Phantasy Star Collection - Review

Better than eBay, but not flawless

By: Paul Koehler

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 6
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 6
   Plot 6
   Localization 3
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Average
   Time to Complete

70-90 Hours


Phantasy Star Collection

   Many RPGamers who were introduced to the world of console gaming in the late 1980s came across Dragon Warrior, thanks to a ridiculous marketing blitz by Nintendo. In fact, Phantasy Star was the first of these Japanese console games to hit North American shores in 1988 for the Sega Master System. Sega may be a third-party developer nowadays, but as far as RPGs went for the SMS, Genesis, and Dreamcast: Phantasy Star was Sega's RPG series of choice. Even when set up against some of Nintendo's bigger titles at the time, the series made a lot of worthy contributions and was picked up recently by THQ and ported to the retro-friendly Game Boy Advance. Package Phantasy Star I, II, and III - and you have Phantasy Star Collection. It's a shame that the collection has a few technical flaws that diminish a great set of games.

   All three games feature the venerable turn-based battle system, but in the case of Phantasy Star II and III, an auto-battle feature is included so parties can plow through random encounters for the most part. Phantasy Star III takes the feature a little too far as there is an option to run through an entire battle without being able to select different commands (including healing, which can be fatal in boss fights). Magic's usefulness in battle varies in each of the games. Certain techniques, like Rolf's Megido in Phantasy Star II and Noah's Wind spell will make or break the final boss fights. If there is one constant that all the Phantasy Star titles require, it's constant healing.

   Make no mistake, as these are difficult games for anyone who's been reared in the post-PlayStation era of RPGs. All of the titles provide some difficult dungeons, and Phantasy Star II remains one of the more infamous dungeon crawlers ever (PSII for the Genesis included a hintbook and map). Items like Trimates will become a staple of your parties as Tech Points are best saved for boss fights that come after five or six-floor dungeons. This can be a nuisance as items are bought one at a time, but it is a necessary evil. Even so, powerful weapons are fairly easy to come by in various town shops throughout the games. Phantasy Star I is exceptional in that most of the most powerful pieces of equipment in the game are not found in quests, but actually bought in various shops.

8-bit doesn't get much more old-school than this
8-bit doesn't get much more old-school than this  

   Even with the games' age, it is refreshing to see all of the titles brought into one GBA cartridge. THQ managed to squeeze one 8-bit and two 16-bit titles onto a GBA cartridge, and each game supports up to two save slots. There is a huge problem with the port, and it relates to Phantasy Star I. Be wary of saving in the game, as this will occasionally cause the game to crash without warning - leaving an RPGamer with no option but to reset the system. While there were obvious short-cuts needed so the games could be ported, something that major should not have been overlooked.

   Worst of all is the localization, which harkens back to the days of Zerowing. Grammar and spelling errors are especially bad in Phantasy Star I, but the mediocre efforts are visible throughout the other titles as well. Granted, some purists might be pleased that these errors remain, but with console RPGs being such a large market nowadays, the development team could have at least cleaned up the translation a little bit.

   It's a true pity because the Phantasy Star games do have a substantial plot to them, and it was one that continued through the entire series. It begins with the story of Alis and her companions taking on the evil King Lassic, and continues as Algo's heroes fight against the seemingly omnipotent Dark Force. The series is well known for its B-movie sci-fi atmosphere, and within this realm the original developers were able to include everything from swords, suits of diamond armor, laser guns, and ridiculous looking tight jumpsuits. Phantasy Star III may be the biggest departure in terms of gameplay and plot from the series, but it implements a unique feature called the "Generations System" in which RPGamers begin with a hero and end the game with his grandchild based on certain gameplay decisions.

   With such a diverse environment, the developers also had considerable leeway with which to use graphics, and this varies depending on the title. Don't let the opening screen fool you: these are 8-bit and 16-bit titles ported to the GBA, and for the most part they remain true to their original counterparts. Considering these games were released in North America in 1988, 1989, and 1991 respectively, they were significant accomplishments for their time (especially the first two games). More could have been done with the port, but little has changed.

Wasn't Motavia supposed to be a desert planet?
Wasn't Motavia supposed to be a desert planet?  

   Phantasy Star Collection's audio does not fare as well, especially in the second and third titles. Perhaps this is a consequence of moving down to a portable format, but even with headphones some of the tracks come across as a little too tinny, especially considering the console's relative power compared to the Master System and Genesis. This and the fact that none of the tracks particularly stand out makes for a sub-standard experience, which is important considering how long the game is to unseasoned players used to the newer generation of games.

For those willing to try out the series for the first time, Phantasy Star Collection is a welcome and legal way to experience the Phantasy Star series. While cartridges for the three games can be found on eBay for a relatively cheap price, the game is an amazing bargain that accounts for over 70 hours of gameplay. Most importantly, its portable format makes it an excellent addition to the GBA - which has become a haven for ports as of late.

It's a shame that Phantasy Star Collection falls in the realm of hastily-done ports that the GBA has seen too many of. All of the titles for the most part remain true to their original form, but this includes the bad aspects as well as the good. The recent announcement of Phantasy Star: 3D Ages for the PlayStation 2 will give Sega another chance at exposing more people to the Phantasy Star series. Until then, newbies are left with this GBA version. The game is a wonderful introduction to a series that helped set many trends with current console RPGs. For any RPGamers who have never touched a Phantasy Star title; even with the game's inexcusable flaws, it is worth the full retail price and much better than eBay.

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