Thursday, April 3, 2008

Phantasy Star Complete Collection OR: M2 does a wonderful job

Phantasy Star Complete Collection is the latest (unfortunately Japan-only) entry in the Sega Ages 2500 Series, which started out as a bunch of low-budget remakes of Sega's classic game franchises, but has since evolved into some of the most lovingly assembled collections of old games currently available for any platform. PS Complete Collection assembles the 4 games (including the English-language versions) from Sega's groundbreaking console role-playing series, and makes most of them a lot more playable with a few new features specific to this collection.

The last time the series was compiled in the United States was in 2002, with a fairly terrible compilation for the Gameboy Advance, and in 2006 on the slightly better Sega Genesis Collection, both courtesy of the lazy guys at Digital Eclipse. This series deserves better!

Phantasy Star (seen at right) was the first console role-playing game ever released in the United States (arriving in 1988, a year before Dragon Warrior) but it remains relatively unheralded because of its appearance on the unpopular Sega Master System. It borrowed liberally from other games of the time period, taking first-person dungeon crawling from Wizardry and its ilk, and creating a fairly original setting by borrowing from fantasy and sci-fi pop-culture whenever possible. Besides that, it's one of the first games with a strong female protagonist, in addition to being a technical marvel for its time period - Final Fantasy was released two days before Phantasy Star in Japan, and it looks genuinely embarrassing by comparison.

Phantasy Star II, which appeared about two years later on the Megadrive/Genesis, is also widely regarded as a classic. It had a large cast of characters, an epic storyline spanning multiple planets, and a fairly modern-lookin' battle system. I also have a really, really hard time playing it, these days!

Like many really old RPGs, most of your time spent in PSI & II consists of walking around in circles just outside of towns, fighting monsters over and over again until you accumulate enough money and experience to move on to the next segment of the game, which usually involves looking for an item, person or dungeon in the middle of nowhere. It's really hard for me to enjoy these games, because making numbers go up as slowly and tediously as possible is... not fun! At all!

Thankfully, M2, the compilation's developers and all-around great guys, saw fit to add several new features to make playing the earlier games less tedious and horrible. Besides including the English-language versions of all the games on the disc, you can play both games with sped-up combat and walking speeds, and every game on the compilation lets you adjust the difficulty a little bit - "Normal" is the default setting, identical to the original game, while "Easy" and "Very Easy" increase the amount of experience and money that monsters drop when defeated, effectively tripling the speed of each game. Here's a video I uploaded demonstrating some of these new features:

Thanks to these additions, it's a lot easier to go back and appreciate the good things about these games, as opposed to just wallowing in tedium. That's important, because there's a lot of good here. Eric-jon Rössel Waugh's review of the first three games in the series from back in 2002 makes this clear:
"Phantasy Star II is the first truly great videogame epic, and one of the few tragedies attempted within the medium. It is the ultimate coming-of-age game. It is the Lord of the Rings of videogaming (especially when compared to The Hobbit of Phantasy Star 1). To be sure, at times it can be just as inaccessible as Tolkien's rambling saga. And yet, for those with persistence, it offers a chillingly poignant experience that can haunt you for the rest of your life."
I don't quite agree, but goddamn. Clearly, this is an emotionally powerful series of games - even if I've never quite felt the same way about them, I can't just dismiss them as technically interesting exercises in level-grinding.

Anyway, beyond the first two games, the compilation also includes Phantasy Star III, which was developed by a completely different team than the other games, rushed to market and is kind of hilariously bad at times. Phantasy Star IV ties up the story from the I & II in a really satisfying way, and doesn't require hours of grinding out levels. It's a really good game!

Sega also developed a series of text adventure games that helped flesh out the back story for the characters in PSII, and they're on the disc, too! Unfortunately, they were only available on some kind of satellite game service that Sega or somebody offered, and as such they were never officially translated into English. The absurdly professional MIJET romhacking group went ahead and translated three of the games into English unofficially, though, so if you want to check a few of them out, there you go!

So yeah, hey. This is a really nice package for $30, even if you gotta go through play-asia and whatnot. Maybe Sega will decide to localize some of the more recent Sega Ages entries for the western market? I'm not banking on it!

(as a side note, many of the early budget remakes in the Sega Ages 2500 Series were thrown on a disc and released in the United States as Sega Classics Collection so there's still hope, sorta. Also, Kurt Kalata has written a pretty decent page covering every entry in the series, which you can read here)

UPDATE: Since I put this post up, the game's official site has been updated with information on how to unlock Phantasy Star Gaiden and Phantasy Star Adventure, two Japan-only spin-off games for the Game Gear. The prior is a console RPG like the other games, but on a slightly smaller scale, and the latter is a text adventure game. Both have been translated into English, unofficially.

Anyway, the method for unlocking both of the games in Complete Collection is pretty simple: just hold down right on the d-pad at the title screen and press start. Both games have an extensive gallery collection like every other game on the disc, as well. What'd I say about M2 being great?


Matt Brown said...

A phriend of mine played the crap out of the version for the Dreamcast and phully enjoyed it. I still have yet to play them, but they're phirst on my list. Thanks for the post!

(PS I know I'm a jerk, but this was just too blissfully immature to leave out.)

Shapermc said...

This is really excellent news that they are in English. I wasn't sure about it (and honestly not really paying attention to the release because I assumed english wouldn't be included), but now hearing this I'm really excited to get this game. The newer Sega Ages have all been very excellent in quality, it's nice to see they kept the tradition going.