For its 20th anniversary, Sega has released the Phantasy Star Complete Collection as part of its Sega Ages 2500 line. This includes emulated versions of all four Phantasy Star games, along with the Japanese-only text adventures based on Phantasy Star II, and the two Game Gear titles which also never left Japan. It does not include the remakes of Phantasy Star I and II that were released earlier as part of the Sega Ages line.
Phantasy Star has seen several compilations already. A similar package was released ten years ago for the Sega Saturn. There was a collection released for the Game Boy Advance featuring Phantasy Star I – III, and the recent Sega Genesis Collection for the PS2 and PSP have Phantasy Star II – IV. So what makes this new collection worthwhile?
There were numerous additions to the Saturn anthology that have been carried forward to this release. The walking speed in the older games was kind of slow, so there's now an option to speed up your characters so they blaze across the screen. Additionally, the original Phantasy Star has an "accelerate" key that speeds up the entire game, and there's a fast forward function to speed up the battle animations in Phantasy Star II. There are also additional save slots for Phantasy Star III.
In addition to the standard difficulty levels, there are Easy and Very Easy settings which increase the gold and experience obtained after battle, which makes the games (especially the brutal Phantasy Star II) much less of a grind. The original Phantasy Star was written entirely in katakana, which is a total pain to read. You can now select to have it written with a combination of hiragana and katakana, which is much easier. Naturally this won't make a difference if you don't read Japanese, but the PS2 version has one major enhancement that the Saturn version didn't – this one includes English versions of all four games, with almost all of the enhancements. The only omission is that you can't enable the FM synth soundtrack for the English version of the original Phantasy Star. (In Japan, many Master System games supported FM synth so the music sounds different. This functionality was not present in all other territories, so the rest of us are more familiar with the standard PSG sound.) This option is only present if you're playing in Japanese.
This collection runs on the same emulators as the Treasure Box Collection and Monster World Collection, so it includes a number of display options, including the ability to run it in progressive scan, enable scan lines, adjust filtering, or display in true low res. Unfortunately, like most Genesis emulators, the music quality isn't quite perfect. It's rarely unbearable, except for a few songs that have some annoying static (particularly in Phantasy Star IV), but anyone who's played these games on an actual Genesis may be slightly irritated by the discrepancies. In spite of this, it doesn't have the sound glitches that were present in the Genesis Collection (in Phantasy Star IV, the battle music doesn't stop when the victory music played, leading to an overrunning cacophony of noise whenever you win a battle.)
The text adventures may be unfamiliar territory, since they were never officially released in English. These were initially released through an online service and were later distributed as a bundle for the Mega CD. There are eight in total, each focusing on one of the main characters from Phantasy Star II. They have very minimal graphics and play like old interactive fiction games, as you tell your character to walk in different directions and read the text description of each area. These are still in Japanese on this collection, but a few of the stories have been fan translated and are available for use on computer emulators.
Also available are the two Game Gear games, although they're hidden. At the title screen, you need to hold Right on the D-Pad and press Start. Phantasy Star Adventure is an adventure game similar to the text adventures, although it features slightly more detailed graphics. Phantasy Star Gaiden is a generic RPG with only vague ties to the Phantasy Star saga. It only has vague ties to the original, since you play as some random kids who live on a colony founded by Alys, the heroine of the first game. Neither are great, and both are also only in Japanese, but these haven't been included on any other collection, so it's cool that they're here.
Like most of the other collections, this is also full artwork galleries for all games, which include character portraits and full manual scans. However, they seem to be missing some of the bonus stuff that was in the Saturn Phantasy Star collection, particularly the commercial videos and some of the cool arranged music.
For the casual fan, this collection may seem a bit redundant, considering that three of the four primary games on this set are on the Sega Genesis Collection, only missing the first Phantasy Star. That collection is not only cheaper and includes many more games, but can be picked up at any Gamestop nationwide. However, the enhancements made to the older titles definitely make them more playable to those without the patience for old school level building. Regardless, long time Phantasy Star junkies will find this nearly comprehensive collection to be well worth the dough.
Below are some samples from the artwork gallery.