Sega may have released them out of order, but no matter, as all four of the original Phantasy Star titles are now available on Wii’s Virtual Console thanks to yesterday’s update. The Master System classic is also the cheapest of the four, coming in at 500 Nintendo Points–the series as a whole will run you $29, with the other three costing you 800 Nintendo Points (or $8) a piece. Cost isn’t really what I want to get into here though; I just want to talk a little about one of my favorite RPG series, and maybe give those of you who are unfamiliar with it some background.
Phantasy Star: The Original
While Nintendo did not own Square or Enix back in the 1980s, the system of choice for those company’s RPGs was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest (or Dragon Warrior, as it was known in North America at that time) got their start on the NES, and both were set in a fantasy world of swords, armor and magic. When Sega released the Master System, they had their own RPG to counter Nintendo’s two-headed RPG beast in the form of Phantasy Star. While looking at it now, you may see a visually dated game, the first title in the Phantasy Star series arrived late in 1987 and wowed people with its graphical prowess, story and very difficult gameplay. In fact, it was one of the first story-driven RPGs in North America, with its storyboard anime cutscenes, pre-named characters and loads of NPCs to talk to that worked to enhance the story. The game also used a dungeon setup that was not returned to in later games, with a first-person, 3D-looking perspective that made each level into somewhat of a maze.
You play as Alis, who has just seen her brother killed by the guards of Lassic, a tyrannical king who is causing problems on Palma, one of the three planets of the Algol solar system. You eventually recruit the warrior Odin, the Musk Cat Myau, and the Esper Noah (who in the Japanese version–and subsequent releases in which he is referenced–is known as Lutz) to your cause, and seek to put an end to Lassic’s reign. Lassic is, of course, not the source of the problem in the Algol system, as that role belongs to (is it still a spoiler when the game is 22 years old and counting?) Dark Force. Dark Force is one of the unifying themes that ties the Phantasy Star series together, as this incarnation of evil appears in each title in the original series–hell, the last boss in Phantasy Star Universe’s single-player story mode wasn’t Dark Force, but stylistically, that was the basis for it.
The game itself is famous due to the cartridge used and the price–the suggested retail was $69.99, but some places sold it for as much as $80. When the Master System II hardware released and was given a price reduction relative to the original, it cost just $10 more than this one game. While it seems like nothing now, the game used 512KB of ROM, while most Sega Master System titles used 128KB. The cartridge was also capable of holding five saves at once thanks to the battery-backed RAM chip. With this Virtual Console release, you can get the same sound quality that the original Japanese release had–North American and PAL hardware lacked a sound chip found in the Japanese Master System, but the Wii can emulate that just fine with the hardware it has, giving you the option for either version.