Early Phantasy Star games tended to have certain elements in common. We’d see worlds that mixed fantasy and futuristic elements, so we’d have people wielding magical spells while also fighting alongside cyborgs. Dark Force would constantly be plaguing the innocent, and we’d keep beating them back. Sega used the early games to experiment a bit, with Phantasy Star II having your new party members hearing about your exploit and tracking you down at your house, for example. But one entry really stood out: Phantasy Star III. Its celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020 and, while it might not be as widely heralded as the original Phantasy Star or Phantasy Star IV, it was special in its own way. In particular, the Phantasy Star III marriage system set it apart.
Editor’s Note: There will be Phantasy Star III spoilers for the first generation marriage and ensuing children.
Back in the 1990s, relationship elements in games weren’t really defined yet. (After all, we didn’t have tons of romance novels with dating sim elements, Angelique wouldn’t help found the otome genre until 1994 on the Super Famicom, and Tokimeki Memorial’s PC Engine release was also four years away.) So when Phantasy Star III came along and kicked things off with Rhys looking for Maia, an amnesiac woman he had come to love that had been abducted by a dragon, it didn’t initially seem like a foundation for a game where marriage would be a big deal. It seemed like a typical excuse to kick off a fantasy RPG story, which Phantasy Star III appeared to be as its sci-fi elements don’t really pop up until you recruit the cyborg Mieu.
However, once you started playing through it, the unique nature of Phantasy Star III popped up. This wasn’t a story that could be completed or a problem that could be fully solved in one generation. It would span decades. Maia’s abduction set in motion a plot and highlighted racial feuds that would take years to resolve so a greater issue could be addressed.
Which introduced the major mechanic in Phantasy Star III: marriage. While there are no actual romance elements and you aren’t taking part in dating events, deciding who each generation’s main character marries can alter the storyline and even influence the overall difficulty of the game. Sorry for the spoilers, but the first generation ends with the hero, Rhys, finding his stolen fiance, Maia. However, on his journey to find her, he traveled and fought alongside the woman he was arranged to marry prior to meeting Maia, Lena. While we don’t actually see any romantic scenes with any of the potential wives, the generation ends with a choice. Do you marry Maia or Lena?
The Phantasy Star III marriage you choose alters the second generation’s story, albeit slightly, and determines the position you are in when it begins. If you marry Maia, you begin with Ayn, a hero who is rather balanced due to being half Orakian and half Layan. (Only descendants of Laya can use magic.) As a result, he can deal decent physical damage and has different healing spells. This means you’ll have a bit of an easier time surviving, since both Ayn and Mieu have healing skills right away. It also kicks things off with your uncle, Lyle, asking you to save your cousin, Thea, who has been taken away by the cyborgs that have been assaulting different countries.
However, if someone married Lena in the first generation, the second generation of Phantasy Star III will proceed a bit differently. Your hero is Nial and, since both of his parents are Orakian, you don’t have any magical techniques to use to help you on your way. This can make things a bit more intimidating, as you don’t get those extra healing spells for your lead like you would with Ayn. Nial gets pulled into the conflict not because his cousin has gotten involved, but because his mother’s kingdom had been attacked by the cyborgs.
By the time you reach the third generation, things get far more diverse. At that point, you have two possible fathers and each of them had two possible wives. Not to mention if you ended up choosing a certain bride when the second generation ended, you start the third with twin protagonists. By that point in the game, you also have a hero who is at least 1/4th Layan, which means you’re guaranteed to have some healing spells at the start. But even then, by that point things have relatively balanced out due to the eventual parties you’ll be journeying with into the final fight.
Phantasy Star III originally appeared on the Sega Genesis. You can also find it in multiple Sega Genesis collections, like Sega Mega Drive & Genesis on the PC and Sega Genesis Classics on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.