Traveling through space never played this good.
Phantasy Star is one of those Sega franchises that I missed out on growing up—I was more of a Super Nintendo guy, y'know? I’ve heard the praise for the work Sega and M2 have done on recent re-releases of classic Sega titles on the Switch, so when Phantasy Star was among the first batch of titles, I had to finally buckle down and give it a try. Turns out, the new quality-of-life features added to this re-release give Phantasy Star a breath of fresh air, making it well worth delving into.
The first thing that stood out for me were the graphics. Released in Japan back in 1987, Phantasy Star was a gigantic game for its time, and I couldn’t help but marvel at just how vibrant and colorful the game is. For a Master System game, it looks excellent: detailed backgrounds, sprites and locations make it one of the better looking 8-bit games I’ve ever seen.
Main character Alis’ goal in Phantasy Star is to avenge her brother’s death by confronting King Lassic, who rules the solar system with an iron fist. By modern standards, Phantasy Star is a simple RPG with a basic storyline—nothing really groundbreaking. It can get kind of boring at times, just grinding along with goals sometimes not being all that clear. That was the norm in 1987, but in 2018 it can get pretty dull just roaming around. Yet, I enjoyed playing Phantasy Star -- just don’t expect anything out of the ordinary.
This re-release gives you two ways to play. Original mode is exactly what you’d expect: the original game with no frills whatsoever. The other is the far more interesting Ages Mode, which comes with a few new bells and whistles. The first has the inclusion of auto-mapping. Phantasy Star’s dungeons throw you into a rudimentary 3D environment where you navigate through doors and hidden passages to find weapons or travel to the next area. It can be difficult, but thankfully the Ages mode’s auto-mapping tracks where you’ve gone and where you started, and even tracks the treasure chests that can be found. It’s a big improvement to what had to have been a big annoyance.
The sweet sounds of the FM Sound Unit can also be heard in the Ages version of Phantasy Star. These audio capabilities were part of an add-on that never made it overseas, so this release is the first time anyone outside of Japan has had the chance to hear the enhanced soundtrack, which is actually quite catchy. This is a huge improvement, as the awesome synth sounds of FM far eclipse the simple bleeps and bloops the standard Master System console could muster.
The Sega Ages version of Phantasy Star continues to prove that the Ages polish to old classics works wonderfully and should be emulated by other developers. The parts that made Phantasy Star feel archaic are gone, and while it still shows its age this version of the title is the strongest you’ll come across anywhere.