By the time Phantasy Star III was released the series was well on its way to becoming a solid favourite with Western Sega fans, having already become pretty famous in its homeland Japan. With the third game Sega decided to make some sweeping alterations, but the core gameplay fundamentally remains the same.
As the title would suggest, the biggest selling point of Phantasy Star III is undoubtedly the ‘generation system’. As the game progresses you end up assuming the role of the offspring of the starting character as opposed to controlling just one hero all the way through. The game also showcases a branching story arc, which obviously adds to the replayability.
Aside from that, much has been left the same. The random battles operate in a similar fashion (although they’re far more automated this time, which will either come as a blessing or a curse, depending on your outlook) and the usual structure is abided by – essentially you travel from settlement to settlement fighting monsters and tackling bosses.
Graphically things have actually taken a noticeable dive compared to its predecessor, which is rather disconcerting when you consider that Phantasy Star II wasn’t the prettiest game ever. The character designs are nice enough but everything looks a bit bland, with only a few colours being used on screen at any one time. It all looks a lot like the primitive Megadrive/Genesis RPG Sword of Vermillion. Some detailed cut scenes help lift the game slightly but they’re few and far between.
Another key issue is that the much-hyped ‘generation system’ isn’t quite as free-flowing as Sega would have you believe; the branching plotlines aren’t all that different and it’s unlikely that you will want to sit through the many hours of gameplay more than once in order to see all the different threads of the storyline. This system also waters down a plot that isn’t terribly engaging in the first place – it’s little wonder that Sega ditched the concept for the infinitely superior sequel, Phantasy Star IV.
As it stands Phantasy Star III is a decent enough RPG and offers plenty of hours of entertainment, but it’s hard to shake the impression that this is arguably the weakest game in this illustrious series. Hardcore fans will obviously want to give it a bash but more casual adventure gamers would be better off trying the second game, or one of the other RPGs currently available on the Virtual Console.