Release Date: December 13th, 2018 (Nintendo Switch)
Genre: RPG, Adventure
ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood)
As I have said in a previous review, nostalgia is a hell of a drug. This is why Nintendo has released the NES and Super NES Classic Edition mini consoles, why Sony followed right after this with the Playstation Classic, and why backwards compatibility is a major publicity win for Microsoft. Even former console makers like Sega have gotten into the action with several collections, like the Sega Genesis Classics that was just recently ported to the Nintendo Switch. Sega, in fact, has even relaunched their Sega Ages brand of rereleases that began all the way in 1996 on the Sega Saturn. For the first time since September 2008, the brand has reappeared and, better yet, is seeing consistent releases in the West. After Sonic the Hedgehog and Thunder Force IV, the Nintendo Switch, the sole platform for these enhanced rereleases, now sees the release of the Master System RPG Phantasy Star.
Phantasy Star is widely considered one of the pioneers of RPGs and was one of the first story-driven games to be released in the West, as well as being one of the first games featuring a female protagonist. This version of the game has various additions and enhancements for old and new players alike, the most noticeable of which is the “Ages Mode” in the main menu. This is, for all intents and purposes, an easy mode that rebalances the game to make it easier by lowering the encounter rates and granting additional meseta (the game’s currency) and EXP. There is also an added codex that the player can refer to as they progress through the game to read up on the monsters that they have encountered during the playthrough. One of the best additions, though, is the option to have FM audio for the game. This brings a higher fidelity of sound and was hard to come by during the original release unless the player lived in Japan and had a certain system or expensive accessory.
Now, of course, a game first released back in 1987 was in the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio of the time. Luckily, the Nintendo Switch screen is 16:9 and with it comes almost an overabundance of display options the player can choose from to best fit how they want to experience this port. Of these options, we recommend at least turning off smoothing under display effect as it adds blurriness to the game screen. Also, for the purpose of reviewing this version as accurately as possible, we have opted to use a display mode that includes the quality-of-life additions of party info and the map to the side of the game screen. The party info is a modern-day convenience that is much appreciated and is almost essential because when the entire party dies, the game is over. With there being no auto-save, this can be a shock to newcomers who are not expecting it. As a longtime Pokémon player, once this happened the first time, my “save as much as possible” instincts kicked in to combat any unlucky RNG that may hit me.
The added map to the side of the game is less helpful over the entirety of the game, but is extremely helpful in the part of the game it is intended for: the dungeons. As the player makes their way through the dungeons, the map will fill in the revealed path. This makes life easier for the players and brings the game in line with modern franchises like Shin Megami Tensei and Etrian Odyssey. While the map could have been more useful in the overworld, it is still more than what the original had and for that, I am personally grateful for its addition. The last notable quality-of-life aspect is being able to configure the sparse controls of the game. We highly recommend this, as the menu would lead you to believe there are only two options until the player starts fiddling and opens up two more mappable commands. This lack of direction and explanation is an overarching theme; however, it does not detract from the game or this rerelease.
Phantasy Star’s pioneer status is unquestioned and there is a reason it has been rereleased several times over the years, as well as spawning a multitude of sequels. While a high definition remaster or even a full remake would be more appreciated, Sega Ages Phantasy Star serves as a mighty fine rerelease with some treasured quality-of-life additions. A low entry point, price-wise, also helps veterans of the game in purchasing the game if they so please. Even though there are some issues and the new quality-of-life additions are not complete home runs, there is a lot to love with this reissue. If I had one suggestion for the release, though, it would be to add a tip box to the displays with the party info and map. This way, tidbits that were not included in the original game, like the game ending when the entire party dies, can be added for the onboarding of new players. Overall, this is a great version of a highly influential game from the 1980’s that all RPG fans should play at least once.
Review copy provided by Sega.