I recently got my hands on a Sega Genesis again after having lost my old one in a move a few years ago, and the first thing I did was go through all my things in storage to find my Genesis games. Among them, a game I completely forgot I had, was Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom. Given that no other game I found was a mystery to me, it just had to be the game I reviewed first. So what the heck is Phantasy Star III? The short answer is that it’s a Role-Playing game, or RPG, and your goal is to save the world, one battle at a time. Just like every other RPG ever. So, without further adieu, let’s dig in.
Originally released in 1990 (Or 1991 if, like me, you live in North America) for the Sega Genesis, Phantasy Star III has graced nine different platforms either as part of a compilation or as a standalone port (with those releases spanning four home console generations, two handheld generations, and even seeing a PC release). Given that, it would be hard to argue that Phantasy Star III is not a commercially successful game. Phantasy Star III tried to be innovative, and the ideas were good. However, weak storytelling, an overall lack of direction, and hard-to-ignore technical flaws really paint the picture of a game that just couldn’t deliver on everything it promised, and really only enjoys success because of the name it bears, giving it the unfortunate distinction of being considered the “black sheep” of the series.
For the time, the concept of a branching storyline was revolutionary. The problem is that the story is incredibly trite and uninteresting. We’re dealing with an extremely cookie-cutter tale, here. Save the world from the evil force that threatens to destroy it, because that’s what heroes do. Or something. You start the game playing as Rhys during the first generation. Depending on who you marry at the end of his story arc, you’ll play as their child during the second generation, who will then be faced with a similar marriage decision at the end of their arc, and play as their child in the third and final generation. These choices are meaningless, as the scenarios are not that different from each other. You save the world, and kill the bad guy no matter what, with the context only varying slightly. Regardless of who you choose, you’ll end up doing essentially the exact same things. On top of all that, the poor delivery also makes it very difficult to maintain any idea of what you’re doing, what you should be doing next, or even what’s going on, and as such the game left me devoid of any sense of real purpose.
As an example, when you first arrive in Aquatica as Rhys, you’ll find it’s frozen and people are dying. This is tragic, but I get the feeling the game expects me to want to save these people simply because I’m the hero, and that’s just lazy on the writers’ part. Who are these people? Are they friends or foes? I don’t know, and the game sure as hell didn’t tell me. This is a trend that never seems to end. Good luck trying to talk to the ever-so-helpful NPCs, because besides the rare instance where you’re given an incredibly vague hint, most NPCs have nothing valuable or relevant to tell you. The screenshot on the right shows what is probably my favourite bit of dialogue in the game, which is probably also the least helpful. Which brings me to my next point.
The game has a real lifelessness to it. Not only does your character move slower than molasses in winter, the NPCs don’t seem to move much at all. Their lines are also so concise that I can’t help but think they’re trying to emulate Ben Stein when they talk. Battles are clunky, and uninteresting because nothing unexpected really happens. When you can’t miss, and when there are no critical hits, battles become an exercise in patience as all you really ever have to do is mash the A button. This makes the game get old, fast.
Moving on, let’s talk about the music. Maybe I just find certain tones really irritating, but the title theme drives me nuts. There is this incessant pinging that rings throughout the song from start to finish, and it ruins what would otherwise be a very pleasant, if slightly melancholic song. In battle, we’re greeted with another failed attempt at innovation, where the game is obviously trying to engage you more in what’s going on by changing music to reflect the flow of battle. The soundtrack specifically designates four separate battle themes, “starts”, “normal”, “losing”, and “winning”. Unfortunately, the different themes don’t play when they should. What the game seems to interpret as winning and losing is almost comical at times, because you could be on the brink of death and hear the more upbeat “winning” theme (which happened more often than not). The overworld, however, is where they really got it right. For each party member you have, the overworld theme gains another layer of depth. With one party member, I was overcome with a lonely feeling, and with each new party member the music got more energetic, and more upbeat. This is a nice touch, and I wish the algorithm for the battle music was written a lot better. Overall, the music in this game is pretty solid, but it isn’t great. Everything feels a bit too average, and nothing is really memorable.
Ultimately, there’s a lot of things I can say about this game, and not many of them would be words of praise. Maybe by any other name, Phantasy Star III might not be judged so harshly. It seemed to take everything that “Phantasy Star” was known for (and good for), and messed with it. I’m not against sequels trying new things, but my impression is that the developers almost didn’t have faith in what they were trying to accomplish. Everything feels a little half-assed and almost rushed. It’s as if they were trying to play it safe, but in doing so we ended up with a really disjointed experience (not unlike this review). Despite all that though, I still really enjoy this game, and find its flaws quite charming in a its so bad its good kind of way. I can’t recommend that you play this game and keep a straight face, because I know most people would have trouble playing through all its issues. But if you’re feeling nostalgic and adventurous (or just really, really bored) give it a shot, because you may find that Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom is actually not that bad.
Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom Score: