Over the next little while, I'm going to write about the Phantasy Star series. I'm certain that many platitudes and praises have been written about this series before, from many classic fans of it. Here's the thing that makes my viewpoint fresh and, in my eyes, worth your time and entertainment; I'm completely new to this thing. In order to properly understand how Phantasy Star has caused the reaction it has in me, I feel that a retrospective of my JRPG experiences is needed; we need to know where we've been in order to know where we're going. Let's set the wayback machine and write a bunch of nonsense about my past.
Back in the old days of console wars, I was firmly a Nintendo kid. This was not because of brand loyalty, but rather due to the fact that I did not even know the Genesis existed. You can call it being naive, but I was a small-town child who loved his NES. From 1990 to 1995, the NES was something to look forward to after school, and the weekends were filled with good times going through rentals like Zelda or Darkwing Duck. I had no idea of the fierce competition between the SNES and the Genesis, or that Genesis did what Nintendidn't; all I knew was that Super Mario Bros. 3 was a work of genius. In 1995, I got myself a SNES and experienced the joy of Donkey Kong Country. All this does tie into RPGs, because one year later, I got my first taste of one. We had a family visit to my grandparents' place in 1996, and most of the family went off to some wedding halfway in. I stayed behind with the grandparents, SNES sitting nice and cozy in the basement, and was able to rent SNES games from the video store just down the street. An entire wall of games I'd never heard of before, and what did I pick? My old friend Mario. Super Mario RPG got taken back with me all those years ago.. and memories are faint. I'd never played anything like it before, being used to action games or puzzlers like Dr. Mario. I do, however, remember my silly 11-year-old self losing to Croco, and thinking the game to be one tough cookie to crack. If only I knew that this was an EASY RPG.
Three years later, I was still toting the SNES around. Being a very penniless individual, I had no income to go out and buy a PS1 or N64 in the late 90's. I mostly stuck to portable gaming, preferring to get new things on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. Astute folks might be able to see where this is going, but I shall spell it out; Pokemania hit the world like a zombie plague, and most of my friends were a few years younger than I. They all raved about this awesome Pokemon thing, so I happened upon the craze too, receiving Pokemon Blue for my ancient brick. This thing was like a drug for me, I swear. Every moment of Christmas Day that didn't involve eating was spent staring at that Gameboy screen, struggling to become a Pokemon master. I had watched some of the cartoon at that point, so I knew the basics.. which sort of helped me through the game. I can remember going through the S.S Anne with my Squirtle, screaming "EVOLVE, GOD DAMN IT" at the thing every time it gained a level. As childish as it may have been for a teen to be playing Pokemon, it was really my first foray into the world of JRPG.. even if it was kind of basic. I even went out and got a copy of Pokemon Gold when it was released, wanting to recapture that magic.
A year after I became a Grand Admiral Pokemon World Champion, I took a summer vacation to visit the grandparents. Because, you know, I was/am a lazy person and liked/like to simply relax and play games instead of doing summer chores and stuff like that. The old SNES was in tow again for this little visit, since again I lacked an actual console besides that. Off I went to the video store, somewhat hopeful that they would still have SOME SNES game worth playing. What I found changed everything. I found.... Final Fantasy III. I remember working it out in my head; "Okay, so this game came out in 1994.. and Final Fantasy 7 came out in 1997 or so, I think. Wow, those guys made lots of games." If only I knew the tangled mess Squaresoft had made with the series nomenclature. Nevertheless, I paid my 3 bucks for a rental, and took this little sucker back home and popped it in. Immediately, I was blown away. Everything about this game was simply amazing to me.. and it was six years old at the time. I wanted more. I wanted to know what Terra's mysterious secret was, I wanted to hear more of the music, fight more of the monsters.. I was hooked. Unfortunately, I only rented it for a short while, and didn't make it all that far. I visited the grandparents a SECOND time that year, and explored more of the game; I even tried to buy it from the store, but they wouldn't sell it to me. Jerks. With knowledge that the Final Fantasy series rocked (I even saw Spirits Within because of it), I had to have more.
That just opened the goddamned floodgates. With the discovery of Final Fantasy, I learned about all sorts of JRPGs, and delved into their worlds. The SNES Final Fantasies were bested and beloved. Chrono Trigger rocked everything ever. Earthbound was a surprise sleeper hit for me. Dragon Quest became an instant classic. I even went back and beat good old Super Mario RPG! I was an official JRPG nut now, and most series fell into my grasp and got enjoyed. However, these were all released on Nintendo consoles. I still had not found much zest for the Genesis. Sure, I knew about it, but there was no rush to play it. I owned one, but that one I got for free from a kid at school. It came with an EA hockey game, the reset button was broken, and it was plastered with Spice Girls stickers. Since the Genesis eluded me, so did Phantasy Star.
Just a few years ago, I was listening to a podcast about the old Sega Master System, and they mentioned Phantasy Star. I decided "why not?" and gave the original a shot. I hated it. I hated its cryptic nature, hated how you couldn't fight TWO battles in a row without getting killed, and tossed it aside. Fast-forward to just a few months ago. My friend got himself Phantasy Star on the Virtual Console, and gave it a go. I warned him how tricky it was, but he seemed to have fun with it from what he played. That was when I decided it. "I'm not going to let THIS franchise beat me. Hell, I beat Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania.. I'm all about challenging myself!". So, with points in hand, I went and got Phantasy Star via the Virtual Console.
How'd that go? Well, you'll have to wait until I talk about that in full.