Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Phantasie III: A Hard Start

This is known as an "inauspicious start."

I've been on the road the last few days and not playing much, but partly I've been so silent 'cause I can't seem to get anywhere. The beginning stages of Phantasie III are surprisingly hard--at least, unless I'm missing something. Battles routinely leave my characters bereft of limbs, and I cannot find a single town that sells healing potions sufficient to repair the damage. My quest to do so took me into some areas I wasn't yet ready to face, and as you can see from the screen shot above, I ended up losing most of my party. This has happened multiple times. Yikes.

Even the first dungeon is a bit too hard for Level 1 characters, so I decided to spend a little time wandering the wilderness and building up my statistics--specifically, wandering right around Pendragon, the starting town, since the monsters seem to get more difficult the further you get away. Still, it's clear from my limited wanderings that either Scandor is a busier place than the Phantasie I kingdom, or the game world is smaller. There's a town on practically every screen. Too bad none of them sell Level 7 healing potions.

We're a bunch of cowards.

To try to get anywhere in the game, I've been resorting to a tactic I'm usually loathe to employ: running away. The consequences of a bad battle are so severe that I turn tail if it looks like I can't handle it. It doesn't always work, though, and of course I often misjudge whether I can "handle it." In my current party, most of the characters are Level 4, but I have a wizard with no legs and a priest with only one leg. What am I missing when it comes to healing? Could SSI have really made a game this punishing?

Do I target the tough barbarian rank first, or the easy kobold rank?

The difficulty doesn't mean I'm not enjoying it. In fact, Phantasie III returns me to something like Wizardry-level tactical combat. Specifically:

  • Since I cannot save in between towns and I can only fully heal in towns, the difficultly rests in the accumulation of encounters more than individual encounters. I must carefully weigh whether to press on to the next dungeon room or whether to just get out of here. Combats are random and frequent, and I always need to plan on the possibility of several fights on the way out.
  • Within individual encounters, there are tough choices. Aiming, attacking, thrusting, and firing bows have different levels of effectiveness on different enemies. I must also consider how to target my attacks by enemy rank and when to use my limited spell points.
  • Fleeing is a gamble because if it doesn't work, the enemy gets a free round of attacks.

If only "keep limbs intact" was a skill.

SSI has also introduced its skill system from Wizard's Crown, so every time I level up, I can allocate points to attack, parry, swimming, listen, find trap, disarm trap, find item, pick lock, and fire bow. Even this requires a bit of strategy. At first I just concentrated on attack skills for most characters and allocated the thief skills only to the thief. Later I realized that at this rate, my thief would never really advance far in anything.

When death arrives for the entire party, you find yourselves on the Astral Plane, where a great demon judges each character and decides whether to a) resurrect him; b) turn him into an undead. If the latter option occurs, it appears that the character advances to Level 20 but can no longer be trained or advance in skills after that. Resurrected characters lose their gold and one point of constitution.

I guess that's a step up from being just "dead."

Due to the game's difficulty (or my ineptitude), I couldn't play long enough to give you any more insights, but I did make this recording of the gameplay. In it, you can see my crippled party do pretty well against a succession of enemies before I press too far into the dungeon and get my ass kicked by a couple of giants. My battered party tries to limp its way to the exit, but repeated battles leave all of the characters dead. Three are ultimately resurrected and three are made undead; I ditch those three.

Finally, I'm having the same problem that I had in Phantasie with my characters being ready to level up but not having enough gold to pay for the training. I need to pay more attention to charisma next time I roll new characters. Oh, and one other kicker: the characters age, meaning I can't dither around Pendragon forever.

I've got to be missing something regarding the healing, right?


  1. IIRC the beginning was hard and demanded a lot of grinding. My approach was to focus on one or two character initially. That wasn't too difficult as usually you don't have much more of them after the battle anyway. Then IIRC you can divide the experience not equally - focusing on them. This way my party consisted always of few more experienced adventurers and some new greenhorns. This way you should build up your party in reasonable time.

  2. Yes it's that hard. Using recruits for cannon fodder is one way to go as Arkadesh says. How does that make you feel? :)

  3. I remember the early game being a lot of running back and forth to town after one or two encounters. Definitely a grind, as Arkadesh said. I don't think I ever became a fan of the broken/missing limbs, but I do remember liking the addition of skill training.

  4. I think the gameworld in Phantasie III is only about half the size when compared to the first entry in the series.

    For your gold troubles, I remember a freshly created character conveniently brings along a little money.

  5. Dear CRPG Addict: Please note that you do not have to torture yourself or your characters on our account. If you need to pass on this one please do!

  6. imo the entire Phantasie trilogy is junk.

  7. I may be weird, but I have to say I liked whole Phantasie trilogy. Probably nostalgy thing as it was one of the first cRPGs I've played - only Ultima III before that IIRC. But that isn't that bad, and it isn't that long, too. As soon as you level up your party things get much easier. I think one hour of merciless grinding should be enough to get things started. Just be merciless. No healing for the disabled, grab their cash and recruit fresh meat.

  8. Once your priest gets the level 3 healing spell he/she can heal missing limbs. You have to level up very carefully and stay very near the town until that point really- no way around it. The kind of encounters that drop higher-level potions are too tough for lower level characters. The first dungeon isn't really tougher than the wilderness except for maybe one or two encounters, so it's a pretty good place to get xp for your low-level characters as well as long as you stay fairly near the exit.

  9. Aren't level 20 characters going to be stronger than level 3 or 4 characters? Why not keep a couple of undead for awhile to help protect the characters you're trying to level?

    And I agree with using the fresh recruits idea at the beginning too, at least until you get the limb-healing ability.

  10. I have to play this game now. I had it when I was younger for the Commodore 64 and I hated the graphics. I was spoiled by Ultima :) I never knew how hardcore this game was.

    Thanks, RPGAddict for playing this. I would have never known how good Phantasia is without your posts.

  11. What does it mean to be undead? Is it like resurrecting a weaker version of the character, or do you lose control of the character and have to fight them later like in Nethack?

  12. Undeads are normal characters, they just can't level up, so they're practically useless.

  13. I'm with Reiko. Why not hang onto a level 20 undead or two for a while, using the gold and etc to boost the low-level you're really wanting to keep?

    Mentoring by zombies...

  14. I'm not sure IIRC but I think undeads are lvl 20 only in number, their abilities are as low as they were in the moment of their death. Lvl 20 is just a sign they can't progress any further.

  15. I appreciate everyone's suggestions. Briefly:

    Arkadesh, I took your advice and it worked--see next posting.

    Anonymous, RE: gold. I'd consider that a cheat, so it's against my rules. Anyway, the game hacks away some of your gold when you drop a character from the party, so I suspect it wouldn't work.

    JJ, no interest in passing! A challenge is not always an unwelcome challenge.

    On the undead characters: they're pretty useless. I think the "Level 20" is just an indication that they can't increase any more (as Arkadesh says); there are no skill or hit point bonuses to accompany this. Deranged, you don't lose control of the characters, but all they can really do is some brute fighting.

    Anyway, it all worked out eventually.

  16. In the atari version, once a priest became undead, you could have it learn "Healing IV" rather easily. Then you could use it to rejuvenate your crippled party. You could also get access to an undead wizard for the "Transportation" spell (great for instant travel to far-away towns).

    You should try learning spells with them =)

  17. I think it's cute that characters and enemies can break their heads and survive. :-)

  18. Would this be the first game in which you can play an undead character? That seems pretty innovative, even now.

    1. I would say "Seldom Used ", not really innovative in today's standards.

  19. "If only "keep limbs intact" was a skill."

    'Discrete' would be an amusing racial characteristic, maybe. For a dust mite? Some sentient rock? The tradeoff would be, while it could throw itself, it couldn't hold any weapons.

    Sadly, given RPG spelling, probably all sorts of would-be thieves would seek that trait out, hoping it would help with their hiding abilities.

  20. Running this game on DOSBox... was a favourite of mine on the Atari ST in the 80s so has nostalgic value. Can finish the game and level everyone up to maximum in a few hours, whilst movie-watching.

    I found a buggy thing (which I'll put below) which led me to find this blog. Having read it, I'll do my best to clear up the unsureties that I see others talking about above...

    The start-point of the game is quite hard, but there are ways to make it easier. Go around the Pendragon Archives at the start. Don't allow yourselves to lose limbs, as it takes time to find the potions or learn the right spells - means you have to head back to town as soon as anyone's taken any big hits. Annoying, but better to be chicken than dead.

    Your archers always shoot first, and they're very accurate; so you can kill enemies before they have a chance to hit back. I start with 3-4 dedicated archers.

    I also usually choose 1 Wizard (important later on, worth having despite their low HPs). Elves make the best Wizards - their higher Dex is good for archers, and Elves have better Fire Bow stat and higher Int. At least one is a thief (2 is better - the best Thieves are Sprites, Pixies, Halflings and Elves; make sure they have plenty of Dex). Thieves make the best archers (they are the only class that start with the much better Short Bows instead of Self Bows too) and thieves are much better at "Listening" than other classes - which means you have a high chance of 'surprising' the enemies at doorways, giving you a free round of combat. You'll need them to Pick Lock, Find Traps and Disarm Traps as well. If the 3rd archer isn't a Thief, choose either a Priest, Monk or Ranger. I'll come back to picking this guy after I address the Front Rank. Same with the 4th guy.

    The 5th & 6th guys act as tanks (should have high HPs) and to mop up anyone the archers haven't killed (they get much better at this as they level up). Fighters spring to mind but don't write off a solid Ranger or Priest (Dwarves especially), both of which can learn the Healing Levels 1-4. The best Fighters have good Str, Dex and Con - Dwarves, Trolls, Ogres, Gnolls, Minotaurs... but my all-time favourite was a Sprite who he doubled up as a 5th archer.

    Back to the 3rd and 4th guys; you'll need a healer, so you either need a Priest or a Ranger. Maybe you've picked 1-2 Priests/Rangers in your Front Rank, which gives you a bit more freedom here and you might prefer to have a Thief as your 3rd archer, have a Priest here (if so, go Elf/Halfling as the others are all inferior with bows) or maybe you want to experiment with a Elf/Halfling Monk (basically sub-standard Thieves with a few more Spells). Character #4 depends on how many healers you have. Possibly you have enough to pick another Thief.

    My dream team: Elf Wizard, Sprite Thief, Halfling Thief, Elf Ranger, Dwarf Ranger, Sprite Fighter

    Undead have one bonus - they can learn all spells, so you can get an Undead Priest/Ranger with Resurrection and Healing III-IV - early option on to heal missing limbs. Warning - resurrection (by spell or by Astral Plane) loses 1 pt of Con; this affects Hit Points as you level up so it's often better to just reload the game and restart where you last saved.

    Now, my "bug": I noticed that I wasn't able to find items after any combats. After head-scratching, it was whenever I used a potion or cast a healing spell, only characters were level 14. Re-loading wouldn't fix it, I had to quit and start the program again from DOS. Very rarely am I able to use a potion / cast a Healing spell without this happening. Very annoying, I want to use my Level 14 guys to kill Lord Wood and get his Halberd +6 :(

    1. How come you don't use an Atari ST emulator? I found that using Steem was the best way to play the whole trilogy, since all three were released for the ST and they look much better than the DOS versions. Steem is also very user friendly, unlike Amiga emulators.


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