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Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (Genesis) artwork

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (Genesis) review


"A truly doomed generation"


If you've never played the original Phantasy Star games before, here's what to expect: a lot of wandering futuristic landscapes, braving a world full of hideous mutants, gathering information from locals and collecting a mixture of high tech and medieval gadgets. You often struggle to survive in the early outs of these adventures, as legions of monsters constantly beat you to a pulp. Over time, you build up enough money and experience that you can live through numerous murder attempts. Even then, though, you aren't guaranteed a victory.

The first two installments in this series also didn't tell you precisely where to go, so you ended up bumping around in the semi-dark, repeatedly running afoul of dangers that wore you down and drained your resources. This was an easy system to appreciate because it kept the experience from growing stale. These games presented you with solvable challenges that seemed impossible on the surface, but could be surmounted with careful examination, investigation, grinding and/or strategy. Really, these titles didn't need to be difficult, but they used their challenge factors, coupled with a well-balanced blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements, to keep their campaigns exciting and engaging.

But then along came Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom...

From the very beginning, you know something is off. You begin with a character clad in armor, walking through a medieval-ish town toward an ordinary castle. A small cutscene plays, wherein a monster nabs a princess. You realize at that moment that the playable sci-fi novel style from the previous two titles is gone, sadly replaced by a 16-bit Dragon Warrior knockoff. However, you might tell yourself not to worry, because robots and lasers and spaceships and conflicts that don't involve rescuing one-dimensional characters will come any minute now.... Any minute...

"Any minutes" slowly develops into a mantra, especially as you set out into the wilderness. The deformed beasts you fought in previous titles take a bench early on, replaced instead by stock RPG enemies and adorable critters like giant chicks and vicious rodents. On top of that, most of these beasts don't present much of a challenge, either. You'll spend most of the campaign "auto-battling" and watching each encounter speed to its anticlimactic conclusion, your party barely wounded. But any minute and you'll meet the true nightmares...

Meanwhile, the most obnoxious battle music blares, featuring the usual roleplaying tunes sped up ridiculously. And yeah, I mean "tunes." There isn't one single combat theme, but a whole collection of them, and the game jarringly transitions from one to the next at the drop of a hat. They're almost tolerable, at least, but there's one that can best be described as a "carousel on drugs" that really grates the nerves.

Still, you press onward and the game drip feeds you the occasional tidbit of creativity, before sending you back on a tedious, generic quest. You recruit an android early on, hoping she will be your guide to the good stuff. Unfortunately, from there you only embark on a handful of average plot points that see you either fetching items or sneaking into castles to add new party members, then concluding some sections with ho-hum boss encounters.

But these destinations aren't as interesting as the journey, right? At least that's how the old cliche goes. Sadly, that's definitely not the case here. Numerous points require you to make long pilgrimages across several landscapes and sometimes multiple dungeons you've already explored. You see, the game's world doesn't consists of a single realm, but several separate, interconnected maps. In order to venture from one area to another, you need to crawl through one of several connecting dungeons, and there's no way to bypass them until late in the proceedings.

All of this tedious marching serves only to drawn out segments that should be quick and easy. For instance, there's one story event where you enter a frozen land that needs to be thawed so you can cross the sea. To do that, you must travel to a neighboring desert region, which you only reach via connective dungeon. You then pad across the sand dunes to another dungeon, and advance maybe halfway through that place to your objective. Once you're done, you exit, creep back to the tunnel leading to the frosty area and finally take a boat to an island. There, you eventually hit a roadblock that requires you to head all the way back to the stage that allowed you to thaw the snow (and yes, that means you'll go through the border dungeon two more times), and delve further into it before returning to the island.

This isn't an isolated incident, either. You'll travel like this quite often through the first two-thirds of the campaign, sometimes revisiting old dungeons and towns. Let me tell you, the game really drags because of this.

The only break you receive from the tedium is the "generations" system, where you earn the option to select a wife at certain parts in the campaign. Basically, this feature boils down to impregnating a boring character, who allows you to sire another boring character, who will replace your boring protagonist. There are two potential mates to select for every generation, with a total of four generational pathways to take. Unfortunately, they all share a fair amount of the same content, fight similar bosses and even feature very samey ending sequences, so there isn't much incentive to playing all of the scenarios.

By the time you reach the third generation, you finally feel like you're playing a proper Phantasy Star title. There's a strong mix of sci-fi and fantasy, including flying fortresses, weaponized satellites and a shape-changing robot that allows you to fly across the land. Plus, you engage in the series' standard of tough, resource-draining battles. And it only took you more than a dozen hours to reach this material! Honestly, we could've/should've been doing stuff like this from the get-go. By the time you reach the third generation, it's too little, too late.

I read somewhere that the generations system was intended to help Phantasy Star III stand out in a crowded RPG market. However, the development team put so much work into this mechanic that they couldn't properly flesh out the campaign, leading to a finished product filled with worn out cliches and underwhelming events. The ironic result is a stodgy, mediocre RPG that provides mostly dated content. Rather than offering a gimmicky feature, this fantasy adventure would've benefited from more of the imaginative, challenging content we saw in the franchise's previous outings.

2.5/5

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (September 08, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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overdrive posted September 09, 2019:

Another one of those games I've started a couple times but never got around to finishing. I think your review does a good job of getting to the heart of why that is, bringing up the slow, generic start to things, how it takes until the third generation to get to the cool PS-style stuff and all the damn backtracking for large chunks of the game.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 10, 2019:

Thank you! I found the third one to be the easiest to finish, but the most tiring. It's just so run of the mill in comparison to the rest of the series. I initially planned to play all of the scenarios, but I couldn't bring myself to spend another twenty-something hours playing this.
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CptRetroBlue posted September 11, 2019:

I agree the concept and the bizarre change that this game drastically set apart from its previous entries (and its sequel,) the game felt TOO big to be in a sole 16-bit cartridge and it shows, being that it feels incomplete as well. Even when the whole generations scenario promises multiple experiences, it feels linear anyway. Perhaps SEGA could had done this as a spinoff than a sequel, but it is appreciated that after the very depressing setting left at part 2, there was some hope for those that survived its cataclysmic event. I may be dreaming, but I hope one day SEGA can redo this game in any way.
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overdrive posted September 12, 2019:

From what I gather, it's not really worth it to play all the scenarios, if for no other reason than how only one of the four endings is notably different from the rest. So, in essence, the main benefit to doing so would be having a main hero who controls differently, as well as (I think) a few plot differences depending on which wife you pick at the end of the first chapter.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 12, 2019:

You're not alone, Cpt. I was actually thinking about how a possible remake of this game, with a fully realized world and a fleshed out storyline. Mainly, it'd be great if they cut back on the backtracking, because it begins to feel like padding after a while. But if they could pull something where each generations offers significantly different content, that would be great. I think this game may have been developed decades too early.

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