Phantasy Star III is the black sheep of the Phantasy Star series that everybody loves to hate. While I don’t deny that the negatives far outweigh the positives in this title, there is a diamond to be found in that huge lump of coal. Let’s start diamond hunting.
To get to this diamond, we must first get through the worst stuff; get that out of the way. And the worst part of Phantasy Star III is its gameplay. Simply put, this is one of the most tedious RPGs I’ve ever played. The characters walk slower than a snail in molasses. Even Legend of Legaia’s overland traveling speed is faster than this, and we all know how slow Legend of Legaia’s overland travel is.
Compounding this problem is an annoyingly high random encounter rate and plodding turn-based battle engine. Not only that, but the experience points gained after battle are shared. By shared I mean this: Say your five-person party killed a bunch of monsters and gained 45 experience points. Each of those five people would gain 9 experience points. This makes building levels an absolute chore. The monsters don’t even drop that much Meseta (money), and weapon and armor upgrades are pricey.
Now that that’s over, let’s move on. Not quite as bad as the gameplay, but quite bad are the graphics. Sure the houses in the towns are realistically sized compared to the character sprites and there is some nice detailing in places, but the graphics are generally grainy and drab. This is a drastic step down from the bright, vibrant colors used in the previous Phantasy Star games.
The battle graphics are also not very good. The enemy sprites are large, but have almost no animation. One of the things I liked best about the Phantasy Star series was that the enemies animated during battle. Also missing from the battle screens are the backs of the hero characters, like in Phantasy Star II. In a 16-bit RPG, I should be able to see my characters during battles. The one highlight of PS 3’s graphics is the character portraits in the menu screen. Mieu is one hot looking android.
Now that we’re above C-level (If you consider 70-79% C’s like in school), we’re nearing our diamond. But first we have to wade through the issue of sound. Sound effects consist of blips and bleeps that are practically nonexistent. Some of the music, such as the music played at the Council of Skyhaven, is extremely good while the constantly changing battle themes are awful. However, the ‘sound’ of the music is questionable. Much of it sounds very grating and rough. Sega was going for a more orchestral sound with PS 3, but the Genesis’s sound chip made it sound more brash than brass. Admittedly, a good portion of the music is well composed, but the harshness of the sound output hurts this.
Well readers, your patience has paid off, and we have hit our diamond; the one aspect of Phantasy Star III I haven’t talked about yet: the story. PS 3 has one of the most original stories I’ve ever played in an RPG. The Layans and Orakians have been at war for many generations, and prince Rhys of Orakio is caught in the middle of it. His wedding to the mysterious Maia was cut short when a dragon took her away. Rhys, being the noble guy he is, goes to rescue her.
Yes the beginning is clichéd, but here’s where the originality comes in: at the end of Rhys’s quest, you get to choose his bride, play as their kid, choose his bride, then play as the third generation. This generational concept is very original, and choosing the bride was the best part of the game. Depending on these choices, there are four distinct endings, and the storyline plays out differently depending on whom you marry.
It also makes the story seem more epic. Instead of having just one party on a major quest, you get to see a story unfold through the generations. Questions that arise in Rhys’s quest may not get resolved until you play his grandson’s quest. The only caveat is that there isn’t much dialogue, and Sega (as usual) butchered up the translation a bit.
Also, contrary to popular belief, the story does fit into the Phantasy Star mythos. This makes the Phantasy Star series itself seem more epic than it already is.
So did I like Phantasy Star III? Yes, I did. It really was the story and the way it unfolded over the course of the game that kept me going. However, this wonderful story comes in a game package that will easily try your patience. There is a diamond in PS 3’s rough, but you have to be very patient to find it. I’m glad I did, but many may not have the will to fully complete this diamond hunt.