Phantasy Star

A long time ago in a star system far, far away

26th May 2024


Phantasy Star might be a name somewhat forgotten in today’s gaming landscape, but it had an important role in the conception of the Japanese role playing game subgenre, dominated nowadays by the likes of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Persona, Yakuza and many others. In an era where video games were relatively quick and simple experiences, Phantasy Star pushed technological and storytelling boundaries in its medium.

In the Genesis of JRPGs

Mid-80’s Sega was a very different company from what it is today. Their bread and butter was their arcade games, where they were able to constantly push the envelope in terms of graphical capabilities. Eager to bring that technological edge to the home consoles market, they released in Japan by 1985 the Sega Mark III, that would be later rebranded as Sega Master System on its international release in 1986. While technically superior to the popular Nintendo Entertainment System (also known as Famicom in Japan), its library of games was much smaller in comparison. Due to the lack of third party support, it was mostly up to Sega to bring new software for their system.

Following the success of Dragon Quest, released exclusively for Nintendo, Sega decided to create their own RPG to capitalize on the recent interest in this genre and demonstrate once more their technical prowess. Composed by several talented programmers and designers, such as Yuki Naka and Naoto Ohshima (which would be later known for the creation of a certain game featuring a blue hedgehog), the development team had a clear goal - to outdo the competition in every way possible. A traditional medieval fantasy setting was discarded in favor of a story with sci-fi elements. Instead of one overworld with several locations, Phantasy Star had three explorable planets, with their own cities and biomes. The turn-based combat sections had much more detailed enemies and backgrounds than its contemporaries, such as the aforementioned Dragon Quest. Even the dungeons were a technical showcase, with a 3D first person perspective!

❖ The Sega Ages version of Phantasy Star, the definitive way of playing this classic.

When it released, late in 1987, Phantasy Star had to share the spotlight with the very first Final Fantasy. Even though the later spawned arguably most iconic series of JRPGs ever, Phantasy Star was successful enough to receive three direct sequels on the Sega Mega Drive. The series still survives to this day, although in a MMORPG style, in Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis.

It took ages to be this accessible

The narrative of this first Phantasy Star is set in the Algol star system, which comprises the planets Palma, Motavia, and Dezoris. The game starts precisely in Palma, with our protagonist, a girl named Alis, witnessing her brother’s death to the hands of the emperor Lassic’s troops. Right before dying he asks her to defeat Lassic, who’s leading their world to destruction. It’s with this motivation that Alis embarks on a journey to achieve that, alongside Odin, a typical strong fighter that wields axes and swords, Noah, your typical magician, and Myau, a yellow alien cat with supernatural powers. This party travels across the three planets to acquire the necessary equipment to defeat Lassic, while also attempting to uncover the truth behind his tyrannical regime by interacting with the natives of each planet.

Although this sounds fun, there is one tiny problem. We are talking about a 37 years old game here, playing it in its original version nowadays is a true test of resilience. That’s where Sega Ages, a long running series of enhanced editions of classics from the company, comes to the rescue. The Sega Ages edition of Phantasy Star was released in 2018 exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, bringing a ton of quality-of-life features such as: dungeon maps, increased XP and money earned from each battle, reduced random encounters, faster walking speed and detailed items stats. Each feature individually makes a difference, but collectively, they transform a game nearly four decades old into a much more enjoyable experience today, allowing players to appreciate its merits without enduring many of the era’s typical pains. One crucial problem that wasn’t solved by this new version was the ability to accidentally ‘softlock’ our progress if we save the game in the wrong place without the right items. While Phantasy Star is a very linear game, it also doesn’t hold the player’s hand. As so, it’s surprisingly easy to miss any crucial if we don’t pay attention to the NPCs. I won’t lie, I didn’t do that and got lost quite easily. I resorted to a guide as soon as that happened. Even with this caveats, I think it was worth to experience this underappreciated classic.




Phantasy Star definetively deserves more recognition for its achievements in an era where the role-playing game genre was still in its infancy. While it was naturally outclassed in every aspect by many subsquent games, it’s still a worthwhile experience, specially in its Sega Ages version.

<< More posts