraid I don't find the categories you've broken everything into to be very intuitive based on the keywords you've given them. Some are obvious like Puzzler or Combatant, but others are confusing at first glance. Instigator? Hmm...I can SORT OF guess what that's about... Admirer? What the heck is that supposed to mean?

    I understand that you were probably forced into picking some...less than perfect category names in order to be able to have a cute acronym, but I think it would make things much clearer to your readers (especially new ones) if you were to supplement those keywords with the original, more intuitive ones you based your initial impressions upon, like so:

    1) Combatant -- Combat
    2) Admirer -- Character advancement
    3) Puzzler -- Quests and Puzzles
    4) Instigator -- Story
    5) Collector -- Items and equipment
    6) Explorer -- Exploration

    Anyway, that's just my two cents. I played through a translation of the PS2 remake of Phantasy Star and it was nice to read about the Master System original. Keep it up!

    1. That's true that I kind of pigeonholed the category names to fit an acronym. Admirer was picked for those that would rather admire the avatars and focus on customization of the characters. I'm not sure story plays enough into the spirit of being of active participant, which accounts for at least half the points. The names I decided on were also based on the personality type, rather than a descriptive name of the category. So if you identify yourself with a particular type, then that's the category to pay attention to the most if you're deciding whether or not to play the game. I appreciate the input, but changing the names at this point may cause more confusion. I'll try out some clarification in the next review, and let me know if it works.

    2. I agree with trogon but only Admirer category mislead me as I was expecting detailed description of visual and audio aspects. It does not change the fact that the info/opinion is very useful/interesting tho.

  7. I recently finished it on Switch (it was the first game I played on the damn thing lmao). The map and instruction book are a life saver imo.