"An appealing concept trapped in a lackluster reality."
Phantasy Star III is an odd duck. There's simply no better way to sum up this ambitious, but quite flawed, role-playing game.
Its subtitle is Generations of Doom because you'll control heroes from three generations of initial protagonist Rhys' family as they embark on a long-lasting quest that, as should be expected, concludes with a battle against recurring villain Dark Force. In theory, this is a really cool plot device, but it probably was a bit ahead of its time. Instead of feeling like a truly epic story, it's more like a collection of clipped vignettes where you'll occasionally drop a few high-leveled characters in order to obtain a new group to work with.
The game starts with Rhys having a bad day. As the prince of the Orakians, he's about to marry a mysterious woman whom he fell in love with upon meeting. Unfortunately, she’s actually a member of the rival Layan race and the two groups are on such bad terms that a dragon kidnaps the lass, firmly telling Rhys that no Orakian is going to be hooking up with this particular Layan.
Obviously, Rhys isn't going to be tolerating this sort of disrespect, so he winds up on a journey to find his lost bride along with a combat android, Mieu. The duo will gain a few allies and eventually win a couple big battles to give Rhys a choice to either marry Maia, his Layan sweetheart, or Orakian friend Lena. The choice you make determines what abilities his son will have. Orakians are better physically, but can't cast spells, while Layans are, more or less, magic knights. Therefore, his child with Maia will be a balanced character, while his offspring with Lena will take after him as a melee specialist.
Regardless of whether your next character is Ayn or Nial, you'll have another quest to perform that will lead to another choice of spouses to set the stage for the third generation and its journey to find and put down Dark Force. If I sound really vague on the specifics of what you'll be doing in those generations, trust me, it's not due to me being averse to spoiling plot developments. No, it's mainly because the plot really never gets anywhere near as interesting as it should be. At the beginning of each generation, you'll have some sort of major development and then you'll rush through lands and dungeons until you've done what you have to do with nothing really getting time to breathe and perhaps actually feel important or momentous. Maybe you'll be collecting legendary weapons or turning all-purpose android Wren into some manner of transport. Or perhaps you'll be doing copious amounts of backtracking because Phantasy Star III is totally against fast travel, or for the vast majority of the game, anything resembling remotely convenient travel.
The world in this game is divided into what best could be described as a number of small satellites, most of which blend together due to copious cut-and-paste environments. Throughout the first two generations, the only way to travel between these places is by going through caves containing lazily-designed maze-like dungeons that all look the same, which makes it a real pain when you have to go from one land to another, accomplish something there and then return to your original location. Later on, things get a bit more convenient, as you'll be able to access temples to teleport from land to land without having to endure those dungeons yet again; while also being able to transform Wren into a plane in order to circumvent the majority of the random encounters you'd face on foot.
All that walking and fighting will quickly lead one to realize that Phantasy Star III is, at best, an adequate game. The sort that I could pick up and chill with for a little while and be in that vibe where I was totally going through the motions, but wasn't having a miserable time or anything like that. This was primarily due to two things a gamer should be aware of — both involving the game's combat system.
First, Phantasy Star III has a bizarre difficulty curve where it is at its hardest in the early going. After doing a dungeon or two, Rhys and Mieu will find themselves in a desert land where they'll have to go through a cave to acquire Wren in order to accomplish their next objective. This is the toughest part of the game. The enemies are noticeably tougher than what you'd been fighting and you only have two characters, only one of which can cast healing spells. Since Mieu is a low-leveled character at this point, she won't be able to cast those spells too often and there's a very good chance you'll have to waste some of her magic because a few enemies can inflict the Poison status. Here's a fun fact about that ailment: While the antidotes you can purchase in towns seem to always work, your antidote spell has a fair chance of failing, forcing you to cast it again to cure the afflicted character.
All of this works together to make it feel like you're revisiting Phantasy Star II and its extreme levels of difficulty. It's so easy to find yourself in a horrible situation. Run out of antidotes because the random number god hated you and you'll find your magic depleted with you stuck really far from civilization, as there is only one town in the desert and it's not exactly near Wren's cave. But then, you'll get Wren and two other characters and things will gradually settle down. Since I hooked Rhys up with Maia, I had a diverse son who could help Mieu out with the healing duties in the next generation, so I never felt overwhelmed. Simple truth is that this game gets easier and easier the more times you can heal your team without running out of magic points.
This is probably in large part because of how dumbed-down this game's battle system is. Let's put it this way: Your default option is to use auto-battle and you have to delve into a slightly clumsy interface to take control of your guys in order to use spells or defend. And the thing is, with the exception of Dark Force and another late-game boss fight, you'll probably never feel the need to do that. I spent somewhere between 25 and 30 hours getting into countless battles where I made the computer do all the work and then would heal a character or two after the fact if I needed to. So, early in the game, I thought I was in for a grueling grind-fest and then I found myself breezing through most everything, letting the computer do all the work. Weird…
I can respect what Phantasy Star III was shooting for. It's easy to tell that Sega was trying to make a truly epic adventure spanning multiple generations throughout a wide variety of locations. Unfortunately, the execution was lacking. The story-telling wasn't as exciting as it could have been and the lands and dungeons all blended together, making it a bit of an uphill climb to maintain my attention. The combat was generic enough that it felt like a blessing to be able to rely on auto-battling the vast majority of the time and the toughest stretch of the game happened in the early going simply because my party was too small and low-leveled to have much staying power in an area where I needed to embark on a long trek against a tougher assortment of enemies. There's enough polish to this game to make it worth seeing — if for no reason other than to ponder what it could have been if released for a more advanced system — but doing so likely won't be one of the highlights of a person's gaming career.
Featured community review by overdrive (December 04, 2021)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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