The start of the affair: Phantasy Star II

As much as I want to say that the first stirrings of desire came up over The Legend of Zelda, I have to admit that when it came to making a connection to a game in an emotional sense, Zelda didn’t make it happen. I loved stabbing Octoroks, I loved bombing walls, and I loved the thrill of finding blue rupees, but when it came right down to it, watching Link twirl downwards in a red circle of death never made me feel sad, only challenged to try again.

For anyone who listens to RetroForceGo!, you know that I tend to love when a game makes me truly feel something; it’s that sense of emotion that pushes me beyond mere gameplay and into another realm, where games resemble the experience of being human so closely that you forget altogether that you are holding a controller.

Phantasy Star II may look archaic now in comparison to the stunning graphics of modern RPGs, but within the unique story and challenging gameplay, there was something much deeper to be found, especially for a twelve year old with enough time on her hands to focus on losing herself in it.

While my predilection for RPGs was already firmly in place by the time I first heard about Phantasy Star II, I had yet to have the experience that I would eventually come to associate as the definition of a great RPG — one that makes you feel something, possibly even one to evoke emotions real enough to cause a real life response.

I never had a Sega Master System. I dimly remember that my parents said I could have an NES or that, but not both — it was like choosing a brand of the same product to them, so owning both systems would have been unheard of. I did ogle pictures of it in magazines, however, and I was especially interested in Phantasy Star, which was an RPG set in the FUTURE. This was a mind-boggling concept to me at the time, after playing RPGs in so many medieval settings.

I don’t remember when I heard about Phantasy Star II, but I do know that I begged for a Genesis for Christmas, and I’m pretty sure that was the reason why.Leaving Toys R Us with the game in my hands, I remember clearly staring at the cover with a sense of enchantment, especially at the purple haired woman, who seemed to have an air of surety and nobility about her.

No matter how many semi-wet dreams I had over the cover of the box art, it paled next to the first hour or so I played the game itself. The music, the universe, even the clothing my characters were wearing — everything was so radically different from RPGs as I had known them previously. It felt like the most enthralling crush you can imagine tumbling into, except it never quite ended, instead kind of leaving a warm glow behind that still flares up every once in a while when I play something great.

While I imagine part of the intensity was about my childlike reaction to the adventure set before me, there was nothing age specific about my reaction to Nei’s death. After spending hours with those characters, the last thing I expected was to see one of them die. It was a taste of thematic maturity I had never encountered in games before, and while it did make me cry, it was the reaction itself that I remembered — I had not only read a story that made me feel strongly, but I had also participated in it by controlling the characters, which to this day is the very essence of what I believe roleplaying to be.

I enjoyed many games I played after Phantasy Star II, but there was a definite unspoken quest on my mind after that — to seek out and complete as many games as I could in hopes of experiencing that elusive feeling again. It pleases me to no end to say I continue to find it in modern games, and while it certainly isn’t common, I see (and feel) it enough to know that I’m not alone in my search for games that will mean something far after my time with them has come to a close.

 

 

Colette Bennett