Game Title: Sega AGES – Phantasy Star
Company: SEGA
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Digital Download
Battery Life: 4 – 6 hours
Cloud Save Support: Yes
Download: 98 MB

Phantasy Star is a bunch of different RPG series at the same time, almost like how the “Xeno” games are all different. Xenogears is different from Xenosaga is different from Xenoblade. When many people think of Phantasy Star, they likely default to the style of game that is Phantasy Star Online or Universe.

But when you go back in gaming history, you will find the first Phantasy Star series that were a bunch of experimental turn-based RPGs in early SEGA history. Some of these games can be found in almost every Sega Genesis / Mega Drive collection out there. To be more specific, Phantasy Stars II, III, and IV.

The game that is missing from many of these is the original game, which is missing because the first game of the franchise didn’t release on the Genesis, but for the SEGA Master System. Thanks to the “Sega Ages” re-releases, handheld fans have been given the first chance to play the game since the GBA Phantasy Star Collection.

So, here we go. This is my review of Sega Ages: Phantasy Star for the Nintendo Switch!

Story

star 2 - story

Phantasy Star takes place in the Algol star system, where ones benevolent King Lassic has turned into a cruel and evil tyrant. This story centers around Alis, the sister of a rebel killed in the fight against Lassic, swearing revenge upon her brother’s killer. The tale is of how Alis gains comrades and prepares to infiltrate Lassic’s castle and murder him.

The story of this game I can give credit to for some things but not for others. On one hand, it handles its big cutscenes really nicely, showcasing special artwork with dialogue. But on the other hand, a lot of the dialogue is really lacking. There’s a lot of really poor grammar here.

Gameplay

star 3 - gameplay

Sega Ages: Phantasy Star is a turn-based RPG like many of its age and after. When you’re playing the game, you explore overworld maps, trek through dungeons, and fight enemies in turn-based battles.

The way progress works is that you explore. You have constant story objectives, but you only get things done by exploring. Go to towns, find dungeons, and explore them to try to find what you actually need to advance the story. If you don’t find some item or cutscene that shows you where the story goes next, go somewhere else and explore dungeons in the hopes you find the right thing there.

If that sounds confusing, it is. This game’s sense of direction is really poor. The dungeons are in first-person, but have no maps, meaning you have to memorize walls that look exactly the same to know where you are. And when it comes to Story Objectives, you’re just as clueless. When you need to find a party member, you usually need to talk to NPCs and buy or acquire a certain key item to recruit them, but you don’t know you need it to recruit them beforehand and even when you find out, you don’t know where it is. You either use a guide or wander around aimlessly through the game’s multiple overworlds and hope for the best.

star 4 - confusion

The game’s difficulty goes up even higher when it comes to combat. It is turn-based, but the difficulty is put up pretty high. For almost every new area or major dungeon you find, you’re going to have enemies that easily out-class you until you fill up your party. That means you’re going to be grinding for levels. A lot. We’re talking several hours of grinding by the time you reach the end of the game. Not to mention when you need to grind for money to buy gear from the shops.

It’s also a very slow game. The combat pacing isn’t bad, but you have to use the menu for everything and have to re-do the menu for every other thing you want to do. You want to heal all your party members? Cycle through items for a healing item, then cycle through it all over again for member 2, and again for Member 3, and again for Member 4. Or when using vehicles. Want to cross a short river? Navigate your inventory to select your Hovercraft, move 3 steps to the right and re-open the menu and cycle through inventory again to re-select Hovercraft to disembark. It’s really a task to do much of anything because of how the menu constantly resets itself.

star 5 - dungeons

Put simply, it’s an extremely confusing and difficult RPG that most people consider to be a large challenge even for hardcore RPG fans. Thankfully, this is a “Sega Ages” release, meaning you can play the game in its original form or its Sega Ages version, which makes a lot of changes to make the game much easier to pick up and play. These changes include:

– You can now pull up a HUD to show dungeon maps filling themselves out as well as how much money and HP/MP you have left for your party
– Battles now give you roughly 4 times the amount of Experience and Money
– You have guides to tell you what Items and Spells do

These help the game in tremendous ways. The Map helps you not to get lost in dungeons as well as to to not have to open the menu every time you need to check your characters’ HP and MP. The guides help you to know what items and spells do, not requiring you to look all that info up online whenever you get a new spell that’s worded strangely like “Help” being the name for increasing an ally’s Attack power.

Also, that EXP and Money multiplier helps it in so many ways. With you gaining so much more EXP, it feels more like normal RPG progression than the grindfest that the original game was. You do still have to do grinding sessions for initial levels when it’s just Alis or when you need to get money for new weapons and armor, but it feels much more balanced in that, outside of grinding for money, I never felt I had to level grind at all after I filled my party up. Everything I fought up to each dungeon was more than enough to handle that dungeon and more.

And that ties right into content and length. If you played the original game with a guide, you could probably beat the game in around 20-25 hours. I used a guide for a lot of this game (mostly where I needed to go, though I navigated most dungeons without needing a guide with the self-filling map) and I completed the Sega Ages version in around 12 hours.

Controls

The control scheme is pretty simple. No touch or motion controls here.

You can move around with the D-Pad / Arrow Buttons or the Left Analog Stick. You can confirm menu options with the A and Y buttons and cancel with the B buttons. The + button pulls up the menu. And, that’s it. There’s also a Fast Forward option that you can map to a button and can change up the control scheme at will to put any command to any of the face buttons or the L/R triggers.

Presentation

star 6 - presy

Graphically, it looks polished with what it looked like back in 1988. There are 3 graphical styles: Normal which looks crystal clear, Scan-line which looks like an old CRT TV, and Smoothing, which blurs everything to look smoother. In all honesty, I think Smoothing is hard on the eyes and the Normal/Off mode shows off the best presentation.

The only problem I have with presentation is how Full-Screen Mode works. When you have the display smaller, you can easily put up the new HUD for maps and characters without interfering with anything on the game screen. However, if you use Full-Screen, the new HUD must be toggled off to see everything. If it’s on the right, it covers up enemy HP and on the left, it covers up your battle menu. I really enjoy playing retro games full-screen, so not being able to do that without having to constantly turn the HUD on and off was very annoying.

In terms of performance, I have no issues. It plays nicely and never crashed or froze on me.

Battery Life

In terms of Battery Life, I was expecting a ton out of this game. Here are my times, from 100% to 0%

Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 4 hours, 36 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 4 hours, 44 minutes

Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 5 hours, 45 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 5 hours, 52 minutes

In conclusion, Phantasy Star comes to the Switch with a huge number of improvements to bring balance to a severely-unbalanced game. On the downside, it’s still very confusing and slow due to its progression and menu systems. But with all of the improvements here, it’s definitely worth diving into the origin of Phantasy Star and SEGA RPGs as a whole.

Final Score: 8/10