Forsaken by SEGA on U.S. Shores: The Story of Phantasy Star
“It will be then, in the darkest of days that the final lights of SEGA’s love will disappear into the Aether once and for all and the most united of states will feel the cold discombobulating nothingness that is life without Phantasy Star.” –PSO 13:5
For many older gamers, the name Phantasy Star is one spoken with a certain amount of reverence. For those of you too young to remember, before Square released the first installment of Final Fantasy on to the console world in 1990*, there was a game trying to garner popularity for the role-playing game (RPG) genre way back in 1988. This title, released on the Sega Master System was quickly overshadowed in the U.S. by anything released on the Nintendo Entertainment System – but in the wake of its launch, still managed to manifest a cult following that lives to this day. This game was known simply as: Phantasy Star.
The narrative of Phantasy Star was a surprisingly deep one for the time of its release, from political assassinations, to revenge plots and even an elder god manipulating humans so that he could rise to power after hiding in the shadows for centuries. This, coupled with a an overhead map, a rich battle system and a faux-3D first person dungeon view set on the sci-fi/fantasy solar system of Algol – proved to be more than Americans were ready to embrace. This did not, thankfully, dissuade SEGA from releasing the subsequent titles in the series here in the states…for a while.
As SEGA made the transition from the 8-bit generation to 16-bit universe, so too did Phantasy Star. The next three installments of the Phantasy Star series would all take place on the Sega Genesis with each game building on the last in terms of visuals, sound and story depth. Phantasy Star III alone spanned several generations of characters stories all within the course of one game, a concept that is rarely seen at all in modern games and a complete version (mint in box) of Phantasy Star IV is still a highly sought after treasure for game collectors.
Phantasy Star was notably absent for the handheld and 32-bit era in America, with only a series of remakes and spin-offs available only in Japan. However, SEGA was not content to let their beloved RPG go silently into the good night. At the beginning of 2001 Phantasy Star Online (PSO) burst onto the scene, cementing its place into the hearts of gamers everywhere on SEGA’s newest gaming platform, The Dreamcast. Phantasy Star Online was a wildly successful game, and one of the first real online console gaming experiences. PSO eventually was released for the Xbox, Nintendo Gamecube and even PC markets.
With a version update, an expansion and a card based video game spin-off under their belt, Phantasy Star had finally hit the prime time even in the midst of the Dreamcast’s short-lived lifespan. In 2006 Phantasy Star Universe, the next title in the online Phantasy Star series, was released on several consoles and PC to a lukewarm reception. For many, it was so vastly different from PSO that it lost most of the magic of the original PSO experience and the game suffered for it in terms of ratings and sales.
In 2011, the U.S. got their first glimpse of the game that had been waiting years for, a true sequel to Phantasy Star Online. Elegantly called Phantasy Star Online 2, it promised to give American gamers everything they loved in the original PSO and more with features such as more simultaneous players for larger boss fights and a more complex and rich character creation system. The message boards across the internet lit up, eagerly anticipating the next installment of the franchise and year after year when SEGA was asked when PSO2 was going to get released to western shores the only response given was “soon”. With the Phantasy Star festival now over in Japan, we found out that there is a new Phantasy Star Online 2 spin-off dubbed Phantasy Star Nova, in the works and that it is more than likely going to be a Japanese-only release. This announcement, alongside the repeated delays of the American release of PSO2 ultimately begs the question: What does SEGA have against America, when it comes to releasing more Phantasy Star content on our shores?
If we look back to the franchises history, the decision to not release the remakes and spin-offs of Phantasy Star on western shores does start to make sense . Japan has always fostered the Phantasy Star market in terms of sales where systems like the Game Gear and Saturn under performed in America, at best. This means that the creation cost-to-profit margin is much slimmer when you take into account the amount of resources SEGA would have to spend to have those games translated on top of marketing and publication. SEGA took a risk on releasing Phantasy Star Online to the states when non-PC internet gaming was in its infancy. This gamble did ultimately paid off for them, which leaves many people scratching their heads as to why Phantasy Star Online 2 has yet to see a western release.
Unfortunately, at this time all we have is wild speculation. With SEGA still holding firm to the idea that PSO 2 will be released “at some point” in the west, we can only look to the amount of time it has taken the game to even leave Japan. Reports are saying that around early 2014, PSO 2 had finally entered closed beta in Southeast Asia – nearly two years after the launch of the game in Japan. In 1988, a gap of years like this was commonplace when it game to translation and publication. These days, it can be a death sentence for a game. Gamers who wait too long to play their favorite titles can become disillusioned over time, knowing that the game they have waited to play for so long can never live up to the hype they have built up in their minds.
Another factor could simply be the overall cost of releasing the game here. While in 1988, translation and publication times were much wider, (Final Fantasy I was released by Square Japan in 1987 and not released in the states until 1990) those games ultimately had a large cost associated with release such as paying for the localization teams. Phantasy Star IV alone retailed for up to $100 when it launched in 1995. Phantasy Star Online 2, is currently a free-to-play game with buy-in options as a central game mechanic. Most of these in-game purchases are purely cosmetic since there is a physical copy of the game available for purchase should you prefer a non-digital distribution platform. When you take into account the X variable which is “how much does this game make per day?”, it may not be financially feasible for SEGA to take a risk like translating, distributing (bandwidth costs money) and establishing servers for every region. If this is the case, it would only make sense that SEGA would not be willing to take a chance on Phantasy Star Nova here – considering it is a spin-off of the Phantasy Star Online title we have yet to receive.
While American Phantasy Star fans are eagerly awaiting another game release in their beloved franchise, for now they must be content with the videos being published out of Japan of the upcoming series titles until SEGA has finally announced that a new Phantasy Star is coming their way – or at the very least, finally told them why they will be unable to release it here. If the online fan base is any indication, they are willing to wait a very – very long time to once again step into the shoes of a hunter and try and save the galaxy from Faltz once again.-Until next time, goodnight and good game
1990*– All dates are based on the U.S. release windows
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Tags: dreamcast, Gaming, JRPG, Nerd, Nerdy, NES, Phantasy Star, phantasy star fan festival, phantasy star nova, phantasy star online, phantasy star online blue burst, PSO, PSO2, rpg, rpg gaming, SEGA, Sega Genesis, Sega Master System, sega saturn