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Phantasy Star III

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Reviewed by Michael LoCascio Having not purchased the much-maligned third installment of the popular Phantasy Star series until long after its initial release, I wasn't expecting much from the game. As a big fan of Phantasy Star II, I was rather dismayed to hear that the third chapter didn't measure up. Some reviewers were downright brutal when discussing the many flaws of the game. My expectations for Phantasy Star III were understandably low.. but perhaps that's why I ended up enjoying the game. People expecting a carbon copy of the second episode in the PS series won't find it here. Phantasy Star III is a radical departure from what was offered up in the first two games. The story that's told in this title could have served as the premise for a completely new series - and there were many players who didn't appreciate that. Sega tinkered with a blue chip series and came out with mixed results. Hard-core fans of the previous two titles were understandably disappointed. However, if you give this game's story a chance, you'll probably discover that it really does shine. The game begins and ends with tried and true role-playing clichˇs: a princess is kidnapped and a huge, despicable villain must be slain. But in between those two points are an incredible amount of twists and turns, with a plethora of secrets to be discovered. The game's plot becomes immensely intriguing once you start making some headway. You'll learn all about a furious vendetta existing between two races that are blind to their own commonalties, as well as uncover the bizarre truth about the world in which you live. Along the way, there are so many unexpected developments that even the most experienced RPG fan's head will be spinning. The most appealing aspect of the entire game is that the plot progresses over three different generations - making for three separate adventures. At the conclusion of the first quest, you are granted the opportunity to choose a bride for the main hero of the adventure. Your choice will determine how the next quest will be played, as you will be then be assuming the role of the child of the couple that gets married (many years later, of course). Each son has different goals to meet and different tasks to complete. The second quest ends in the same way as the first: the choosing of a bride. As a result, there are four different characters which you can end up using during the third adventure. There is often little incentive to play through a role-playing game more than once (especially when it came to RPGs that were released before this game), but the many different characters who you can control and encounter give Phantasy Star III a high replay value - assuming, of course, that you enjoy it the first time through. The problem is that many people don't at all enjoy playing through Phantasy Star III. Some players become so annoyed or frustrated with the game that they don't even bother to complete it. I was almost one of those players; the slow pace of the game nearly drove me out of my mind for the first couple of hours that I played it. For some reason, your characters walk extremely slowly. Whether you're treading over the expansive world map or trying to make your way through a winding dungeon, the simple task of walking can be a very tedious experience. This game could have benefited from the "dash" button that is so common in today's RPGs. Eventually I became accustomed to the pace of the game and it wasn't such a big deal. Many gamers won't be nearly so tolerant, however. A related issue is the backtracking that must be done to get anywhere in this game. You'll spend a great deal of time going back and forth between places, from town to town and through dungeon after dungeon. The same old places get rather boring after a while, and it doesn't help that your characters are all slowpokes. Eventually you'll discover a way to warp from one place to another, but that point doesn't arrive until you're nearing the end of your adventure. Compounding this problem of so much walking is the high enemy encounter rate. You can only walk but a few steps before the battle screen pops up and interrupts your journey. Then again, it may seem like those few steps took an eternity as your characters crawl across the screen. But these frequent battles become a major problem when you're trying to explore or find your way out of a dungeon. There have even been a few instances where I've passed up treasure chests simply because it would have been too much of a nuisance to trudge over to the other side of the screen and get them. There's no question that the feel of Phantasy Star III takes some getting used to. However, once you delve deeper into the quest, you'll probably get used to the aforementioned problems and come to accept them. The game won't feel so slow once you're fully concentrating on the missions at hand. Patience is the key to enjoying this game. The feel and presentation of the battle system have come under some scrutiny as well, although this element of the game wasn't nearly so criticized as was the slow pace of the adventurers. As a battle commences, still shots of the enemy characters appear on the screen. Although you can have up to five members in your party at once, you won't see any of them during the fight scenes. Phantasy Star III features traditional, turn-based combat. You can attack, utilize items, or use techniques (read: magic). Some players found the options sparse in combat, while others felt that fighting had a rather clunky feel to it. Personally, I liked the battle system in PSIII (although it did take some getting used to). It's nice to be able to press a single button and then sit back and watch as your party annihilates the enemy attackers. I also appreciated the fact that battles were usually over in a matter of mere seconds; even major combat scenes could typically be dealt with in under a minute's time. This is quite a contrast to some of the bosses that must be contended with in today's role-playing games; it isn't too uncommon to spend upwards of an hour battling a single bad guy these days. The high enemy encounter rate combined with the quick, concise, battle scenes make it incredibly easy for your characters to accumulate experience points and money. You'll very rarely have to walk around in a circle for hours on end leveling up your characters in this game. This is one example of how many of the bad aspects of Phantasy Star III are outweighed and often accompanied by positive aspects. The graphics in Phantasy Star III are fairly typical of what was contained in most 16-bit role playing games at the time. The character portraits that pop up in the menu screen are extremely well done; male characters often look determined and cunning, while female characters usually combine toughness with beauty. Enemy characters are well drawn as well, although the animation that takes place during battle scenes is a bit rough. Sega included slight movements for each enemy to represent attack moves. In general, the smaller enemies do some sort of little dance while the big guys usually just flick an arm or a leg. Sometimes the animation doesn't make any sense; for instance, one particular villain holds a sword in his left hand - yet he waves his right hand to denote an attack. Sega would have been better off sticking with the still shots at all times. What would a Sega Genesis game be without some sort of fancy scrolling. Besides the clouds that move during battle scenes, Sega implemented an impressive effect that takes place in a few of the dungeons. You are given the impression that the maze you are navigating is raised high above the ground, as the background moves at a different speed than the platforms which you are walking on. By the twentieth time that you have to make your way through such a dungeon, the effect will certainly lose its luster - but it was still a nice touch. While the graphics in Phantasy Star III are pretty good, the music is a completely different story. Particularly annoying are the battle theme and the track that plays while you're journeying through a cave or dungeon (an acquaintance of mine once remarked that it sounded like someone was "trying to break a piano" when I entered a dungeon). Not all of the music is bad, however; there are a few decent moments, such as when your character enters a castle. Still, you'd be better off if you didn't play this game at a high volume. All things considered, it seems like Sega set out to do a few ambitious things with this title (the different characters and generations, the character portraits, the visual effects in the dungeons), but, in the process, they didn't pay enough attention to the small elements that can make role-playing games fun (good music, a fun battle system, user-friendly game play). If you're expecting another game like the second installment in the series, or if you're low on patience, this isn't the title for you. But if you're willing to devote some time and effort to the game, you may find Phantasy Star III to be one great RPG. Overall: 7 / 10

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