Monday, April 19, 2010

Phantasie: Final Rating

Back in town, the adventurers review their progress.

United States
Independently developed; published by Strategic Simulations, Inc.
Released in 1985 for Apple II, Atari 800, and Commodore 64; 1986 for Atari ST, PC-88, PC-98, and FM-7; 1987 for Amiga and Sharp X1; 1988 for DOS and MSX
Date Started: 13 April 2010
Date Finished: 19 April 2010
Total Hours: 12
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 39
Ranking as of Game 359: 298/359 (83%)
This is the second time I'm applying the rating system I outlined a few weeks ago. Phantasie may be my favorite or second-favorite CRPG so far, so I'll know the system works if it produces a reasonably high rating.

1. Game World. Although mostly a standard high-fantasy world, Phantasie does a good job fleshing itself out with back story and characters. It doesn't approach the depth and detail of modern games, but it's good for its time, rivaled only by the Ultima series. Although its towns are completely interchangeable, its multiple dungeons each have their own unique character. Your quest is clear from the start, and although Nikademus himself doesn't make an appearance until the end, your progress through the game shows the effects of his tyrannical rule, and the Black Knights are a constant reminder of the main quest. The only thing I can fault the game on is my preference that your actions affect the game world. In this game, they don't, really. The dungeons continually re-set, meaning you find the same NPCs in the same perils every time you enter. In the end, you can kill Nikademus again and again. Final score: 6.

2. Character creation and development. The classes and characteristics are RPG standard, but the wide variety of races is interesting. Unfortunately, the choice of classes and races has no real bearing on the game except for a single dungeon you must have a minotaur to enter. Character advancement is fairly basic, giving you extra hit points and spells. Uniquely, all characters--including fighters and thieves--can cast spells, although not many. Final score: 4.

I can't think of any other game that allows you to play a troll main character. No...wait. Might and Magic VIII. Bollocks.
3. NPC Interaction. There are NPCs in the game, but your interaction with them boils down to you stumbling into them and them telling you things. Through the innovative use of scrolls, however, the game does allow you to learn interesting things about the world via your character interactions, and talking to them is necessary to advance the game. There are no role-playing options during dialog, however. Final score: 4.

4. Encounters & Foes. There are many monsters in the game, but they aren't very well distinguished among each other. They basically break down into two varieties: those that hit and those that cast. Aside from deciding whether to greet or fight (neither of which has long-term implications), there's no way to role-play during your encounters. On the positive side, there are both random and fixed encounters, and dungeons respawn, allowing you to replay battles and encounters, and re-find treasures. (Just so it doesn't seem like I'm inconsistent with #1, this is a good thing when it comes to fighting, but a bad thing when it comes to quests and NPCs.) Final score: 5.

5. Magic and Combat. At first, I thought Phantasie was equal with Wizardry in tactics with just a different battle screen. But it's not. First, since all your characters can attack (as opposed to just the first three in Wizardry or The Bard's Tale), you don't need to carefully plan the actions of half your party. Except towards the end, the battles are comparably easy, so there's no reason to meticulously ration your spells. Even at the end, they aren't very hard. My biggest objection is to the imbalance between combat and magic. You must have a wizard in this game, both to travel to the city of the Gods and to slay Nikademus. Fighters, no matter how high level, are completely useless--not relatively, but completely--against some of the higher-level creatures. Final score: 4.

6. Equipment. The variety of equipment in Phantasie is admirable. In addition to different types--swords, staffs, daggers, ring mail, chain mail, shields, and so on--there are different levels of augmentation, from regular through +10. Use of weapons and armor is not limited by character class but rather by strength and dexterity statistics. Items you find on your journey cannot be used right away; you have to get back to town and distribute them among your characters. During this process, it's very clear which weapons do the most damage and which armor and shields offer the best protection. Unfortunately, there are no terribly unique weapons and armor, and the game doesn't offer any descriptions of them. Final score: 5.
Distributing equipment among your characters.
7. Economy. Sucks a bit. After the initial equipment purchase, there's nothing else to buy. All gold goes to training, and for most of the game you don't have enough gold to fully train your characters to the levels they've achieved. Suddenly, towards the end, you end up with more gold than you know what to do with. Final score: 2.

8. Quests. Phantasie offers a compelling main quest, but there's only one outcome. Despite what I thought at the beginning, there are no real "side quests," although there is at least one side-dungeon. The quests do not really offer role-playing opportunities. Final score: 3.

9. Graphics, Sound, Inputs. The four-color graphics are pretty bad on the PC version, and sound had not developed enough by this time to be un-painful. Final score: 2.

10. Gameplay. Theoretically, the game is alinear, allowing you to march off in any direction from the beginning. In practice, this would swiftly get you slain by any number of creatures even if you could survive the swimming (a skill you don't fully develop until a higher level). Similarly, with only a couple exceptions, you can progress through the dungeons in any order you wish, but you can only fully complete them in a specific order. The game offers the same experience for each play; there is no replayability. Even though you can only save in towns, the overall difficulty felt a little too easy at times. But it is evenly paced from beginning to end, and it's over before it gets boring. Final score: 4.

Final Total: 39. This means I liked it slightly more than Wizardry and The Bard's Tale but not as much as Ultima III. I guess that works. Next up....yes! Ultima IV.


  1. What? No comments? I'll add one. I used to play this at a church member's house whenever they had everyone over for parties. He had a Commodore 64, and it took 10 minutes to load the game up.

    It's sort of interesting that I wished I had some games so badly at that time that they still have some sort of draw, but when I actually play them now, it's like "meh". I think I actually enjoy reading your blog than playing the games themselves.

  2. I'll provide a second comment. Thanks for reminding me of this game because I totally forgot about it! That sounds like I might not have liked it at all, but I do remember now having fun with it. I can't remember on which system I played this, but it had to be one of our first IBM/PC's because I find no reference to an Apple II version anywhere. And I recognize the DOS screens. I do remember one thing when I saw the copy protection question. Back in those days it was near impossible to get hold of official copies of games (I live in Holland and there were no stores that sold them, and there was no internet, so mail ordering was the only way, which needed a credit card we didn't have), so I had a cracked one. But that didn't mean the game didn't ask the questions. So I remember painstakingly doing trial and error work on them, making notes on which answer was the correct one for which question. I can't remember what happened when you got one wrong, but I do believe you got kicked out of the game without further injury, except losing your progress ofcourse....
    Thankfully there were only a couple of questions and they weren't asked that much. Anyway, thanks for illuminating this dusty memory corridor in my brain!

  3. Hehe +1 to Slam23 as I also used trial and error (reset :/ ) to find the answers!!!

    I was looking forward to this review as Phantasie is my favourite RPG of the early era (say before EOTB and on era) and as a child I spent c o u n t l e s s hours on it, all of them being enjoyed!!

    I could talk countless hours about the game, still love it and fire it up on DOSBox now and then for a quick play :) What to remember? Many moments.. Finding out about the transportation spell on cities, exploring the really unique dungeons ? Everything is great :)

    Regards !

  4. Slam, I used trial and error in a lot of games like that. Even Pool of Radiance only asks from among 6 or 7 different possibilities during startup, and I used mnemonic devices to remember what symbols went with which words.

  5. On some of the games with copy protection--particularly the gold box games (and also maybe Citadel?)--since you only had to guess one letter and only right at startup I'd often stick with trial and error. I looked closely at the gold box wheels once, determined 'e' was by far the most common letter, and just guessed that until it let me in.

    1. A more sinister method wouldn't tell you that you'd failed. It'd just do something like double the your enemies' hit points or make you lose experience with every battle.

  6. It's not an RPG but I remember Demon's Crest for the SNES gave the first boss unlimited health if your game registered as copied.
    And Earthbound filled the game with an absurd number of enemies if it detected a copied game. Should you persist to the end, the game locked up against the final boss and when you restarted, your saved games were deleted.
    They liked to torture the people who copied games back then. :p

  7. The way of so many of the early CRPGs was to emulate the Dungeons & Dragons game design method, namely "your spellcasters will all be useless in the early levels, and your fighters will all be useless in the later levels." This was seen as "game balance," and there is actually a huge schism in the Dungeons & Dragons fandom today over the changes made between 3rd and 4th edition to try to make all classes equally playable the whole time.

    CRPGs, of course, figured out by the 1990s that maybe it would be nice if your fighters were viable the whole game (though MMORPGs then re-invented the wheel for a while, as from EverQuest until probably World of Warcraft you were useless as a fighter without magical backup, maybe it is still that way now even).

  8. Fighters could still be fairly effective at endgame, although not enough to be worth having more than one or two in your party at most.

    The keys involved having the best weapons and armor and making certain against hard-to-hit foes that you were only ever Thrusting at them. Having lots of attacks at higher level got balanced against foes you couldn't hit unless you took the single careful strike.

    And fighters remained viable to help you cut through the attrition encounters to save potions. Although I always had too many Magic Potions by endgame anyway...

    1. The only real comment I have is ....

      what the Hell is a Bantir?

  9. Man, those CGA screenshots make me glad to have been a Commodore 64 gamer back in the day. Granted, the worm turned around 1990 when Ultima VI hit the streets.

  10. I've read your blog on and off for nearly a decade; this is the first 80's CRPG I've started and successfully made it through. I loved the quick pacing, mapping out the world, and the neat little puzzles and challenges throughout. It was very fun reading your pieces afterwards and seeing how much your play experience mirrored mine.

    For people like me who grew up playing console rpgs like Dragon Quest, I think this game makes a pretty solid entry point into classic 80's PC rpgs. It's much shorter than Ultima/Wizardry/M&M, but there's still a lot of substance to enjoy here. I want to play some of the other shorter, punchier classic games on here now. I already moved on to Quest for Glory right afterwards and had a blast with it, eyeing Questron next.

    I played the DOS version of Phantasie. I tried the Amiga and Atari ST versions 'cause they're much prettier, but the slow mouse interface bugged me a lot. Basically everything in the DOS version maps to arrow keys and Enter, so it's very speedy and easy to play.

    1. Congratulations on your win. I would have liked to see a lot more games copy Phantasie's basic approach. There is a lot to like about the interface.

  11. The 'Phantasie' trilogy (DOS versions) is now available on GOG and Steam. SNEG has published another slew of titles from SSI and Mindscape, also including 'Star Command' and 'Prophecy of the Shadow', both covered on this blog as well. You can see the announcement e.g. here: or an article about the release e.g. here: or by searching for "sneg" on the respective platform (which also includes other earlier releases, though on Steam for some reason it does not show me all publications).

    1. PS Correction/Addendum: Since there is no DOS version of 'Phantasie II', they used the Apple II one. Which means with this release you can't transfer your party to play through the trilogy with the same characters.

      The original creator (of the Apple II versions of I-III) also published 'Phantasie Resurrection', the fifth game in the series, last year (browser game, but downloadable as well).

      As for the Japan(ese)-only 'Phantasie IV: The Birth of Heroes' (1990), there is an English translation which can be found online, but (I understand it was machine-translated / using some kind of automated tool(?), so) not sure how complete and playable that is.

    2. A lot of these sold rereleases of DOS games seem to be making themselves jankier than already janky abandonware versions.

      I don't know if the newer translation was released yet, but the guy who did Starfire's translation is working on one for Phantasie IV, and confirmed that the older one is ML. (I believe this is because it's easy to ML MSX games)


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