Combat offers some surprising strategy due to characters not re-targeting an upright enemy after their intended victim falls. This ensures planning goes into each attack and spell in hopes that they all find their mark. The alternative is adopted in future releases of the game, so I know I'm not the only one to find my party literally beating a dead horse more than a little annoying.
The party has a good arsenal of attacks from basic hits to spells and magic items that have spell like effects. Healing, buffing, and debuffing also have their place, although only the first of those are really worth the time and effort. A failed stop spell is a wasted turn, and fights are often over before buffs benefit from the turn they take.
Enemies offer a variety of unique challenges from the minor to the obscene. The worst offender are the instant death spells and attacks, but damaging elemental spells seem to hurt my own characters as much as the enemies. This means an early fight against six red gargoyles can end in their favor before I have a chance to react as they all cast fire 2. Another wrench in the mix is the critical hit available to both sides of combat.
|I don't have a horse, but will an asp do?|
A customizable cast of party members and the ability to pick and choose spells boost this game ahead of all others so far. Class advancement is linear and limited to a single change, but it's possible to forgo this side quest if you prefer a challenge (or just enjoy the more chibi looking sprites). I remember taking all sorts of parties through the game back in the day from all fighters to all black mages. The mixed parties were the easiest ones to get through though.
|The default party|
The only puzzling aspect to the game is the story, but we'll get to that shortly. The main quest is straightforward, and only one side quest to advance to the next class profession is available. While not all the steps make logical sense, enough hints are dispensed to avoid being completely lost in the larger world.
There aren't any puzzles to speak of, but there is one hidden mini-game. A sliding puzzle game that once completed adds 100 gold to your reserves. To play, enter the ship, hold the A button and press B 50 times or so. At least it's something to play if you're looking for a different kind of challenge.
Well, there's a main narrative, and it's about on par with other games in this era. It starts out with a simple save the princess quest, and expands into a full blown save the world. After you save the world you'd expect a stock ending, but no, the game continues on. Now, you have to save all of time.
In some weird and hard to follow twist, the game's main bad guy is actually Garland. He's the first boss we defeated, yet we learn that we didn't finish him off. The four fiends sent him back in time, and he in turn sent them to the future so they could send him to the past so he could send them to the future... forever. How is this a time-loop? The game says it is, but I'm not buying it. The epilogue doesn't offer much more insight, so I'm going to write it off as possibly a poor translation yet still mark it down for incoherency.
|Of course, Garland does too... wait, what?|
If only there was more room in the inventory, but alas we have four weapon slots and four armor slots for each character. While each can only equip one weapon, they can have four pieces of armor equipped at the same time. This made for some tough decisions as I ran into chests with a piece of armor that I couldn't see, I only knew it was armor because that's the inventory that was full, and I had to drop one before getting it out of the chest. I dropped my Zeus Gauntlet to get a Cloth, a most unfortunate trade.
Beyond the equipment inventory, the item inventory is rather sparse. There are three different potions, plus three camping accessories, and finally a random assortment of quest items. There's no completion and no real tracking of items. As for spells, unless you have two white mages and two black, then you'll never have all the spells.
The economy stays a vital part for most of the game only if you fill up said spell slots. Even with an all mage party though you'll still have plenty of cash flowing by the end of the game. Some treasures in the final dungeon even spew forth large amounts to no benefit.
|I never did give the Adamant to the dwarf to make Excalibur|
The world at large is an interesting place with a handful of sights. It opens up at a nice gradual pace. I only wish there were more nooks and crannies that dealt less with the main plot. Everything seems geared toward getting the party through to the current task. It's even interesting to revisit old towns after certain events as some NPC dialogue will change over time.
It's a great feeling once the airship is finally unlocked and the party can soar around the globe. The graphics are consistently good, and the music is varied enough not to get monotonous. Each location has a distinct style with the elf village full of tress and the volcano flowing with lava at nearly every step.
|Poor Erdrick, only 29 years ago and no one remembers the dragon warrior|
The game offers quite the challenge and it's intriguing to see where the series started. There's some replay value by trying out different party arrangements, but the story isn't one of the strongest aspects. While I'd like to say there are many firsts in this game for console RPGs, the reality is many games came along at the same time or before that offered the same features. Of course, there's one I can say with confidence Final Fantasy did first, and that's the in-game over-world map. I don't believe they kept up that tradition, but I for one enjoyed having it.
The depths to which the manual guided the player through over half the game says something about the confidence in the players. From the very beginning to obtaining the airship, the manual is filled with helpful advice; a necessity I suppose for early console gamers previously unfamiliar with RPGs. In fact the game originally came with two full maps of the dungeons, a stat sheet of all enemies, and a list of equipment and spells. I happy with the score, although I imagined it falling a bit lower. I actually enjoyed the first Phantasy Star a bit more.
Looking at the list ahead Super Hydlide was up next, but I've run into a bit of a snag; my Genesis won't turn on. I need to get around to buying a new one this week. Add in a week or two for shipping, and I think I'll rearrange the list just a bit. I apologize for those looking forward to it. I still want to move on to something I have less experience with, so I've moved Wizardry up to the next spot followed by Crystalis. If I get the console earlier than I expect, then I'll swap Super Hydlide into the next spot.