Sunday, February 5, 2017

Phantasie II: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Killing the fabled "snake-dragon."
    
Told over 15 scrolls, the story is this: Nikademus conquered Ferronrah as part of his conquest of the world. To prevent armies from being raised in Ferronrah that might pose a threat to him, and to prevent external armies from coming to support Ferronrah, he put a curse on the island that greatly weakens anyone who attempts to enter or leave the continent. Normal men die. Supermen become normal men--which is what presumably happens to the imported party from Phantasie when they get kicked down to Level 1. It's fun to see this common trope actually get integrated into the story.
    
The scrolls describe how the capital city was destroyed by Nikademus. Here it is.
    
The curse is contained in some way in an Orb. It used to reside in the old royal family's Summer Palace, but when Lord Wood tried to invade Ferronrah from Gelnor and nearly got away with the Orb, Nikademus moved it to a Netherworld dungeon. To end the curse on Ferronrah, I have to find the Orb and destroy it. The only way to destroy it is to feed it to Pluto's Ice Dragon, and to approach the Ice Dragon, I first need the amulets from the 8 other Beasts of Pluto that Pluto set roaming the world just to be a dick. (Pluto, god of the underworld, is supporting Nikademus in a way that the third game fleshes out.)
   
I have gained an eighth!
  
The beasts are:
   
  • The Giant Constrictor, an enormous green snake. According to the "Book of Beasts" (one of the scrolls), it can be found "in any of the planes at any time and place." I haven't found it yet, which is starting to worry me.
  • The Winged Devil. I encountered and killed it in Filmon's hut (more below).
  • The Undead Snake.
  • The Demon-Fly. Both the Undead Snake and the Demon Fly were said to occupy "small desert islands" on the material plane. I had to search around the surface world until I found them, but I was able to kill them both.
  • The Wyvern.
  • The Green Snake-Dragon. Both the Wyvern and the Snake-Dragon roam the Astral Plane between the two levels of the Netherworld. They must be summoned by a spell. I received the spell in one of the Netherworld dungeons, but when you cast it, it only has a small chance of summoning one of the boss creatures and a greater chance of just summoning a random encounter. It took about 15 castings and a lot of fights, but I killed both of the beasts.
  • The Giant Wyvern.
  • The Dragon-Demon. Both of these latter two creatures are somewhere in the Netherworld and I haven't encountered them yet.
    
The beasts I've encountered so far have been relatively easy to kill, particularly since I acquired "Fireflash 4" and multiple characters have it. This workhorse spell can do 100+ damage to a single enemy, and hardly anyone survives more than a couple of castings. Each character can only cast 3 or 4 of these before needing to rest in an inn or town, so you can't spam them, but they're the obvious choices for boss-level creatures.
    
The "book of beasts" scroll lays it all out.
    
Since the last entry, I've explored three more dungeons. Filmon's hut was the first. It was full of insectoid enemies which did me little good because they leave no money. There were also a lot of encounters with "dark dwarves," slightly overpowered enemies who have more than 75 hit points and do over 20 damage in melee attacks. A few random encounters with them were enough to send me out of the dungeon and back to town to restore health and spells.

An easy button/lever puzzle opened the way to Filmon. The famed sage forced me to fight a king cobra and a bunch of lesser snakes "with sticks" (mechanically, this simply meant stripping me of weapons and zeroing my spell points) to get his advice. I found it was easier to kill them with rocks. Annoyingly, my weapons remained stripped until I got back to the nearest town to re-equip them (you can only equip items in town through the "distribution" mechanic), which made tough going for a few random encounters.

Anyway, Filmon told me about the Orb and the Netherworld and asked me to look out for a couple of heroes named Pelzer (a gnome) and Pedaloe (a halfling) that he'd sent ahead of me. These two NPCs show up at Lord Kilmor's funeral in Phantasie III. He also recommended that I look for the Book of Beasts.
    
Meeting one of the more famous NPCs of the series.
    
Filmon's place was the last surface dungeon, so I headed to the Netherworld via Senog's Laboratory and started hunting for the Impling Hatchery, a dungeon described in one of the scrolls. The Netherworld is kind of annoying because the only convenient town to rest, heal, train, and so forth is Black Moor, and exiting Black Moor automatically transports you back to the surface world. I had to avoid using it. There are also places where you have to walk across lava and take a bunch of damage.
   
No, you can't swim around it. If you try to enter the water, the game just yells at you, "The River Styx!"
    
The Impling Hatchery was full of imps, as you might expect--annoying little buggers who have a way of casting "Slow" and "Sleep" every round. Last post, I talked about how a lot of my melee attacks get nerfed to 1 damage, and I discovered that this always seems to happen when my characters are under the effects of the "Slow" spell. "Slow" is supposed to reduce frequency of attacks, not damage. In such cases, I've reverted to throwing rocks.

The Hatchery delivered me the Book of Beasts, the spell to summon beasts in the Astral Plane, and the code ("66") to get from Senog's Laboratory to the second level of the Netherworld. It also had a collection of 12 pools that did a variety of positive effects (experience, gold, equipment) and negative effects (poison gas, lost gold).
    
Kill the jedi!
    
Early in the game, the Oracle in the kobold village had said to find the Book of Beasts, visit Filmon, do what he said, and return to the Oracle. Now that I had the Book, I went back to Filmon, but he had nothing new to say and he made me fight his cobra with sticks again. I then returned to the Oracle, who also had nothing new to say. I wonder if I broke something by doing it out of order.

I returned to the Netherworld and used "Transportation" to get me to the only other town on the first level: Deathport. It was steps away from the dungeon that turned out to hold the Orb. This dungeon was a series of caves connected by teleportation pools, and I had to fight a lot of imps and devilish creatures. I found and freed both Pelzer and Pedaloe from the dungeon, and I emerged with the Orb.
    
Killing him would have created an awkward moment at Kilmor's funeral
     
It was only after this dungeon that my funds finally caught up to my training. All my characters are now Level 12 and have enough money to train to Level 13 when it happens. I'm even hitting the maximum gold cap of 65,535. Other than training, there's really not much to spend money on.
    
Preparing to fight Pluto. Even three castings of "Fireflash 4" didn't help.
    
I started to explore the second level of the Netherworld. The only dungeon I've found so far is Pluto's Smallest Castle, and every time I enter, I get attacked by Pluto himself, who has over 300 hit points (I know because I've hit him three times in a row with "Fireflash 4," and he won't die) and gets about 12 attacks per round. I haven't been able to survive him. But it looks like there are multiple entrances.
     
This is Pluto's "smallest" castle, according to the scrolls.
    
Believe it or not, I still find the combat system a lot of fun. Perhaps the only exception is when I'm trying to get somewhere on land; there are far too many random encounters on the overworld maps. In the dungeons, they're spaced out just right, and (saving Pluto) are of challenging but not impossible difficulty.

Combat begins with a pre-combat round in which you can "beg mercy," "threaten," "greet," "fight," or "flee." Since fighting is the only way to get experience, gold, and equipment, that's my default choice, but experimenting shows that "greetings" works about a third of the time--sending the monsters away with no fight--and "beg mercy" works almost all the time, albeit at the cost of all the gold you're carrying. "Threaten" hardly ever works and "flee" gets you out of there maybe half the time, but if it fails the enemies get a free round of attacks.

In combat, enemies face you in up to three ranks, and each character has options to attack, cast a spell, parry, or toss a rock. There are several different types of attacks. "Thrust" does a single powerful attack that has the best chance of hitting, and I've learned you need it for some of the more agile creatures. "Attack" does two less-accurate, less-powerful attacks, but I find that it's a good default. "Slash" does three inaccurate, weak attacks and I don't think it's worth it. "Lunge" is the same thing as a "Thrust" but it aims at the second rank (only fighters can do this). The thief is presumed to use his agility and stealth to dance in and out of the enemy forces, so he can aim his thrusts or attacks at any rank. Any rank can also be targeted with "Toss."

The most plentiful group of enemies will always occupy the first rank and the next-most plentiful will occupy the second. So if you're attacked by 4 kobolds, 3 orcs, and 1 troll, that's the order in which they'll appear. Only the first two enemy ranks can attack the characters, although the third can cast spells if they have them. If you wipe out two of the kobolds in the first round, the next round will have the 3 orcs in the front rank, followed by the 2 kobolds and the troll in the second and third ranks, respectively.

"Fireflash" spells--the most damaging--always hit the rear rank first and work their way in.

These rules come together to create a number of different strategic scenarios. If I'm facing two ranks of kobolds and an ogre, for instance, I probably want to keep the ogre in the third rank, out of melee range, until I kill him. Kobolds only do about 1 damage per attack, and they miss a lot. I can endure their stings while my characters toss rocks at the ogre (along with my thief's ability to attack the third rank) until he's gone. But if I'm facing two ranks of orcs and the ogre, the story is different. Orcs do more damage than kobolds and I can't just ignore their attacks. I might try to line up just the right series of attacks and lunges to make sure I wipe out both ranks of orcs at the same time, bringing the ogre to the front rank all at once and allowing all my characters to attack him in the next round.
     
This isn't a bad situation. The bees and centipedes, while nothing to shrug off, will prevent the undead snake from hitting me in melee range. I should concentrate spells on it until it's dead, being careful not to wipe out either of the first two ranks until then.
     
Sometimes the most difficult enemy will be in the second rank, a situation that always sucks. Let's say I'm facing 4 kobolds, 2 master rangers, and an orc in that rank order. The master rangers are my top priority, but I can't hit them with spells like "Fireflash" until the orc is gone. I might have all of my characters throw rocks at him except my mage, who casts "Fireflash," trusting that I'll kill the orc before the mage acts.
    
That guy in the back looks menacing, but he's a pushover. The spellcasters in the front ranks are my priority here.
    
There are, of course, additional considerations associated with the variety of buffing and mass-enemy spells like "Confusion" and "Sleep." The one thing the game lacks is a strong mass-damage spell. The four levels of "Flamebolt" are supposed to serve that purpose, but I find that even "Flamebolt 3" (I don't have level 4 yet), which is supposed to do 1-31 points damage to each enemy, routinely does only 1 or 2 points and never seems to do more than 5. The manual warns that "some of the effect is absorbed by armor," so I guess most of my foes just have really good armor.

Assuming I can find those last beasts, I can't imagine that finishing Phantasie II will take more than one more entry, but I've been wrong before.

Time so far: 17 hours

40 comments:

  1. 1) With that font, the book of beasts looks kind of like the "Boor of Beasts".

    2) Senog seems at first glance like one of those words that ought to spell something backward, but it doesn't. Maybe it's a crafty anagram.

    3) I do like that the story allows for character imports, but delevels them. There are so many cases we've seen of inelegant imports, either because they're overpowered, or the game balance gets screwed up trying to allow for both high- and low-level starting characters.

    I always end up wondering when it was that game-makers decided it wasn't worth the trouble trying to allow imports. It seems like many of the early games basically expected players to be attached to their characters and want to re-use them (maybe a carry-over from pen-and-paper RPG mentality?), while I can't think of the last time I've seen it in a modern one. Of course modern games, even sequels, tend to have new engines, different classes, and the like, so that an import wouldn't make much sense.

    Getting off track, but just once I'd love to see a sequel that allowed imports, but then began with a scripted scene in which the characters are forced into contact with undead and level-drained back to novices, before being unleashed on their new quest. Most players would probably hate that scenario, but I think it's absurd enough to be funny.

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    1. Mass Effect allows you to import Shepard across the two sequels, although that's primarily for the impact of decisions made in previous games (leaving out all discussion of how well that is actually implemented.) However, in terms of game balance, ME does effectively delevel Shepard almost back to level 1 in each game.

      I always thought the Bard's Tale & Gold Box games did pretty well on this subject. Sure, imported characters were overpowered at the beginning of each sequel, but that generally became inconsequential through the course of those games.

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    2. It seems like they started to stop offering character importing in the early 90's. Some still did of course, but it seems to me the majority of games ended the practice.

      I wouldn't say Bard's Tale did it particularly well. You ended up missing the bulk of the character development and challenge of the early game in 2, and remained rather over-powered throughout. In 3, the game itself was geared toward using a transferred party, so starting from scratch was a pain.

      The Gold Box games, and Phantasie series for that matter, did do it well. Phantasie gave a good reason for you to be weaker, in the story, while the Gold Box games each progressed to a higher level of encounters. Though I disliked Pools of Darkness since it had gotten to a level of ridiculousness that D&D tends to get to past level 20.

      Wizardry 6 to 7 to 8 was another one that did well in the transfers, as they used the excuse that so much time had passed that the characters' skills had atrophied from inactivity. You started at an advantage, particularly in gear, but not to the point that you could over power the game.

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    3. the Realms of Arcania games also let you have your party through all games. The did quite well, there is a way to quick gain the missed XP in second with a new party, or you can ignore it for "expert" mode.

      However they did something not so good in the 3rd, I didn't want to spoil it for Chet

      You have to fight the final dungeon without items...

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    4. fuck, how can I delete the post, some how I copied the wrong thing in the last sentence...

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    5. Maybe I'm misremembering how Bard's Tale handled it. In BT3, I thought getting through the first dungeon provided a huge boost for underleveled parties.

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    6. Bard's Tale 2 and 3 both had a starter dungeon that gives new parties a big XP boost. I remember BT2 being easy for quite a decent way through with transferred characters though.

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    7. I didn't play the started dungeon in BT2. In BT3, it was there, but the way it was structured, the no matter how well you performed in it (or poorly), you got a ridiculous number of fixed experience points upon completing it--enough to go up 20 or 25 levels. Then, for the rest of the game, characters seemed crazy overpowered.

      More recent games have gotten too big to support leveling. A 2000s title has as much content as the entire Gold Box series. It made sense to allow transfers when games only lasted 25 hours. It 3 or 4 games to make up a "campaign." Modern games have the entire campaign in a single title, making character transfer less vital.

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    8. If I remember correctly, Wizardry 8 contains one reward pretty late in the game that you can only get if you transferred your character and one specific item from Wiz 6 to 7 to 8. Given the years between these titles, I always thought this must be a very satisfying experience for somebody who managed to fumble around and transfer his character from a DOS-only to a Win95 to a Win98 based system

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    9. Are there any console games that have party carryover? The only one I'm aware of is Super Robot Wars F and F Final for the Sega Saturn, but I'm hesitant to count that because that was supposed to be one game. It only got split into two because development was taking too long.

      I know a number of games that give you some sort of bonus if you have a clear save from a previous title, or occasionally will let you carry over some small element (e.g. the main character's level), but not a whole party. Of course console RPGs don't usually have party creation, so maybe that's why that kind of carryover doesn't happen.

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    10. Thinking about it some more, wasn't the issue with BT3 was that it was mandatory to change a character to the Chronomancer class? I'm guessing the crazy amounts of XP was to get the converted character back on par with the rest of your party.

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    11. My memory of 3 was that the first dungeon let me advance all my magic classes to Archmage. After that there were advanced classes that you kind of needed (and at least one, probably the Chronomancer, was absolutely necessary)

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    12. In the Witcher series you keep some of your equipment and the decisions you took but start at lvl 1 again.
      The game I'm dreaming about is a "complete ultima" remake where you keep the avatar from chapter to chapter and really feel that you are interfering with the society in Sosaria/Brittania for over 1000 years ... of course you have to eliminate grinding and manage the XP gain well to keep a satisfying gaming experience throughout the series...

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    13. Gothic 2 starts your character over and level 1 - but it has a good narrative reason for it.

      Gothic 3 also starts your character off at level one, but forgot to provide a good reason for it. Or for almost anything else in the game, Gothic 3 was terrible in that regard.

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    14. Baldur's Gate in the late 90s allowed importing.

      Dragon Age: Inquisition allows importing the world, but not the characters, as I understand it.

      Saint's Row allows characters to be importing from 3-4, 4-5 and 3-5 as I understand it. Not an RPG though.

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    15. It's quite rare for the JRPG scene, though. The only one I remember is Trails in the Sky, which imports choices made, the protagonist (but adjusts her levels if outside the 35-40 range) and gives some bonus items depending on Bracer rank (essentially quest completion). Old quartzes (magic gems that provide stats and spells based on amount and type equipped) do not carry over, which is explained as incompatibility with new equipment. Money and other inventory is lost.

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    16. Arc the Lad II lets you keep everything from the first game.

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    17. I was going to mention Arc the Lad as well. The only other JRPG example that comes to mind would be the .hack series--but that's really less a series than one game cut into pieces for, uh, reasons.

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  2. Maybe I'm misreading, but it seems that Filimon's primary quest to you was to find Pelzer and Pedaloe, and you've returned to him before you did that.

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    1. Perhaps, but I returned to him after I freed them, too, and he still had nothing new to say.

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    2. And neither did the Oracle?

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    3. No. I tried a few time because I thought finishing that "quest" might be the key to finding Beast #1.

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    4. Don't worry about that one. The hint you received, "any of the planes at any time and place" is literally all there is to finding it.

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  3. When I was in middle school, Kaybee Toys sold older RPGs like this in a bargain box for cheap prices. That's where I got a lot of the Gold Box RPGs and the Bard's Tale games. I remember seeing Phantasie in there but the graphics looked unappealing so I never bought them. It seems like you enjoyed the game a lot more than Bard's Tale though -- I think I was also looking for first-person maze navigation.

    Also I hope it's OK to put this here, but I decided to start my "Japanese-only Super Famicom RPGs" blog:
    http://superfamicomrpgs.blogspot.com/

    We'll see how it goes.

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    1. I've saved a bookmark to your blog. I enjoy reading about games I may have missed as much as I enjoy seeing others (like the Addict) play through my own favorites.

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    2. Very pleased to see that this (superfamicomrpgs) is happening. Bookmarked!

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  4. Before you started the game, did you reset the game to its initial state by booting the dungeon disk? Maps filled in (except for the start) or characters already created would point to a game in progress already (maybe one of the characters had a single beast rune on it).

    If a game was in progress and beast 1 was already killed, then you will have to start over.

    Beast 1 is a weird one because it can be encountered all over the place. I remember running into it in a dungeon and several different overland maps as a kid.

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    1. In any case, you need to try walking around in the wilderness until you encounter it. There is probably a low % chance of it happening for any encounter on the outdoor maps (not in the nether world). I know I have killed it in a forest tile on the map with Senog's Laboratory before.

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    2. Ah, no. I booted from the main disk and figured since I chose "Start in Pippacott" rather than "Continue a Saved Game," it would start the whole game over.

      I just put my two disk files in a backup folder and re-extracted the two game disks from the .zip file I downloaded. None of the characters on the disk have the amulet, but still that's probably the explanation for why I never found it.

      I already wrote a final posting on the game in which I didn't win because I couldn't find that first amulet. If I can find time to devote more time to the game before it posts, I'll start the whole thing from scratch and see what happens.

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  5. When you import a party, you start with a little bit of XP and GP plus Mace (4), Leather (3), and Sm Shield (4).

    I did it a couple of days ago since I remember that I played the first Phantasie game again when you played it a while ago. You start at level 0, but have enough to train characters to level 2 or 3 depending on the class.

    However, the real benefit is that you get to keep your stats and there are multiple stat raising pools in the first game.

    Oddly enough all characters start with 5 Magic Points so some classes have less than a new character to start with (not that it matters much though).

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  6. Should have been: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Fight Them"

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    1. Very nice comment, it made me laugh :o) Thank you.

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    2. Agreed but Phantastic Beasts and Where to Fight Them

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    3. Damn it. Lizard is right. That was so obvious in hindsight.

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  7. I like the way in which the Quest for Glory adventures carried characters forward - just saved you a little grinding time. Just don't do what Darksun 2 did to "balance" imported parties and double all enemies' hit points.

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  8. Well, I started playing the game with my imported characters. After clearing the first and part of the second dungeon, I decided I would try to get beast 1 out of the way. I "lawnmowered" the entire map in the square with Senog's Laboratory (except for the water). After filling in the map, I kept moving around. Eventually I got the message and encountered beast 1 after 87 game days (less than 20 minutes). It seemed to have only 30 hp so it died fast.

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  9. In the 2-3 years of reading the blog I've learned quite a bit, and am continuing to get a more clear history of games. What's interesting to me this time is how similar the combat in this game is to the original Final Fantasy, which must have been influenced. Crazy to play something like FF13, and think of how it led there, bit by bit. Or even looking at something non-RPG. You could argue all fps comes from early dungeon crawlers. The more I learn the more it seems that almost all games lead back to one place... D&D!

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    1. Probably influenced the name, too. I doubt the alternate spelling translated to Japanese, so as far as they know they've just played a series of games called Fantasy, Fantasy II, Fantasy III. What do they name their effort?

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    2. The Phantasie games were apparently quite popular in Japan, to the point where Phantasie IV was a Japan-only MSX release, I have yet to see any evidence that it inspired Final Fantasy.

      It certainly had nothing to do with the name, as Final Fantasy was originally titled "Fighting Fantasy", but the name was changed when Square became aware of the Steve Jackson gamebooks by that title. For many years it was believed that the use of the "Final" in the title referred to Square being about to go out of business, or that Sakaguchi was going to retire if the game was flop, but Sakaguchi recently stated that they wanted the initials of the series to be "FF", and any word starting with F would have been acceptable.

      Hironobu Sakaguchi flat-out states that Ultima and Wizardry were his inspirations for the series, and as far as I can tell he's never once mentioned Phantasie in an interview.

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