Phantasy Star Collection

Ever since Phantasy Star IV appeared on the Sega Genesis over a decade ago, the RPG franchise took a new direction towards online action-oriented gameplay, leaving gamers to wonder if there would ever be another traditional Phantasy Star or at the very least a revisiting of the original installments. In 2002, Sega and THQ partnered to bring the Phantasy Star Collection to North American shores, featuring the original versions of the first three installments of the series. The games remain pretty much unaltered, although that doesn’t mean the collection is perfect.

Combat remains fairly solid throughout the first three installments, with traditional, albeit fast-paced, randomly-encountered turn-based battles. The first installment’s combat system is fairly straightforward, although the second introduces the auto-battle while the third installment allows players make certain techniques more powerful in exchange for other weakened techniques. Despite the straightforwardness of the three battle systems, all three games largely provide a good challenge, with only a few flaws such as the inconsistency of character and enemy turn order and by extent the fluctuating encounter rates. Still, combat is a high point of the collection.

Interaction, though, could’ve used some improvement in the collection. The menus are simple, with the first installment allowing players to save anywhere and a secret item in the second chapter allowing for the same feature, though the third installment has a habit of forcing players to walk forever to return to visited places, without the convenience of instant teleportation from town to town. There are also no item descriptions or a telling of how equipment in shops affects characters’ stats before buying it, not to mention limited inventory space. Overall, none of the games are terribly user-friendly.

All three games, though, were original in their time, given the first installment’s futuristic setting and female protagonist, the second installment’s auto-battle mode, and the third game’s generation system. The third installment does suffer from a generic medieval setting, but otherwise, the Phantasy Star games were certainly ahead of their time.

The story is fairly weak throughout all three installments, however, with a general lack of development and weak pacing, much akin to other RPGs of the time. The first and second games, though, do contain links to one another, though the links of the third installment are much weaker. Overall, the story certainly isn’t a reason to buy the collection.

The quality of the music is also inconsistent throughout the collection. The first game’s aurals are generally average despite some good tracks like the tower theme, with the second installment’s soundtrack, with many catchy techno tracks, sticking out the most. The music quality takes a dive, however, with the third installment, with endless jarring and buzzing of its tracks that somewhat makes them painful to listen to. In the end, the aurals certainly aren’t a chief draw to the collection.

The visuals, though, especially in the first two installments, were well ahead of their time, with nice coloring and environments. The anime cutscenes as well as the battle graphics especially shine in the first two games, featuring animated enemies, something RPG series such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest wouldn’t have until much later into their lifespans. The graphics, though, are weakest in the third installment, mainly because of repetition of its environs and lackluster battle visuals, although the visuals are nonetheless a high point of the collection.

Playing time for the whole collection ranges from fifty to seventy-five hours, with the second installment being the longest and the first and third being shorter and about equal in terms of completion time. Overall, the Phantasy Star Collection is a nice revisiting of the first three chapters of the franchise, which, despite its flaws, mainly in interaction, easily beats looking for the originals on eBay or in pawn shops, or possibly importing the remakes of the first two installments unlikely to reach American shores.

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