Phantasy Star III has always been the most controversial of the critically-acclaimed Phantasy Star series of RPGs. Rieko Kodama, series director and one of Sega's most successful designers, planned to take the universe she created in a new direction, broadening its appeal so that even players new to Phantasy Star would be able to enjoy it -- but time, budget concerns, and a brand new team conspired to produce a game that has been consistently labelled the less-polished, "black sheep" of the series since its original Genesis release in 1991.
At the time, Sega was feeling pressure to compete with rival Nintendo, and had cannibalized much of their top talent from the previous Phantasy Star games to form what was to become Sonic Team. The change in focus forced the company to assemble a new group to develop the third Phantasy Star, and they turned to the relatively inexperienced crew that had recently finished the Genesis port of the arcade classic beat-em-up, Golden Axe. Director/Writer and Lead Designer Hirondo Saiki had done some minor development work on Phantasy Star II, but apart from him, none of the Golden Axe staff had any experience with the Phantasy Star series at all. Nonetheless, series director Rieko Kodama felt that the new faces would serve the new, "fresh" take on the series.
Plot and Setting
A thousand years before Rhys sets on his adventure; two kingdoms, one led by the swordsman, Orakio, and the other by the sorceress Laya, were engaged in a bitter conflict. A cease-fire was called and a meeting between the two feuding nations was
made in an attempt to resolve the conflict peacefully, but the two leaders mysteriously vanished before the meeting could take place. The conflicted sides naturally blamed each other for the disappearance of their leader and all communications between the two were severed. A thousand years pass, and Phantasy Star III's story begins with a blue-haired woman suffering from amnesia washing up on Orakian shores.
Phantasy Star III is set 2,000 years* after the events of Phantasy Star II, which allowed the designers to take very unusual directions with the setting and plot - and they did. Probably the most notable feature was the multiple generations of playable characters, as the player chooses who to marry and took control of their sons as the story progress - one of the earliest examples of multiple endings in games.
The player begins the game in an ostensibly medieval setting as Prince Rhys, a descendant of the hero Orakio, about to be married to a mysterious amnesiac, Maia. The wedding goes poorly when Maia is kidnapped by a dragon from the Layan kingdom, and Rhys is thrust into an epic adventure through seven worlds linked through unusual metallic caves. Along his journey he encounters cyborgs, some of them a thousand years old; submarines and airstrips; cities in the sky; and cryogenically-preserved demi-goddesses, eventually uncovering the secret of the world and saving it from a hidden evil.
* - The original Japanese version of PS3 says 2,000 years, but the English version says 1,000. The discrepancy is commonly attributed to translation/localization errors.
Rhys: Rhys is the Prince of the Orakian Kingdom of Landen. He is the first playable character in the game and the kidnapping of his fiancee, Maia begins his quest to rescue her from the hands of the Layan Kingdom. Rhys can only use swords, knives, and needles (think rapiers). Due to his Orakian ancestry, Rhys cannot use magical techniques. He's a straight-forward beefy brawler.
Lyle: Lyle is a very odd man who joins Rhys to help him fix the weather controller on Aridia. He uses staffs and can also use magical techniques, which suggests that he is from Layan ancestry.
Mieu: Mieu is an ancient Orakian close-quarters combat android, who uses claws for attacks. Despite being a combat android, she can also cast some magic techniques as well. She has been waiting by a lake for a millennium for a descendant of Orakio to command her. Mieu sticks around through all three generations.
Wren: Wren is an android who specializes in managing and analyzing computer systems and technology. He uses firearms in combat and cannot use magical techniques. He teams up with Rhys in order to fix the weather controller on Aridia and thaw out the entrance to Aquatica. Like Mieu, Wren is also remains a playable character throughout all three generations.
Lena: Lena is the princess of the Orakian Kingdom of Satera who rescues Rhys from her father's dungeon. Since she's Orakian she's a natural with knives and needles, but no magic techniques.
Maia: Maia was the mysterious woman who washed up on Orakian shores and was taken in by the Royal Family of Landen. She falls in love with and is engaged to Prince Rhys. Her kidnapping is what kicks off the storyline for Phantasy Star III.
Ayn: Is the main character of the second generation IF Rhys marries Maia at the end of the first generation. He inherits his father's skills with swords and his mother's ability to cast magical techniques.
Nial: Is the main character of the second generation IF Rhys marries Lena at the end of the first generations. Since his mother and father are both full-blooded Orakians, he cannot use magical techniques. However, he's a really strong fighter and uses swords, knives, and needles.
Thea: Thea is Lyle's daughter and the princess of Shusoran. After Ayn rescues her from her imprisonment in the dungeon of Lensol, she becomes a valuable ally with her use of twin slicers and magical techniques.
Sari: Sari is the daughter of Lena and the ruler of Landen and Satera. At first she is Ayn's enemy, but she eventually joins him. She can only use swords, knives, and needles.
Siren: Siren is an ancient android who once fought alongside of Orakio a thousand years ago. Since then, he has continued to hold a grudge against Laya's people and has amassed a large army of cyborgs bent on wiping out all of Laya's clan. He's the main antagonist for Ayn's generational storyline.
Ryan: Ryan is the leader of the defensive line against Lune, despite being Layan. He mistakes Nial for being in cahoots with Lune, however once Lune shows up to taunt Nial, he realizes that he and Nial share the same goal and joins up with Nial.
Laya (younger): Laya is the younger sister of the legendary sorceress and the Queen of Mystoke. She is awakened from a millennium old cryogenic sleep by Nial. She joins Nial in hopes of discovering what happened to her older sister, whom she remember leaving with a man brandishing a black sword. She also becomes a party member in the third generation if the player follows the path of Ayn or Aron. She is an extremely powerful user of magical techniques and uses a bow, just like her sister.
Lune: Lune is the general of Laya's (older, not younger) forces. He was banished by Orakio a thousand years ago and immersed himself in a cryogenic coma. Upon awakening from his slumber he has amassed a massive force in order to exact revenge against Orakio and the Orakians. He's the main antagonist for Nial's generational storyline.
Alair: Alair is Lune's sister, who was also in a cryogenic sleep with her brother. She was captured and imprisoned by the Orakian Kingdom of Divisia during an assault. Once Nial rescues her, she manages to persuade her brother to cease his hostilities.
Sean: Sean is the main character for the third generation IF Ayn marries Thea. He lives in Azura with his parents until it is attacked by Siren. He manages to escape the assault and goes on a mission to stop Siren and save his parents and people. Since he's 3/4ths Layan he's not all that strong, but he's got an amazing command of magical techniques.
Crys: Crys is the main character IF Ayn marries Sari. He lives in Landen until it is discovered that the planet has shifted off its normal course and is now heading into a nearby sun. He heads up a quest to find a way to set the planet back to its normal orbit. Since Crys is 3/4ths Orakian he's an extremely powerful fighter, but he only knows a few magical techniques.
Aron: Aron is the main character IF Nial marries Alair. He lives on Dahlia with his parents, his uncle Lune, and cousin Kara. At the beginning of his generational storyline, his people come into contact with a ship known as Neo Palm (this is Palma from Phantasy Star II) and witness it's destruction at the hands of unknown forces. He and Kara leave to find out what caused Neo Palm to explode. Aron is half Orakian and half Layan a perfect mixture of sword attacks and useful techniques.
Adan: Adan is the main character IF Nial marries Laya. He is the prince of Mystoke, Landen, and Satera. Earthquakes start happening and Adan sets out with his sister Gwyn to discover their origin so he can put a stop to them. Much like Aron, Adan is half-Orakian and half-Layan so he's got a good mix of magical techniques and fighting skills.
Gwyn: Gwyn is Adan's sister and she joins her brother on his quest to stop the mysterious earthquakes. She's also unique amongst the Phantasy Star III cast because she's also a clairvoyant and can see into the future through her dreams. She also has great healing techniques and is a crackshot marksman with her bow.
Kara: Kara is Aron's cousin and the daughter of Lune. In the storylines of Sean and Crys, she's an embittered warrior who joins them because he father won't put up a fight to try and discover the true origins of the Orakian/Layan conflict. Even though she is a full-blooded Layan, she can't use techniques. She does have her father's legendary slicer though. In the storylines of Aron and Adan, however, she's a delicate woman who can both cast techniques and use a slicer in battle.
Miun: Miun is an ancient Mieu-type android, who along with Siren, fought with Orakio a thousand years ago. She is heavily damaged from an unknown battle and wanders aimlessly around the deserts of Aridia during the third generation. She's kept herself alive clinging to the desperate wish of seeing Orakio's face again. If she's approached by one of the third generation main characters with the sword in their possession, she will recognize it and shut down having her wish fulfilled. Mieu will take her legendary claw to use in future battles.
Dark Force: Yes, folks, he's back and he looks badder than ever. He's the ancient dark evil of legend who was trapped under the waters of Landen with Orakio's sword. The hero frees him when he recovers the sword, and must use it to destroy him before he destroys the world.
Phantasy Star III followed the same basic mold as its predecessor and other early console RPGs. Players moved around the world from a top-down view, and the turn-based battles were first-person. Characters had various statistics which would improve after gaining experience points, and found items and equipment which would improve their abilities. Vehicles make their appearance in the late game, but most of the time the party will be walking through the seven worlds and crawling through lengthy dungeons to get between them or to uncover special items and progress the story.
In the place of the traditional spells and magic were "techniques", which cost Technique Points (TP). Each character is able to cast techniques grouped by category (Order, Heal, Time, and Melee), consisting of 4 techniques each. An adjustable grid in shops lets the player change the relative strength and success rate of each spell in a group. So, for example, if they wanted an antidote spell (Anti) to succeed more often, they would adjust the grid so that more power is directed toward Anti, decreasing the power and success rate of the other 3 spells in its category (Heal).
In the end, Phantasy Star III became most known for the game it wasn't. Fans of the series were looking for a direct continuation, and didn't get it. Critics were looking for the franchise to keep up its many top-notch characterstics, and didn't get that. New players to the series may have wanted a plot that had fewer confusing holes and edits, and they didn't get that either.
Previous games in the Phantasy Star series were noted for their vibrant colour, science-fiction atmosphere, detailed and well-animated enemies, and extensive character development. Phantasy Star III was perceived to have fallen short on nearly every front. The rushed development resulted in a game with a number of bugs, a lackluster English translation, game maps (towns, castles, dungeons, etc) with little to no decoration, uninspired dungeon design, barely animated enemies, and a learning curve that seemed to be more of a waterslide than a hill.
Despite these extensive flaws, the game still had its attractions. The game's generation system got a lot of attention, and the characters and world design tantalizingly and frustratingly hinted at the depth left unable to shine by the game's many development constraints. The game's music, by Izuho Takeuchi (credited as "Ippo"), at times haunting and medieval, at others driving and electric, was often mentioned as the game's best feature. Takeuchi would be the only team member to return for Phantasy Star IV.
Connections to Phantasy Star I and II
Warning: This section contains major plot spoilers.
The seven linked worlds are actually separate, huge compartments of a spaceship, named the Alisa III - after the female protagonist of Phantasy Star I, Alis Landale. It's had a number of its systems go offline, and Rhys and his descendants work to repair it. But Phantasy Star III's real place in the universe's timeline only becomes apparent by visiting a skippable town in the game's third and final act.
On the west side of Frigidia, one of the seven worlds, there is a town on an island accessible only by air, called New Mota. The people there are "the keepers of our people's history", they say (US release):
We're the descendants of the people of Palm, a planet that once circled the distant star Algo. Palm was destroyed by an evil being that haunts us every 1,000 years, bringing death and ruin. This evil incarnate is known as Dark Force!
The people of Palm were thinkers and creators. They knew of the plans made by the evil being. When the vile Dark Force stirred 1,000 years ago, preparations were made to escape from Palm. Our ancestors built a fleet of 400 spaceships.
This armada escaped the destruction of Palm and set off into space to find a new homeland. Our ancestors thought they had at last escaped from the clutches of the undying master of evil. But Dark Force managed to slip aboard a ship. It destroyed all but one of our sister ships before Orakio and Laya trapped it on Alisa III. Now there are only two ships left of our fleet: our ship, the Alisa III, and the Neo Palm.
Palm, Mota, and Dezo ( Palma, Motavia and Dezoris in the original Japanese) were the names of the three planets in the Algo ( Algol) system that were the settings for Phantasy Star I and II. The destruction of Palm happens during PS II.
Other references: The "word of power" in the game is " Nei", the name of a critically important character in Phantasy Star II. The Nei Weapons are inherited from the characters of PS II, though it's never explained how.
- Aron is the only one of Rhys' descendants to have his own unique walking sprite. The other descendants are just palette swaps of Lyle or Rhys' sprites.
- At the very start of the game, before Rhys goes and meets Maia at the marriage ceremony. He can sell his equipment at the shop and buy an escapipe. Once Maia gets kidnapped and Rhys gets imprisoned, he can use the escapipe to escape from the dungeon. Once doing this, the story is unable to progress and he can't leave town. The King says to him: "You have used your escapipe! Normally a smart move, but now I'm afraid the game can't be continued. Please press RESET and try again." Which is exactly what the player will have to do.