Yet another aging classic makes its way to the GBA
thanks mainly to SEGA's seemingly endless library of
games. Phantasy Star was arguably SEGA's first real
hit making it one of the first "must have"
titles for their own Master System. Unbelievably, the
game was actually released in Japan in 1987 only days
before Square unleashed its own RPG, Final Fantasy.
The conversion duties have gone to GBA experts Digital
Eclipse and while they're generally unbeatable with
original titles, I'm sure there's a huge temptation
to enhance these conversions in some way. Obviously,
this will appeal to the more modern audience but annoy
the gaming enthusiasts who wish to enjoy the game just
as it was all those years ago. Do we have a pleasant
trip down Memory Lane then or a collection of games
that should have remained in the past?
Outside of the story the ingredients of the average
Role Playing Game are pretty standard: wander around
chatting to some people, battling others (and the odd
monster) and collecting/trading items and skills. Now,
armed with that information, imagine the Golden Suns
of this world brought to their simplest level and you'll
have some idea what Phantasy Star Collection is all
about. That's not to be critical because quite simply
that's how it was all done then. This does make for
a rather menu-heavy experience though as almost everything
your character does requires an interaction of some
description. With even battles fought using this system,
some gamers may become frustrated by the lack of on-screen
action when performing virtually any task. It's still
a reasonably entertaining story though with the designers
clearly letting their imaginations run wild producing
some rather weird and wonderful (if occasionally a little
spaced out) plot twists.
By today's standards it's all pretty basic stuff
with the interface to each of the three instalments
becoming slightly more complicated. It's kept to a minimum
though and as everything is concentrated on the standard
layout, you'll never even approach the shoulder buttons.
Most actions are carried out by a simple button press
with a lot apparently happening automatically, which
does at least mean you're unlikely to hit the dreaded
'brick wall' as occasionally happens with modern RPGs.
As you'd expect, it's all pretty responsive too with
nothing really demanding the type of split second timing
that most modern titles require.
Before we even touch on the visuals in Phantasy Star
Collection, you have to remember that these graphics
were created some ten years ago and although gaming
ideas were just as imaginative as they are today, 8
bit graphics just weren't up to the job. With that in
mind, get ready for an exercise in 'how things used
to look'. Before any notion of a 3D environment was
developed, this is how games were illustrated. It's
not all bad though and the majority of on screen characters
are well drawn and the various areas they encounter
are simple but effective. These early games definitely
don't have cluttered environments, which is actually
refreshing, and it should be remembered that when visuals
were this basic the designers had to put much more effort
into the gameplay.
Sound & Music
If graphics were minimalist back in the 1980's, then
audio was even more so and in the name of authenticity,
Digital Eclipse have ported over the various audio elements
to the GBA version too. Like most of the sounds from
this generation of video games, this is less than impressive
and listening to such a bland collection of beeps on
the GBA's superior sound chip is a little painful. There
are some highlights but not enough for you to justify
turning up the volume.
It's difficult to come to any concrete conclusion
as to just how good or bad Phantasy Star Collection
is. While it's a faithful conversion of the original,
it pales in comparison when put against the modern and
significantly more sophisticated RPGs. It really is
all down to personal preference but I would suggest
that this is far more appealing to gamers who recall
these titles from the first time around and no longer
own the carts or indeed a Master System.
While as a GBA owner you have to welcome any new
release, you can't help but be a little cynical about
all these re-releases and rather like the movie industry,
you have to question whether the creative element within
interactive entertainment is starting to lose its edge.
If after all this you discover that this collection
is for you, then there's a lot of gaming to be had here
and it's ideally suited to a long trip of any kind.
A really long trip.