Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Phantasie III: Final Rating

Phantasie III sums up the game-playing experience.
Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released in 1987 for Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Amiga; 1988 for DOS, PC-88, PC-98, FM-7, and Sharp X1; 1989 for MSX and Sharp X68000
Date Started: 7 January 2011
Date Finished: 17 January 2011
Total Hours: 20
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 39
Ranking at Time of Posting: 32/39 (82%)
Ranking at Game 453: 375/453 (83%)
I was curiously ambivalent while playing Phantasie III. I won it because I knew that I could. But with the game mechanics, spells, equipment, classes, graphics, gameplay...even the damned villain...identical to Phantasie, it never felt like I was playing anything new or exciting. It is at least a competent game, and not particularly painful, but I don't feel like I missed out on much by playing most of it in front of the TV.

The Phantasie series is the embodiment of the trope that TVTropes calls "Phantasy Spelling": pointlessly altering the normal spelling of words to seem ancient, exotic, or just pretentious. Fortunately, not all series do this or we'd have to contend with Phinal Phantasie. We've seen other examples of this in the blog, including Faery Tale Adventure and Dunjonquest, and we'll see it again with titles such as Wizard Warz, Vampyr: Talisman of Invocation, and Jinyong Qunxia Zhuan. Seriously, people: who are you trying to impress?

I have a lot more readers these days, so I want to make it clear that the GIMLET is supposed to be an objective measure of my own enjoyment of the game. It makes no allowances for the age of the game or the technology level of the times. Oblivion is meant to be compared on the same scale as Akalabeth. Thus, a score of 50 or so in this era would be pretty good, while a score of 75 in the 2000s might be considered quite poor. Before you complain that this isn't fair, keep in mind that my only requirements to get a good score on graphics and sound is that they "aren't painfully bad." A game from this era could have achieved a score in the 80s (though none have, so far) if it combined, say, Starflight's attention to game world and back story, Ultima IV's dialog system, and Might & Magic's variety of quests.

Got it? All right. Let's do this:

1. Game World. Phantasie III feels derivative of a lot of games, not the least of which its own predecessors, in the game world. The continent of Scandor, aside from the different names of towns and such, is indistinguishable from the worlds of Phantasie, Legacy of the Ancients, Shard of Spring, or any number of other titles. In fact, all of the SSI games seem to suffer this certain banality of story and location. And not only is Scandor facing the "same old type of threat," it is literally facing the same threat--Nikademus--as the previous two outings. With three games to build his personality and backstory, you'd think that the player would have a sense of who Nikademus is and what he's all about, but no, all you know (or even need to know, I guess) is that he's evil. Your quest to destroy him is nonetheless pretty clear, and there are sages and such to help you walk through it. And on the plus side, the funeral for Kilmor was a nice tie to both the manual and the previous games, and unlike the original game, your actions have a permanent effect on the world. Score: 4.

And I guess the "plane" architecture is semi-cool.

2. Character Creation and Development. Unchanged from Phantasie. The classes are standard, the variety of monster races a nice touch. Except the need for a gnome to enter the Gnome Caverns, your choices have no bearing on the storyline. Development seems a little too rapid at the beginning and far too slow towards the end. It literally took me about four hours of constant monster-bashing to rise from Level 15 to Level 16. But leveling up, with its improvement of skills (a nice touch) and spells is satisfying. Score: 4.

Training and increasing skills.

3. NPC Interaction. There aren't many NPCs in the game, and none with whom you can have any kind of dialog. The few vital ones, like Lord Wood and Filmon, help you advance the story but don't give you much opportunity for role-playing. As in the original game, it's neat how you find scrolls that give you contextual information about the world and its dungeons. Score: 4.

4. Encounters and Foes. Again, I could largely just paste my comments for Phantasie here: many monsters but oddly undistinguished except in the strength of their attacks and the damage done by their spells. You have some minor role-playing options in deciding whether to fight, greet (hardly ever worked), threaten (never worked), or beg mercy (who does this?) from your enemies. I do like that there were both random and fixed encounters and enemies respawned; without this, I wouldn't have built up my characters enough to win. Score: 4.

5. Magic and Combat. Battle tactics redeem some of the bad elements of the game. Since you can only rest and heal in towns, you have to take care in every encounter, especially in dungeons. If you think you can just breeze through the battle with orcs, you might take just enough damage to give you trouble when you encounter more serious foes later on. Carefully planning battles is the only way to win, and with its multiple attack, defense, and spell options, the game gives you a lot of planning to do. Do I try to wipe out a host of creatures with SWING or do I target the spellcaster in the back rank with my bow? Should I use Firebolt IV here or save my magic points for tougher battles ahead? I like making these kinds of choices, and Phantasie III is really second only to Wizardry in the tactical nature of its combat. In the original Phantasie, I complained that most of the battles were too easy, rendering these tactics moot, but that's definitely not true in this game. Only the paltry selection of really usable spells, and a banal spellcasting system, keeps this category from getting a really "good" score. Score: 6.

6. Equipment. There is a lot of variety to the weapons, bows, armor, and other items in the game, and the game is very clear about the relative value in terms of protection or damage, which I like. The "distribution" system is a bit cumbersome, and it sucks that you can't use powerful items the moment you find them--you have to return to a town first. There are no item descriptions, no artifacts, and nothing very unique, though. Score: 5.

7. Economy. Big, scrawled letter F. Any game that lets you end with over 4 million gold pieces doesn't understand the value of gold. There are shops in the town, but none sell anything better than what you can pick up outside. Give me things I can buy with these shiny pieces! It's only good at the beginning stages when you're suffering for gold for training, and every salvaged dagger is a step closer to a new level. Score: 2.

I hate this.

8. Quests. The main quest is a retread of the previous games, and there aren't really any sidequests, aside from a couple of small extra dungeons. The dual-ending of the main quest is rare for a game of this era, but I don't really count it as a "role-playing" decision because you don't make your choice until literally the last minute. Score: 3.

9. Graphics, Sound, Inputs. They're tolerable. The sound features squishes and crunches and got a little better after Phantasie; the graphics (in the PC version) are the same as its predecessor--not painful, but not interesting. Keyboard controls are intuitive enough if a bit cumbersome when assigning battle actions. Score: 3.

10. Gameplay. The game world is so small that it's hard to call the gameplay "non-linear" even if you can literally go anywhere from the beginning. Functionally, the difficulty of monsters and the need to go through certain scripted events makes the game something of a railroad, although as I said there are a few dungeons that you can explore on your own time. Aside from the alternate ending (which you can get by simply reloading), there's no reason to play the game a second time. Heck, there's almost no reason to play again after playing the first game. Score: 4.

The final score of 39 matches the original Phantasie exactly. Although III suffers from being a retread, its tactical combat system, which I probably didn't spend enough time on, makes up those lost points. I'm not sad that there isn't an English Phantasie IV, and that SSI would soon move on to cooler things.

Time to finish up the first NetHack, and then you're all going to forgive me for a brief detour into Pirates!


  1. It does sound like the game could have been that bit more special with a few added touches.

    Mind you, I'm sure it was adequate for the time. My first experience of cRPGs was Ultima IV, so there are a few games like this one which seem rather odd by comparison. I suppose being exposed to U4 as a first cRPG made me expect more in the way of NPC interaction and story/character based gameplay, rather than it being a series of dungeon crawls (not that U4 was lacking in fighting).

    "beg mercy (who does this?)" just reminded me of that part in Transformers: The Movie where Megatron begs for mercy... http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=pmfDHW87JNU#t=111s

  2. "while a score of 75 in the 2000s might be considered quite poor"

    Really? You have a higher estimation of games from that decade than I do, I guess.

    I will say that so far I haven't been overly interested in playing any of the games you've gone through. You're getting close but you're not quite at my own personal level of acceptance in terms of graphics / UI. (UI being much more important than graphics)

    The only games I've wanted to run through after reading your blog are MM1 and DM - and a quick run I took into Ultima 4 to confirm I wasn't willing to play it.

    That said, Pirates! (not in any way an RPG but we can ignore that) was my favorite game as a kid. I'm looking forward to this one.

  3. I look forward to your review of Pirates. You seem to enjoy it so much and I remember it fondly too.

  4. While I agree the fantasy misspelling thing is annoying, why is "Jinyong Qunxia Zhuan" on the list? It's a game from Taiwan written in Chinese; the title translates to "Heroes of Jin Yong".

    I have many fond memories of Pirates as well. I still have the original map sitting near my computer.

  5. Not to skip ahead but Pirates (all versions, really, including the recent remake) is a classic "Holy crap, it's 3 AM!" game. Sid Meier has a knack for making those.

  6. No that it would change anything, but this grinding from lvl 15 to 16 could probably be avoided by not omitting Wood's Tent. IIRC there were lots of high level enemies, so this would be a bit more seamless experience.
    @all those waiting for Pirates review: don't forget our host told he will finish Nethack first. I think you can get back to your school, work, family etc. and check this place maybe once a year to see if this has already happened ;)

  7. Arkadesh, Shultz's review suggested the same thing. I don't know how I missed this area. FYI, I finished with NetHack (temporarily) tonight, so Pirates! will be coming up (albeit briefly) soon.

    Jason, I was making a joke with Jinyong etc. I realize I don't always hit it out of the park.

    7hm, I guess what I mean is, by the 2000s, game developers have such a long history on which to draw that it's fairly inexcusable if they release a sloppy or boring game. I'm not suggesting that they don't exist, just that you're more likely to find the higher-rated games in this era.

    1. Wait... what?! You're gonna play a Chinese RPG as well? Which is based heavily on a SERIES (yes, not one or two, but 14 books!) of Ancient Chinese Wuxia novels? And, even after reading those novels, you're still gonna have problems finding your way around in that game. Let alone not having touched any of it. Seriously, not envying you and won't be surprised if you just strike it off your list on day 1. :p

    2. I'm fairly sure a lot of these games are going to be removed. Not just the Chinese ones.

    3. Just for the record, I laughed out loud at your "Jinyong Qunxia Zhuan" joke, so do not be so hard on yourself--I imagine Jason is just so into Chinese culture/games/something that he has forgotten what it feels like to not know what the words say.

  8. I actually Really liked that game when I played it as a kid. Obviously using today's technology the game would've been completely different (Imagine a more FF-esque battle system for exemple). But I loved the theme and used it in a couple AD&D scenarios I DM'ed to much success I might add.

    What I like about the Game is that is was very hard, but not impossible. Even at level 15+ one bad encounter could literaly cripple you. There was no music, but I felt it added to the atmosphere. The only thing missing was terrain special effects (wind howling, trees moving, dongeon noises).

    Defenatly one of my favorites. And the only one Phantasie I ever finished.

    Take care guys
    -- Francois424

  9. Replaying the game after 20+ years was not as fun as the first time. :-(

    The game felt more like grinding than fun at times, especially in the beginning and when nearing the end.

    Even though I used characters transfered from Phantasie I didn't get the alternative version of Filmon's "Nikademus will never suspect you" message. Maybe it only works with the DOS version if importing from Phantasie II?

    I was not able to get the second Gnome Bow from the large Viper, since apparantly scaring it with the smell from a jar only works if you haven't given it to one of your characters first. :-(

    Combat should have been better in Phantasie III, but some things annoyed me:
    When Slashing, each hit would do more damage than the previous one. I don't remember it was this in Phantasie I.
    Aim Blow never seemed to work.
    When my Thief and Wizard fired bow, they were always the first to act in a battle. But when the same guys were casting spells they were nearly always last. So the idea of buffing and softening up the opposition rarely worked. So I usually ended up casting mostly healing spells. The times I was able to cast Protection and Confusion early it didn't seem to have much effect. The only buffing spell that really worked for me was quickness, which increased number of melee attacks per round.

    Should I ever play it again, I'd have two Priests. If your one Priest gets killed you are screwed since there are no temples in which to get healing, and the gods who determine your fate after your entire party is killed are rather fickle.

    All in all, I enjoyed Phantasie I more, even though I played the ugly DOS version of that one, and the beautiful Amiga version of Phyantasie III. I felt Phantasie I had more interesting places to explore and a greater variety in enemies. And as Mr Addict mentioned, the non-randomness of monster drops in Phantasie III did not add to the fun.

  10. Hmm... I tend to disagree with your opinion about Phantasie III , I loved both of them, but you know what Clint Eastwood said about opinions..

    About the difficulty, I was very surprised about you finding it so, when you have played REALLY hard games I wouldnt touch today..

    I wanted to write a lot of things but I'm currently somewhat stoned so : I truly believe Phantasie III, and I , are much more fun and easy to play for someone TODAY compared to others of the era.. No need for maping , you just spend time playing (yeah, it's a sin to don't like maping but its my humble opinion).. And the game has an atmosphere.. I prefere it to Pool Of Radiance (since you said SSI would move on for better things), I found it more fun than the otherwise GREAT Ultima IV and I wouldn't even consider making maps for BTales or Wizardrys than to play this one..

    Just my 2 cents ofc :)


  11. I tried to post and somehow browser didn't so long story short :

    I still enjoy both Ph1 and 3, and I consider them to be one of the few games of that era that are still very playable today, compared to other big names like Dungeon Master 1 for example.. The game is really NOT that hard, CRPGAddict you have finished MUCH and WAY more unforgiving games of that era ..

    No need to map (it's a downside for some, such as CRPGAddict I guess), fun, straight to the point and good user interface.. It was much more fun for me than the otherwise masterpiece Ultima IV, I don't even compare it to the likes of BT1-3 and Wizardrdy 1-4 and I suggest to everyone to take a look at it before skiping it..

    Just my 2 cents.. Cheers

  12. It seems like you may have enjoyed it (other than the grinding) more than your score suggest. I know I got a positive vibe off of it and it makes me want to go give it a try. I've never really given any of the older SSI games their proper due. I think the first I played was Pool of Radiance. At the very least, whichever it was, it was based on a DnD liscense which is what attracted me.

    I do love the combat systems in these games. The first time I ran across them I was somewhat overwhelmed and a bit confused. I was rather young when they were released, but with the patience of a kid I just kept playing and playing til, even if I didn't quite figure it all out, I beat it through sheer determination. Great games, all told, and they probably ended up characterizing what I expected and wanted from RPGs in the future.

    It's sad we don't quite see any party based RPGs like this anymore. While you occasionally see a few or something similar, it's still uncommon. The only thing I can think of that is at all close in recent memory is Last Story on the Wii, and it suffers from too many JRPG tropes to count.

    It makes me excited to see Project Eternity at release. I apologize if you've mentioned it in more recent post, since I'm a bit ocd about reading in order, but you might want to check it out. It looks to be a noble successor to the Infinity Engine games and the team working on it is super promising.

  13. Phantasie is basically the German spelling, though the "ph" would look old-fashioned nowadays. So it's a bit like Disney's Fantasia (which is the Italian spelling). It's possible that they were having an eye on the Japanese market from the beginning (there was a Japan-only Phantasie IV), and German titles are rather popular in Japan.

    1. Related nitpick: 'Faery' is actually a completely legitimate alternate spelling. Hell, I spell it faerie, myself.

  14. I remember the first time I played this I was staggered by the character screen, which had way more detail and statistics than anything I'd seen before. It even kept track of age for chrissake... I'd never seen that before either.

    And I don't think anyone mentioned that if your party got wiped out, you could keep playing and one or more of the characters would return as 'Undead'. You could keep using them but they wouldn't gain experience. They didn't cut any corners in the way they put things together... it was very tidy.

    This trilogy is largely forgotten now. It was never popular at the level of Bard's Tale or Ultima and that's a shame. It was a great game, with an easy to follow quest, nice added (and relevant) details, and not much nonsense. I re-played it about 5 years ago, and I still had fun with it then.

    1. How did this end up here? I thought I'd posted it on the Phantasie I review. You mentioned Undead all the time while talking about Phantasie III and I must look like a fool :(

    2. Ha. No problem. I like seeing comments on older posts even if you reiterate something I already talked about. I agree with you that the trilogy deserves to be better-remembered. I look forward to P2 when 1986 rolls back around.

  15. Dear Chet, I never comment about ratings, as I understand that they are highly subjective. However, I feel that the balance of the economy was a bit underestimated for Phantasie III. The reason why you completed the game with so much money is that you never used the function "beg for mercy" to evade combat. This function is really important for the game mechanics, since it is the only way to survive particularly difficult and unexpected encounters. In my runs, it saved me numerous times from certain death. Without it, the game is really too difficult to be completed without heavy reloading, especially in the first 3-4 dungeons. I would say that if one does not maximize charisma during the character creation (which decreases the costs for leveling up), does not reload when characters die (which means additional costs to level up) and does not refrain from using the beg function, then the gold availability during the game is well balanced. Of course one could argue why developers designed a game about heroes who continuously beg monsters for mercy, but this is probably a different topic than the economic system. Anyway, I am really curious in your opinion about these thoughts.


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