Back and Forth, The Dance Goes On – Sega Genesis – Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom – 1991

Phantasy Star III Title

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
Sega Genesis
Sega
Genre: Sci-Fi Role-Playing
1991

There are elements that a series needs to hold its own after a number of iterations.  Looking at franchises like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Breath of Fire– and yes, Phantasy Star- there is always a need for new mechanics, more engaging stories, and overall higher quality content to justify to the fans that they should return to your series.  The first entry is an introduction; a work that needs to be pushed through its outward presentation before gamers will give it a whirl.  The second entry is a proving ground, where a series shows that it can deliver lightning in the same place again with a few upgrades here and there.

The third entry is the experiment.  With Final Fantasy, we got interchangeable classes.  With Dragon Quest, the ability to create your own party with their own quirks.  With Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom, there was a solid jumping off point with the improvements that the second game offered over the first, but there were still some mechanics that could use a little work for one reason or another.  Given the success of the series thus far and being the first RPG series on the Sega system, it was imperative for the third Phantasy Star to dig in its heels and stake its claim to continue on successfully.  

While we know that Phantasy Star IV released, leading one to believe that part three can’t have done too poorly, how exactly does Phantasy Star III stand up to the rest of the series?  Given how fondly people usually speak about the second and fourth pieces of the mainline series, it’s interesting to see the evolution into the third and where it hits and misses the targets set up by prior entries.

If you’d like, feel free to check out my prior analysis of Phantasy Star and Phantasy Star II before reading up on this entry!

Plot Synopsis

Phantasy Star III 3

The entire game feels like a graphical shift in this entry.

The pre-story of Phantasy Star tells that 1,000 before the game opens, two worlds were at odds with one another.  When their leaders, Orakio and Laya, came together to reach a truce, they both mysteriously vanished without a word.  This caused a rift between the Orakians and the Layans, both believing that the others had something to do with the disappearances.

In the kingdom of Landen, Prince Rhys of the Orakians is slated to marry a young woman by the name of Maia who washed up on a nearby shore with amnesia.  It is not long before Maia is kidnapped by a dragon claiming to be taking her in the name of the Layans.  While this appears to be an attack against the Orakians, there has been a peace, however tentative, between the two factions for some time.  Rhys, hellbent on rescuing his wife-to-be, heads off with sword in hand to find her, recruiting others along the way to aid him in his quest.

Where the ‘generations’ part of the title comes into play is an important piece of the plot, as at the end of each ‘chapter’, the main character decides on a wife, deciding on the main character and the plot for the next chapter of the game.  In effect, the plot can go a number of ways, though with similar goals dressed in different trappings.  For instance, at the end of Prince Rhys’ quest, you can continue with your engagement to Maia, resulting in the birth of Prince Ayn, who has to deal with a sudden onslaught of cyborgs attacking the kingdom of Landen.  Should you choose for Rhys to marry his childhood friend and princess of neighboring Satera, Prince Nial will be born and will follow a plot to investigate the assassination of Lena’s father once she and Rhys have ascended to the throne.

Once those chapters have ended, Prince Nial or Prince Ayn will then choose a bride, as well, branching into one of four possible ending chapters for the game to conclude with.  Given the possibilities for different children- and thereby different plots to unfold- while you can guarantee you will end up coming to a similar planet-saving ending, how it is approached could always been from a different origin point.

It’s difficult to go further into the plot without heading into spoiler territory, but that should give a pretty good overview of what you’ll encounter in Phantasy Star III.

Mechanics

Phantasy Star III 2

Pick the girl who was kidnapped and you know nothing about or the girl who stabs folks at your side for a half an hour or so. Decisions, decisions.

At the risk of sounding redundant, Phantasy Star III doesn’t do much that the previous entries didn’t.  You travel the overworld, going from village to village to talk to people and figure out information to guide you in the right direction.  As you travel, you’ll also find other party members and better equipment to help guide you along the way.

Aside from the generational ‘chapter’ shifts, this game doesn’t do anything that the previous game hadn’t already established.  New party members join in a more natural fashion, unlike in Phantasy Star II where the player had to return to the main character’s apartment to meet the next available asset.  The game also doesn’t leave much in the way of party customization, giving you five slots in your roster that will be filled before the end of each generation.  This doesn’t mean that your options are completely limited, though.

In every town, you’ll find the usual trappings of weapon and armor stores, inns to get your health back, and item shops.  There is also a Tech Allocation service.  Different spells and techniques are placed into classes- melee, heal, order, and time, for example- and each ‘class’ has four spells in them.  By spending a tiny amount of meseta (the game’s currency), you can realign these four spells so that one or two of them are favored more than the others.  For instance, in the Heal class, you have a single character heal, a party wide heal, an ‘antidote’ spell, and a resurrection spell.  You can favor the party wide heal, but it gives a greater chance that your resurrection spell might fail and have to be cast again.  If you favor the resurrection spell, though, it will work almost every time but your healing will be weaker.  While I’m against the idea of spells missing in games- especially healing spells- it makes for interesting balance to constantly figure out which configuration works best for a given situation.

Phantasy Star III 4

Battle environments return to the series, though no active character or enemy sprites.

Much like in other role-playing games, as well, travel becomes easier as you continue through the game.  Rather than finding an airship or stealing a submarine from a villainous technological superpower, though, you find parts in dungeons that let one of your cyborg party members (a designation ‘Wren’, for those of you who have played the fourth Phantasy Star game) which lets them become a jet, a ‘water skimmer’, and a submersible, among a couple of other options.  While this doesn’t change the general build-up that occurs in other games, it feels like a more personally driven progression and helps to reinforce the atmosphere that Phantasy Star has built up.  In keeping with the more medieval setting, you are also barred from certain areas until you gain a jewel that lets you bypass magical barriers.  Since these jewels usually come with new characters, the progression of opening the world still feels natural, if not slightly confining.

The Good, The Bad, and…

Travel is also one of the worst parts of the game for the first two-thirds of Phantasy Star III.  Walking from town to town is not much of a task, but each continent of the world can only be accessed through a cavern full of confusing catwalks.  This would be less of an issue if there wasn’t such a necessity to backtrack between the first two or three areas.  Since your first method of quick travel is opened in the second generation, travel by foot is an exercise in frustration and is probably the biggest pain point of the whole game.
This game also takes a couple of steps back from previous games in the series.  Previously, monster sprites moved throughout battle, making them feel more dynamic.  Now, they move when they attack but even then, something feels very flat about a factor that the Phantasy Star series had already established as a defining feature.  While it may be a small nitpick, it also makes this game feel like it took an unnecessary step back that they had already perfected by past entries.

Phantasy Star III 5

Cutscenes break up the generational chapters- though we probably could have seen this one coming.

On the positive side, this entry does take steps forward from where the last two game set up a foundation.  First and foremost on my ‘nice list’ is that Phantasy Star III requires far less level grinding than previous Phantasy Star titles.  While the leveling system feels a little off-kilter due to how some characters gain multiple levels while some only gain a few but they all even out statistically, this game feels like it has more story and continues plodding forward at an even gait as a result.  After a small handful of five or ten minute grinding sessions, usually for money for equipment, I was almost always on my way to the next objective.

Stylistically, the game also tows an interesting line between fantasy and futuristic that says a lot more about the game than one might appreciate in the early stages.  With constant references to kingdoms, royalty, and a general aesthetic in the character and town designs, the game slowly mixes in the usual science fiction elements by introducing two cyborg party members.  Then, your party is forging through metal walkways above flashing electronic panels to move between continents.  Before you know it, you are traveling to the moons above, zooming around in a number of vehicles, and even seeing more futuristic elements in your non-cyborg characters that are reminiscent of the other Phantasy Star games.

On a final note about some of the upgrades and elements that the game does well, there is a large number of characters to cycle through.  While the game does not make strides in characterization, it feels like a leap from Phantasy Star II to see how each character is introduced throughout the story.  When Lena, your first party member that you officially meet in the first generation, springs Prince Rhys from the dungeon he’s been kept in, you get a feel for her character, despite still only having one cutscene of introduction.  Rather than just telling about each character and throwing them into your roster, Phantasy Star III gives your cast a bit more respect and depth by giving them a story related entrance.

Plot- and Therefore Spoilers

First, it’s difficult to talk about the plot of this game without referencing back to the first couple of games, so if you’re unfamiliar with the first two Phantasy Star games, there may be spoilers for the entire series here.  Proceed to the Presentation section if you want to avoid that possibility.  I promise I won’t be offended!

One of the disconnects for a lot of people seems to be that Phantasy Star III begins as a run-of-the-mill fantasy piece.  The starting kingdom of Landen is a far cry from Phantasy Star’s Camineet or Phantasy Star II’s Paseo.  Why is there such a scale back when even the box lets the player know that this takes place in a world laced with futuristic elements?  Well, due to a huge reveal in the game’s third act, everything makes a lot of sense.  Ready for it?  Last chance to turn back to avoid the biggest plot reveal in the game…

Your second generation character- in my case, Prince Ayn, in case there are any inconsistencies to those who have also played Phantasy Star III– has it revealed to them that where you have been living is not a single planet, but it is one of many ships that evacuated from Parm (Palma?  The localization is still iffy) back when it was destroyed in the events of Phantasy Star II.  Bearing in mind that there is no mention of any of the events of the past games in any meaningful way before this, it becomes tough to connect too many dots in the grand scheme of the Phantasy Star mythos.  There are a few common strands, though, and a couple of discussion points to pick out to elucidate on.

Most overt, the tie between this entry and the past entries is the presence of Dark Force, who served as the final boss in the original game and as a supporting force for Mother Brain in part two.  In this iteration, Dark Force is recorded as having boarded the Alisa III, the worldship that the game takes place on, after leaping from ship to ship, destroying them as they raced away into deep space from the destroyed planet of Parm.  After it reached the Alisa III, however, it was sealed away by a sword, keeping the people safe until that sword is drawn in the events of Phantasy Star III, releasing it to attempt to wreak havoc again.

Throughout the Phantasy Star games, Dark Force appears to act as a manipulator rather than an outright aggressor.  In the first, it manipulates Emperor LaShiec who does most of the damage to the planet until he is killed.  It affects Mother Brain in the second, though her intentions and purpose were determined for evil before that.  In this iteration, he not only manipulates the events between Laya and Orakio, but it could be concluded that he orchestrates the ultimate conflict in the end by influencing Siren, a cyborg who worked under Orakio to destroy Laya and continues his machinations nearly 1000 years later.  While he comes to his senses, destroying himself to stop the cycle of violence that he has been inflicting, the final steps in truly ending the onslaught of monsters and wayward mechanical assailants is to find Dark Force- once again residing in a benign seeming treasure chest, as in Phantasy Star II– and destroy it.  

As Dark Force, up to this point, has not been reported to have done any damage itself but through maneuvering through other beings both human and mechanical, it would be interesting to see if there is any explanation as to how it worked to destroy the other ships fleeing from Parm.  Another question remains that if Dark Force jumped from ship to ship after Parm was destroyed, how did it end up on the Spaceship Noah at the end of the second game?  If I were to make a logical assumption, it would have to be that Dark Force can inhabit more than one space at a time- or there’s a skip in the timeline somehow that isn’t wholly illustrated.

There are a number of plot twists that come up throughout the generations that are self-contained enough to not discuss, as talking about them here would do nothing to connect this game to the others or to expand on the general plot of the game.  As I progressed with Prince Rhys in the first generation, I had him make the choice to marry the later-to-be-determined-as-Layan Maia, stepping into the second generation as Ayn, a half-Layan half-Orakian offspring whose chapter firmly sets up the second rising of Siren and the his manipulation of the cyborgs attacking Landen.  Ayn’s chapter perfectly acts as an exposition chapter, and there isn’t much to remember aside from plot revelations that wrap up some loose ends from the first generation that the player might have questions on, including who kidnapped Maia in the first place and some other mysteries surrounding the goings on in the world(s).  Once again, having the choice to marry one girl or the other, I had Prince Ayn choose Princess Sari of Satera, the daughter of Queen Lena, now ascended from the first generation- and they conceived Prince Crys, my ultimate protagonist to end the events of Phantasy Star III.

In the end, once all of the dust has settled and Prince Crys and his crew have felled Dark Force- because let’s be honest, who didn’t see that coming- they return to the Alisa III (which, if you haven’t noticed yet is named after the Parman hero, Alis Landale, of Phantasy Star fame) and finally find a habitable planet that they want to explore.  While it is not expressed in so many words, they do mention that it is the ‘third planet away from its star’, and the cutscene does make it appear to be a beautiful blue and green planet set against the star saturated universe; this is clearly meant to be Earth.  The tale ends there with the Alisa III approaching the planet to evaluate it for viable living.  This tales ends on a much more optimistic and hopeful note than the previous entry, and while I appreciate that the ending is solid, the allusion that the series was then concluding on Earth- which had already caused the destruction of Parm in Phantasy Star II, if you recall- was a strange choice and could have been interesting to explore in later entries.

For as straightforward as the plot of Phantasy Star III is, it’s left me the most interested to find out what supplements have been supplied to explain more about which ending or endings are canon to the series and what may have happened after the curtain closed and The End rolled across the screen.

Phantasy Star III 6

The welcoming committee here could use some training.

Presentation

Visually, this game is such a mixed bag.  When taken by itself, it’s a beautiful game.  While there are plenty of overused assets, the sprites and environments are detailed and colorful.  There are a handful of cutscenes, and while they are nicely illustrated, there are not a lot of them.  Enemy sprites range from gorgeous to confusing, and while some of them look all right when they move to attack, others distort the sprite to look maligned and unattractive.  I personally enjoy the art style of Phantasy Star III quite a bit, though it is a departure (in both negative and positive ways) from the rest of the series.

My feelings on the music and sound of this entry are pretty banal overall.  The music is charming enough, though there are no standout tracks that I can think of off the top of my head.  There is a neat gimmick that bears mention, however, in that the more members you have in your party, the more instruments you can hear on the overworld map theme.  In battle, as well, the music switches from intense to victorious as each battle turns in your favor.  While these are unique touches worth stating, the music itself didn’t do much for me, especially in battle.

Conclusion

Phantasy Star III is probably my second favorite in the series behind Phantasy Star IV: End of the Millennium.  It is far more accessible than the previous two entries, and while it has an uneven opening to it, it is well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the series or of generational games like Dragon Quest V.  If you want something closer to the original games, it may be worthwhile to skip over to Phantasy Star IV, but given how padded the first two games seemed because of the need to grind and unevenly designed dungeons, Phantasy Star III feels like a much more worthwhile adventure than the other two.  It’s a solid RPG experience that doesn’t receive nearly enough credit due to deviation and the few steps back that it takes from its older siblings.

If you’d like to move on and see an overview on Phantasy Star IV: End of the Millennium to continue your star-soaked trek through the series, head on over to this link to check out ShoggothOnTheRoof’s write-up!

3 thoughts on “Back and Forth, The Dance Goes On – Sega Genesis – Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom – 1991

  1. I’m surprised you ended up considering Phantasy Star III your favorite game in the series; even with my cursory knowledge, I realize that’s something of an unusual choice. I’ve only ever seen a Let’s Play of this game, and though I’m not sure what to think of the gameplay, I really do like the idea that the story spans multiple generations – not many games have attempted such a plot. Interestingly, the fourth Fire Emblem game pulls off something similar, and that’s one of the best games in that series.

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  2. Pingback: Responding to My Sunshine Blogger Award Nomination | Extra Life
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