Monday, January 24, 2022

Let Me Be Your Phantasy

I finished Phantasy Star!

It only took about 30 years.

I'm pretty sure Phantasy Star was the first computer role-playing game I encountered. The genre wasn't common in the UK in the 80s, I think because tape was the medium of choice for home computers and most of the big name rpgs were released on disk, and because console rpg releases were spotty in Europe until Final Fantasy VII crashed in and changed everything. I got my copy of PS at some point around 1992, second hand and without a manual, five years after the Japanese release, from a fellow called Graham, who operated a "computer club" from a converted stable, and yes, in hindsight the whole thing seems a bit dodgy.

I have no idea why I picked Phantasy Star up. I hadn't heard of it, and I wasn't into rpgs in general at that point, beyond the Fighting Fantasy phase every 80s kid went through. Whatever the reason, I fell in love with the game, and despite having no manual, and with no coverage in the magazines of the day -- because, remember, it was five years old and it was all about Sonic by then -- I somehow muddled through. I remember getting about halfway through the game when the save erased itself; it wasn't the battery because I started again and the saves were fine. A mystery for the ages.

(I also played it for hours in a bedroom that my father was painting, so I always associate the game with the smell of paint, and vice versa.)

I didn't finish that second play either, because I became distracted by other things. The PlayStation came out. I discovered actual tabletop rpgs. I mutated into a hormonal teenager. Beer. Girls. And so on.

In 2009, Phantasy Star came out on the Wii's Virtual Console, and I gave it another try, this time as a sort-of-professional. I didn't finish it that time, either, which is probably a breach of journalistic ethics.

Later, I got it as part of a collection of old Sega games for the PlayStation 3 and decided that this time I would complete it. Reader, I did not.

This chunky fellow is standing right on top of a hidden trap door. Does he set it off?
He does not. Unfair, I say!
And then in January 2022 something in me -- possible because we recently had our kitchen painted; that smell! -- made me try again, this time via emulation, and in four lengthy sessions, I did it. I finished Phantasy Star. I didn't get every character to level 30, but there's no difference to the game if you do so, so I'm happy to let that go. I did defeat the "impossible" Saccubus, which I had done only once before in my many, many playthroughs, so I'll consider that an achievement.

But finishing the game at all, after a literal lifetime, is what's important. Well, not in fact important, obviously, but you get my meaning. Important to me. Phantasy Star has been part of my life for so long, always there, from when I was a child, discovering the world of console gaming, to when I was -- briefly! -- a computer game journalist, and now as I turn grey and withered, as an actual games designer, albeit in a different medium.

Will I go back and play it again? I'm not sure I will, in part because I've seen everything it has to offer over my many attempts, but in part because I always put off playing the three sequels until I finished the first one.

The road, as they say, goes ever on.


  1. Was there elation when you finally reached the end? I beat the second Ninja Turtle NES game (the one that was originally an arcade game) in 2012, over 20 years from when I first played it. I spent the entire end credits with my arms raised jubilantly in the air, to the amusement of my coworkers.

    At any rate, congrats! It's always nice to beat a game you've been at for awhile.

    1. It's an odd feeling, but not quite elation, because the barrier to finishing the game wasn't the game -- except for the first time, when the save corrupted -- but me. In a way, I've defeated myself, and that's a complex feeling. ;)

    2. Oh, and congratulations on beating TMNT. I've never played the NES version, but I adored the arcade one. I once spent an entire school trip to a theme park playing it.

  2. Congratulations! Now do II through IV. :P
    (Seriously though, Phantasy Star IV is fantastic.)