Double Agent
Rock 'n roll Phantasy - March 27, 2002 - Erin Mehlos

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. That's three. Don't say we didn't warn you.

You know something ... I've never actually finished the first Phantasy Star. Never having owned a SMS as a child, my brushes with the game have been brief, haphazard attempts to retro-educate myself that have always been put aside when life presents me with some corn-damned "responsibility." If memory serves -- and what I am about to say constitutes the first PS SPOILER of many -- I'd just rescued Odin -- the stoner -- and headed north. As such, I've never even seen Noah. Or the woman who tries to eat your cat.

Tonight's column, brimming as it is with PS-worship, has served as a bitter reminder that I am not whole, and that I probably ought to start saving up for a GBA.

In other news, I'm sick of syndicated crime drama series preaching about internet porn.

Let's go.

Neccessary backlash

I just had to respond to the letter by 'Jealous Bastard', who stated that "[the] Japanese Perception of Americans is quite possibly the most common reason why good video games just never make it to the United States"

As a professional in the video and computer games industry, I can tell you that this is quite entirely wrong.

When decisions, such as those that gave us 'Secret Of Evermore' instead of 'Secret Of Mana 2', or which stopped the 'Earthbound series' from continuing in America, or which prevented the US from having 'Vib Ribbon' were originally made, they were not made by the Japanese side of the industry. Agreed to, yes, but not made.

The people who screwed Americans, and continue to screw Americans out of the best games are in point of fact, Americans. Back in the 80's, the American game culture was essentially bought out by an influx of ex-record executives. I saw this personally occur, when I worked at Activision, and at Electronic Arts, as just two examples. The music industry executives promised greater profits and success, and they had money enough to buy into and control most of the games industry, and make it their own. I kept seeing it as I forged my own games company, and it ultimately helped to destroy that company.

However, to this day, many of the heads of the largest American game companies still actually brag about the fact they have never touched a game in their lives, that they despise the public that buys their 'crap' and that they disparage what they are doing, save for the fact that it makes them a lot of money. I have personally dealt with these people, I have heard this with my own ears. I still hear it...though less and less as time goes on.

The general attitude has been, until very, very recently, that all gamers were in the 8-18 age range, were all boys, were functionally illiterate (and to be fair, 45% of all Americans really are functionally illiterate), enjoyed only sports and violence, and would never buy any product that was not action oriented. Only in the last few years has this quasi-religious belief begun to change, as management gradually is replaced, and marketing studies are finally being accepted, rather than rejected because they "do not fit the known facts". Another factor in the change has been the clear rise of the popularity of anime, which has shocked the American side, forcing some degree of reevaluation of the marketplace. After all, anime and Japanese game design are closely related, and influence each other.

As for the Japanese, the attitudes they have regarding Americans are the direct result of trusting the opinions and decisions of the American executives they hired to manage the American market for them. The American executives informed the Japanese side what the 'reality' of the American market was, and the Japanese corporate leaders did the only thing they could: accept that these successful, highly rated people they hired knew their own foreign, American market better than they could, trying to manage from Japan. They believed the people they hired. So, they agreed with the decisions of the American executives. This is reasonable, from a business, indeed a logical, perspective.

Unfortunately, the American executives be polite...somewhat uninformed.

I still deal with the remnants of this today. In running, for instance, I occasionally get letters from Japan written by people amazed that Americans even know that anime exists...or that we play games based on anime series, or that we like RPGs. What our own executives told the Japanese executives filtered down to the average person.

Americans, know this: we did it to ourselves. Our own people set these ideas, created these views, not only in the American games industry, but also in the minds of the Japanese companies that do business with America. I saw it happen. I lived it.

Jennifer Diane Reitz
Accursed Toys Inc.

Not much to say here - JDR's letter may be off-topic but it's a well written and [probably] necessary addendum to yesterday's discussion. Moving on....

On a lighter note

Erin: All High and Mighty Bitch Goddess,

Long time, no see, dearest. I presume you've been well? [sigh] Enough of the pleasantries... there's work to be done.

First, a response to the letter from yesterday talking about America's resistance to anything foreign. While true to a certain extent, I see many folks talk about foreign films and entertainment in general with a totally undeserved reverence. While there are usually a few interesting foreign films (particularly from India and Germany) per year that make it in to US art houses, the shit to non-shit ratio of foreign films is about on par with Hollywood. The major difference, of course, is that Hollywood films have ludicrous amounts of money thrown at them, which means they're usually highly polished turds.

I'd go on a full-scale rant, but it would never get printed due to length. I just cringe whenever some elitist art snob tries to explain how foreign films are so much "deeper" and more intelligently-written than anything that's come out of the US. Same goes for anime nuts and j- pop enthusiasts who harp on their respective genres' "creativity". Don't get me wrong: I'm not some ignorant, flag-waving, chest-beating pinhead who wouldn't know an intelligent, well-made film if it bit him/her in the ass. I just don't like it when people with low self- esteem try to look intelligent/important by single-mindedly backing relatively unpopular forms of expression.

Just remember: 99% of anything is crap when analyzed critically with an unbiased eye.

On a lighter note, any offline Phantasy Star US release = gravy. I'll consider this retribution for them not porting over the Saturn PS Collection. (Grymble grumble... but I'm not bitter!) The fact that it's on the GBA just means there's yet ANOTHER reason for me to swallow my pride and buy the damn trinket. Let's see: Phantasy Star 1-3, BoF 1+2, Lunar, 2 2-D Castlevania games, possible FFT and other 2D FF games. Yeah, that's just about enough. Gimme a Puzzle Fighter port and I'm sold.

Griffin, who'll just have to live with neck cramps.

P.S. And a happy belated St. Patti's Day to all ye lads and lassies from this potato-eatin' Greenblood.

I've been sold on the GBA since C:CotM, but the continually regurgitated financial excuse still stands, so any further "selling points" are only twists of the knife.

I just can't help but wonder if this neverending string of GBA ports is appealing too heavily to the "old school" set and turning off would-be newcomers.

The choice of an old generation
Am I excited about a Phantasy Star collection on the GBA? You betcha. Having a classic in my hands always makes me happy. Even if has exactly the same Sega-translated script from ten or more years ago, it'll be worth the wait.

Why do I like remakes? Because some of them have been good. For example, I bought the GBC remakes of Dragon Warrior 1, 2, and 3. All were good and rewritten well, even though the games weren't as exciting as they were ten years ago. I also got FFChronicles, and just loved the total rewrite of FF4. Speaking of FF4, though... back in the day, I compared the SNES original to Dragon Warrior 4. While I said even then that DW4 was the weaker game, I'm still a little depressed over the lack of a Playstation translated version.

One doesn't *have* to be old-school to appreciate Game Boy Advance titles. In fact, having these old but relatively good graphics on a portable system will help people understand what makes good games good.

To boost my old-school credentials, I bought a used Genesis and Phantasy Star 4. While it's as good as the FF games of the time, it's butt-kickingly hard. If only there were a slightly easier remake!


The GBA is a wonderful platform, not only for "new-school" to discover "old-school," but also for developers wanting to put out a title with rock-solid gameplay and/or compelling story that can't or won't, for whatever reason, meet the next-gen graphics standards of the present home consoles.

But now I'm off topic, and I hate it when that happens....

Three for one deal

Finally, another reason besides Castlevania to justify keeping my gba. I can still remember my father being completely aghast at my desire to fork over $80 at the local Toys R Us for Phantasy Star II. Somehow my explanation that it was the largest video game to date didn't mean much to him. Luckily my 12 year old self was flush with cash (from a pharmaceutical study, believe it or not), and I went home the owner of possibly my favorite computer rpg ever.

I'm bummed that it wont be out till next year, but at least that gives me time to acquire the $$ without letting some incompetent stick me 15 times trying to find a vein. 'Course, on a grad student's budget, it may come to that.

The other real bummer is seeing the letters "THQ" anywhere near phantasy star, or even sega for that matter. If anyone can screw this up, its THQ. Perhaps they'll force you to play through III before you can access I or II.

ko-d, who's looking forward to revisiting his first encounter with a nekomusume

I'm sure your father will be quite enthused about this vastly more economical purchase.

Why Yojimbo sucked ... or why PS does not

Lurkers seem prone to identifying themselves as they emerge, so I will do so now. I was a lurker. Good, glad that's out of the way.

Phantasy Star has always been my favorite role playing game series, due simply to the sheer coolness of the setting. Final Fantasy combines sci-fi and fantasy in a half-assed, "we're not quite sure what mood we're going for here" kind of way. PS has always done it awesomely from top to bottom. And it has lightsabers, the coolest weapons ever created. The sole reason I asked for a SMS as a kid was for PS 1. I got a Genesis when it came out, and saw PS 2 at the video store, just out of the blue, and nearly burst with happiness. I pre-ordered PS3 at an age when $50 was nearly an unimaginable amout of money. And I "borrowed" PS 4 from the video store I was working for when it came out for roughly 2 weeks to finish it in what spare time I had. When PSC came out for Saturn, I damn near bought a japanese Saturn and imported the game... the only thing holding me back was that pesky japanese language. PSO I swore off in advance, figuring it would be stupid because there was no turn-based battle system, bought it anyway, and pissed away roughly 500 hours of my life on it (and my TV has the burn-in to prove it).

I had no plans to buy the GBA. It is too small and the controls are layed out stupidly. Now PSC is coming out for it and I will, of course, have a GBA by the end of the week. I can only hope and pray that the extra attention the series is getting lately by Sega is indicative of some greater plan to revive it - I want a PS5, dammit, and I want it ASAP. I'm talking single player roleplaying, preferably set before PS 1, or maybe between PS 1 and 2, so that Palma is still around and we can explore it. Hell, I would settle for a re-release of PS 1, 2, or 4 (or even, I guess, PS 3) with a facelift. If Square can plan such a thing for games that are barely 5 years old (FF 7, etc), surely Sega can do a facelift on PS 2 (my favorite of the series)?

Last but not least, about the column: the DA gives me something to look at while I'm screwing around at work, so of course I love it dearly, but I do have a suggestion: would it be too much to ask to recap the topic for the day before launching into it? "I can't think of an intro today" could easily be replaced with "Topic today was why Yojimbo sucked". Then I wouldn't have to keep going back to the previous day and scrolling to the bottom to find out what the hell is going on.

Other than that, keep up the good work. : )

"Melenkurion abatha! Duroc minas mil kabaal!"

- Sykus StarRoamer
The last grey knight

The consensus tonight seems to be that the PS collection is something of a killer app for the GBA -- at least where the nostalgic are concerned. It seems quite within the realm of possibility that, given the positive reaction to PSO, the waters are being tested for another, traditional installment. Cashing in on the impassioned desire for a PS V may seem a logical thing for SEGA to do, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised if they don't use this GBA anthology (and, perhaps, a to-be-announced port of PS IV?) to gauge gamer interest.

The time is coming, PS fans, to support the series. Buy the GBA collection -- buy three.

This stuff keeps forever!

Erin -

While not one of the many hard-core purists that began life with Phantasy Star, the collection has me at levels of happiness I find hard to articulate. You see, outside of a few hours spent with both 2 and three, I never played the first three Phantasy Stars. I played 4 and absolutely loved it, it resides just below Lunar and FFVI on the all time favorites list.

I will say right off that bat that what I've played of III turned me off completely. With graphics worse than its predecessor, a magic system that made me cringe, and un-navigatable dungeons, the game is sheer pain.

However, what I've played of II, buried deep within the past, has left me with a tremendous longing to finish the game. Especially cuz the battles were just so damn hard, and I pride myself on my ability to beat battles about fifteen levels lower than I should be.

And I do feel obligated to play the first Phantasy Star. It is every bit the classic as the first Final Fantasy, moreso, I think, based on what I've heard. Of course, the fact that I know the layout of the final dungeon from playing IV doesn't mean anything, as this is in 3d.

And honestly, my biggest reason for wanting the collection, is simply that a cart with I-III on it means that a standalone IV, possibly with an upgrade, can't be far off.


Ray Stryker, who thinks that FF Tactics 2, rumored about 3 years ago, should be a GBA release...

I've already admitted tonight that I've never, as such, finished the first PS. I will say, however, that what I have played of it has aged significantly better than the first installments of fellow fledgling seires DQ and FF. PS could actually be said to have a storyline and a modicum of character development -- unheard of at the time, when DQ's unnamed hero was still saving the princess and FF's four nameless, faceless light warriors were blindly saving the world because it seemed the done thing at the time.

My point being, if any port of an 8-bit era RPG can grab the attention of latecomers to the genre, its PS.

Of course, like always, not everyone agrees with me.

Don't trust it past its sell-by date


Let's be honest here.

As much as the initial thought of a Phantasy Star Collection for the gameboy advance makes me want to soil my jockeys, two very large problems arise that make me want to wrap myself in my blanket of self-loathing and shudder involuntarily.

1) No Phantasy Star IV.

2) I'm sorry but the Phantasy Star series did not age well, at all. Sure, I had many happy memories of the very first one for the Master System but it was so long ago that the game resides in that place where all the hideous deficiencies cannot touch it. Phantasy Star II is really quite a pain to go back and play. Phantasy Star III is the red headed stepchild of the series and should remain as such. IV, while decent, came just a wee bit too late into the RPG world to really matter.

I guess the main problem was, a little company called Square came along and rewrote the rules, thereby making the Phantasy Star series seem old and poorly implemented.

I'm sure if this letter gets printed, my mailbox will be a sea of flames but I guess the truth hurts.

da_crank, he is called as such because he is cranky.

PS III is regarded by many as being the proverbial two steps back, but nonetheless I don't fully agree your assessment that the series' beginnings are so wholly obsolete. In particular, your comment about Square "rewriting the rules" doesn't sit quite right with me. I'm as big a FF whore as anyone, but it wasn't until six iterations of the franchise in that they even stumbled upon how to write an interesting and semi-original plot that wasn't entirely dependent on tried-and-true RPG archetypes. PS shook them up from the get-go with powerful females and original sci-fi settings in a time of hackneyed knights and dragons.

I can only speak for myself in this, but if any one of the big three's beginnings is as fun to play today as it was in 1988, it's PS.

Looking back

I grew up on my Sega Genesis. I love my Sega Dreamcast. I treasure my Sega Saturn. I play my Sega Gamegear on trips. The first video game I ever played was Crystal's Pony Tales, about the silliest, kidiest game ever. It was Sega. And then, my hero, my love, my Sonic. Rescue me! I named my gerbil after Amy Rose. Every cursor on my computer is Tails. Every single one.

Oh sure, I had a Nintendo. But I never played it. I watched my brother play it, I was addicted to watching Bubble and Bobble, but it was never a love of mine.

But one thing I regret is the fact I never, ever, played Phantasy Star, until Phantasy Star Online. None of 'em. Actually, I didn't play much besides Earthworm Jim, Toejam and Earl, all the Sonic Games, and maybe a few other titles I don't remember.

It's weird, now that I think about it, I've never played a Zelda earlier than Ocarina of Time, hadn't heard about Final Fantasy until commercials for the nineth one, (not that I haven't beaten almost all of them, besides 1 and 10), and I never knew what things like Breath of Fire or the like were.

Back to the subject.

I'm thrilled about this, because now I can finally experience what I've been missing . I'm getting a GBA, so now all the classics I've not seen are coming back and I can play them. Maybe IV will come out two.

Kefanii, the little Sega freak with gerbils and a Tonberry obbsession

At least you'll have something to do between now and 2003 -- you've got a helluva lot of games to beat.

Closing Comments:

As you've probably all read by now, Square has acquired the rights to the Ogre Battle series. Falling once more into the Square whore groove, what do you think this could mean for the Ogre Battle saga, or for the RPG giant itself?

- Erin Mehlos

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