Why Phantasy Star III is Better Than You Remember

Phantasy Star III Generations of Doom was the first JRPG I ever got to play. No, it didn’t “kick off my love of gaming” or anything like that—this isn’t one of those stories. In fact, I didn’t even complete the game for another five years or so after I started. I found more interesting and approachable games to play.

Two of the games I played were Phantasy Star II and Phantasy Star IV. Both of those were very good, and I wanted to fill in any gaps in the lore so I picked up PSIII. For those of you that played the Phantasy Star III, you already know the “gap” remains unfilled because it is more of a side story to PSII than its own game

I’ve seen all the negative reviews of PSIII and it’s hard to disagree with the points they raise. The production was rushed, the graphics weren’t that good, and the story makes no goddamn sense to a Phantasy Star fan until you play a lot of the game.

Still, I’ve gone back to look at it, and you know what? I believe it deserves more praise for the unique elements it brought to gaming back in 1990. I’m not just saying this out of a sense of fanboy nostalgia, either. There’s none of that for this title. It’s just that the game has some very interesting and unique concepts that made it sneak into my personal top 10 Sega Genesis RPGs. In light of those, I think this game should get a little more respect for what it was trying to do and for what it did.

*Blanket Spoiler Alert* 

Phantasy Star III Took Big Chances

phantasy star iii weird enemy
Not all of the chances paid off. What the hell kind of monster is that?

“Taking chances” might sound like a softball criterion for praise, but you have to consider the environment at the time. Sega was facing serious competition from Nintendo and several of its established game franchises.

The easiest thing for the developers to do would have been to make a direct sequel and carbon copy of Phantasy Star II to placate the fans, increase sales, and gain recognition. For better or worse, the developers did not take that route. Instead, they took risks with the story, setting, music, and gameplay

Not all of them paid off, but some of them did. 

Rather than stay in the safety zone of the sci-fi world built in the Algol System, the team decided to have the world presented as a medieval setting that is peeled away to reveal an almost-dystopian sci-fi world. 

The game doesn’t even give you the satisfaction of a happy ending. In a complete subversion of many JRPGs, you fight entirely in vain for three generations to set the world right, and you still fail. Actually, you undo what the last heroes did 1,000 years ago, putting the entire “planet” at risk. 

The bottom line is that it takes major guts to take such risks in a video game that could have sunk the series. I know that these risks didn’t pay off in every case, but it made for a very unique entry into the Phantasy Star series.

The Story Was Intricate and Connected to the Series

Phantasy Star III interior screenshot
Monsters, swords, and a medieval setting, right?

Knowing what I do now, I believe that the biggest problem facing Phantasy Star III’s story is not that it was confusing or too sparse overall. I think that it simply lacked context that you don’t get without playing the game all the way through. 

When you see a game title Phantasy Star III, it’s reasonable to think that you’re getting a direct sequel to the last one. However, the production of this title was pushed through in a very short amount of time with many team members that didn’t work on the previous entries to the series. That may be why they made PSIII more of a side story than a true continuation of events.

Many people, like me, probably went into the game thinking that they were getting a sequel to the amazing sci-fi game that was PSII. What we got was a game that had a straight-up medieval setting at first and then slowly revealed the true nature of the world. 

While you might think that you’re in a world of swords, castles, and magic, you get hints throughout the early part of the game that something else is going on. You find cyborgs, satellites, and spaceships where you aren’t expecting them, and the player isn’t given much information to explain it.

 

As it turns out, Phantasy Star III is technically a sequel, but it’s not the one that we expected. Instead of sticking around to find out what happens with that weird standoff at the end of PSII in the Algol System, we’re sent out into deep space on one of two remaining massive spaceships filled with refugees from the planet Palm that was destroyed in the last game.

The only issue is you can’t connect all the pieces of lore needed to interpret the game until you play through it using different generational paths. You also have to pay close attention to the story. In fact, a lot of the lore isn’t even readily available to you until the third generation when you visit New Mota in the Frigidia dome of the massive ship called the Alisia III.

Many people don’t even realize that you’re on a gigantic spaceship in the first place. It doesn’t take long for the player  to realize that the society in the game has lost a lot. They are not able to utilize or replicate the vestiges of the amazing technology in the world like weather control, lasers guns, or cyborgs.

Not only are they no longer capable of the greatness that set the pseudo-planet spaceship Alisa III on its journey, but  the people are so far removed from that past that they don’t know it ever existed. 

It’s a very poignant take on the trope that  “fact becomes legend” given enough time. As it turns out, you’re fighting battles between two groups descended from the same planet and you lost sight of the true threat.

Phantasy Star III Boss
Guess who’s back? Back again.

We spent all of the time thinking that people were the enemy when it’s the return of Dark Force (Dark Falz) that we all needed to be worried about. 

The connections between the stories don’t really come together until the ending(s) of the game, but we’ll get to that later. Let’s just say that not only is the story more complex than most people give it credit for being, but the major theme was woven into every aspect of the game from the title to the gameplay.

The Generations Were Much More Than a Novel Feature

Phantasy Star III Generations

Phantasy Star III was praised for the addition of generations of gameplay, but that praise often falls short of recognizing the true greatness of the style.

A second look at the generations revealed to me that they were much more intriguing than I originally thought. Aside from being a unique feature for a JRPG, the generations reinforced the sense of doom that hangs over the Phantasy Star franchise and made the theme of the game even more prominent.

When I finally understood enough of the story, I found that the form of the game had a lot to do with its function.

In other words, playing through generations of characters in the same world reinforced the major themes of the game. One of the themes is the significance of memory and how that shapes the world around us. In this case, the people lost their collective memory due to the vast amount of time since the original events took place. This led to generation after generation of misunderstandings and violence that you fight through only to realize that things aren’t what they seem.

Phantasy Star III  takes you through three generations of heroes starting with Rhys and ending with different characters based on your decisions at the end of each chapter in the game. 

ps6
Laya and Orakio settle things the old way.

With each generation, you get further from the original story of Layans versus Orakians, and your characters learn more about the collective past of the people in the world. 

As it turns out, they’ve been adrift in space on a ship for a very long time, generation upon generation. They lost sight of the fact that they aren’t even on a planet anymore and that they’re headed towards disaster. Instead of putting aside their differences and focusing on battling evil, the Layans and Orakians cast each other as villains and chose to fight instead of banding together like their former leaders. And as the subtitle of the game suggests, nothing good comes of it. 

Every generation in the game brings the people on the Alisa III closer to doom and they can’t even see it coming. Algo is a cursed space system that has The Profound Darkness lingering in it, and even leaving the whole system behind can’t save you from that crazy malediction. It literally follows you across the universe.

The Endings Were Dark and Daring

Phantasy Star III Alisa III
You could have called us this WHOLE TIME?

Dark endings? Wait, we defeated the big bad and we are getting 1,000 years of peace, right? Oh, not at all.

Phantasy Star III is the darkest of the series by far. Even though they are a tad on the shallow side, the endings have a lot of terrifying implications depending upon how they end. 

The endings and implications include:

1: Dark Force is defeated, and the other surviving ship from Palm, Neo Palm, comes and says they’ll help us defeat it again in 1,000 years

We link up with another ship. There is some conjecture that this was the start of Phantasy Star Online. After all, if the ships stayed together and redeveloped using lost technology, then the appearance of Dark Falz at the end of that game makes sense. 

2: Dark Force is defeated, and we narrowly miss hitting a black hole and end up at what appears to be a future Earth. 

If you remember Phantasy Star II, people from Earth are in the Algol System and your characters at the end of the game. It’s some Kingsman-style fighting. If we follow that timeline, then we probably have just stumbled upon an Earth that has no life on it. The ecological catastrophe is what drove the Earth-dwellers to Algol. Basically, Alisa III made the trip for nothing. 

3: Dark Force is defeated, and we go through the black hole and end up on present-day Earth. 

The darkest story yet. We end up at present-day Earth with London Air Control talking to us. This is clearly the past. They welcome the massive ship. Let’s just imagine that the Palmans land on Earth, talk to them about where they come from, and more. Now humans know that life exists in Algol. In the future, they send people from a ruined Earth to Algol and make it suffer. We create a time loop that sets the whole story for Phantasy Stars II, III, and IV in motion! 

The endings are simply dire and sad. We didn’t stop Dark Force for long. and we might have brought it to Earth just like cosmic dog poop on the bottom of our shoes. 

The next game, Phantasy Star IV, references the ships that escaped Palm so long ago. 

Phantasy Star IV escaped ships
Does that ship look a little familiar?

Rika tells Chaz and company about what happened to the planet and the ships and all Chaz has to say is “…So they’re still continuing their flight… somewhere in the universe…”

In other words, there is no canon ending and nothing worked out for the best. This little message reinforces the idea that the people in PSIII were doomed.

Was Phantasy Star III A Great Sega Genesis RPG?

Phantasy Star III overworld screenshot
Brown Everything: Building for the Future

It’s hard to ignore the problems with Phantasy Star III and declare it a great game. I mean the true faults with the game. I see people complaining about high random encounters, slow walk speed, and having to grind for items. I was okay with those, but that’s because I had a lot more time to pour into games back then. 

The music was really hit or miss, the gameplay was unbalanced, and we didn’t have a clue what was happening in the grand scheme of the story. 

Still, I have to praise the journey that the game sends you on. Generation after generation, you peel away the legends of your culture, discover facts, and then find out the deep, dark, and horrible truth. If the game was given a proper development cycle, it would have been so much better

Yet, you can only look at what could have been, so much. 

 

One comment

  1. On romhacking.net, there are a bunch of QoL patches for each of the classic PS games that make them much better modern experiences.

    Fixed typos, better translations, and “easy” mode for each (besides PSIV, which is already easy).

    If you like PSIII are absolutely have to play the new patch with double walk speed and the retranslation. There’s simply no other way to enjoy the game.

    They’re all on RHDN but I compiled a bunch of PS resources at PSIV.gamesdonelegit.com (I did a PSIV relocalization that we re still updating now and then).

    I hope classic PS fans try these fanhacks!

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