classic marathons

ARCHIVE: Phantasy Star Adventure

Screenshots in this journal are taken from Valis77’s longplay of Phantasy Star Adventure, available at World of Longplays and on YouTube.

Phantasy Star Adventure

This one isn’t a surviving original journal. It’s more of an apology. While I was playing the original Phantasy Star games, I discovered that there were some additional Phantasy Star games that I had never heard of before.  Since I had been around portable RPGs longer than console (as we’ll see later in the Marathon), I felt these Game Gear games would be a nice little addition to my run without opening the pandora’s box that was Phantasy Star Online. There are three classic Phantasy Star spin-offs, all exclusive to Japan. The most interesting game was a Game Gear game called Phantasy Star Gaiden, a full portable RPG, but I never finished it. There were a series of eight text adventures related to PSII released for SEGA CD, which I never even started. The game I did finish was a Game Gear game called Phantasy Star Adventure.

I chose to start with PSA, because it showed all signs of being a quick experience that wouldn’t infringe much on my spare time. The funny thing was that I was right… but I didn’t know the half of it!  At the time, I hadn’t played any games that were quite like this. Visual novels yes. Adventure Games that are mostly just visual novels, yes.  “Barely one and a half hour portable adventure games cum Visual Novels…” …that’s different.  I’ve played better, longer versions of this genre since, typically old DOS games, but at the time, PSA was a surprise.

I didn’t keep a full journal on PSA back in the day, though I’m not entirely sure why. Best guess… and I risk laying this on thick, but it’s the most likely reason: I probably didn’t write a journal because it was such a very short game, which means this is going to be a very short discussion. If the only thing I get across is the length, I’ve done my job.

You play an agent from Piseo investigating a bio-plant on Dezo, although not in an official capacity (which means making you an agent was just a lazy tie-in to PS2). Secretly, you’re trying to find a kidnapped friend. You bash around, solving rudimentary puzzles and engaging in combat. Yes this adventure game / visual novel has combat, which involves on-screen dice!  This idea is cute, but only serves to slow the game down.  It’s all so shallow and terrible. It doesn’t have the decency to just be shallow, or just be terrible. It felt the need to be both, and made it clear every chance it got. I can’t help but wonder if the game wasted time rolling on-screen dice just to add ten minutes to the experience and so significantly extend the playtime.

Roxas, that is a stick.  Being used as a ladder.

Japan had more than a few of these Adventure/VN/RPG combat triple-hybrids in the 80s and 90s, mostly on PC.  The gameplay in PSA doesn’t stray from that limited template (you mash three genres together and you’re either going to get something expansive or something limited, that’s just how it works). Unfortunately, PSA is one of the worst examples I’ve seen from this niche, hybrid genre.  There are dating sims with the same formula and more content and polish.  I’ve seen dating sims with better combat systems, and they don’t have a reason to even have combat systems!  The failure of combat in PSA, an RPG franchise’s spinoff, is a pratfall.

I wish I could say more but I’m all dried up. You break into a lab and stop some evil bio-engineering. I feel it’s not like me to skim the substance off of a retrospective in favour of blanket condemnation, but it’s been five or six years since I played PSA and all I remember about the game was the way it went splat in a big ‘ole belly-flop.  The only worthwhile moment in the entire experience is when you picking up a bazooka to fight a giant, which doesn’t typically happen in an Adventure game, and then you still have to roll dice to do damage with it. Slooooow dice.  So even though you used a rocket launcher to destroy a monster, all you remember is the dice!

I’ve said in the past  (though for the first time on this blog) that I’m more willing to forgive faults in a video game than lack in a video game. PSA is only somewhat faulty, but it’s absolutely lacking. For me, it wasn’t worth it. It ain’t worth it. Stay away.

You thought I was kidding about the bazooka-dice!

Prev: Phantasy Star 2 – Part 2
Next: Final Fantasy – Introduction

ARCHIVE: Phantasy Star 2 – Part 1

Screenshots in this journal are taken from Valis77’s longplay of Phantasy Star 2, available at World of Longplays and on YouTube.  Yup, same longplayer, we have the gift of consistency.

Day 8 Continued

So naturally, after finishing Phantasy Star 1, I started off Phantasy Star 2 the very same day.

Now how can I start this, this game throws a lot on your plate straight from moment one. The game stars a guy called “Rolf” by default. Rolf is an agent for the government in Piseo, on “Mota,” which is what they call Motavia nowadays (similarly, Palma is “Palm” and Dezoris is “Dezo”). For those that have been paying attention, that means PS2 starts where PS1 ended, and even starts with Rolf having dreams about Alis fighting Dark Force.

A lot has changed in Mota since Alis’ day. For starters, they’ve made a major effort to terraform the place from the desert it used to be, thanks in a large part to a mysterious computer called “Mother Brain” that’s housed in some distant, secret location. Mother Brains’ been planning out the development of Mota via a few special facilities. The grassy areas are walled in, no doubt in some form of terraforming dome, but the visual effect is rather odd, as though Mota were just a series of grassy platforms hovering over inky blackness. This was nearly a Genesis launch title (it was released just a few months into the life-cycle), and it doesn’t quite know what to do with its resources.


ARCHIVE: Phantasy Star – Part 5

Day 7

So it’s the end of my Phantasy Star “week”, so to speak. With the helpful proddings of the walkthroughs, I found the hovercraft, and wondered if maybe I had listened to the man’s speech about it but just didn’t realize it was a hint about what to do (Editor: after all, in the original draft of these journals, I had a running problem of forgetting town and planet names!). I secured the hovercraft and almost immediately found a dungeon off the coast of the junk town where I had found Hapsby the Robot. Inside the dungeon, I found a Laconian Sword guarded by a Red Dragon at the top. You know, those Red Dragons I had wiped out en masse on the way to Noah’s master? Here we go…

I gave the Sword to Alis and kept searching the Palman oceans until I had found a microscopic, mechanical island somewhere south of the Peninsula Dungeon. There, I found a monster-free dungeon that had a shop in it (…why this layout, designers?) and was delighted to find that they sold “Gas Shields.” I bought one and used it to probe the gas town on Motavia, where I was told where to find a mystical shield. Not the Laconian Shield, mind (I already knew where that was, so I would be pretty bitter if that was the end result of all this fussing). No: they were talking about the Mirror Shield I bet I would need to beat Medusa. I found the Shield hidden on a nondescript square on a small island, classic ugly 80s. Only Odin could use the Shield, so I strapped it on and went off. No thanks, by the way, to walkthroughs all over the internet that can’t seem to agree on its location. It’s probably random.

After double-checking the walkthroughs, I confirmed my next destination had to be Dezoris. At this point, repeated mostly everything I had done on Day 5, without as much cowardly running, and death. I even got the Laconian Shield!


ARCHIVE: Phantasy Star – Part 4

Screenshots in this journal are taken from Valis77’s longplay of Phantasy Star, available at World of Longplays and on YouTube

Day 5

I hate being lost in this game. It’s the 8-bit first person stuff. I get the feeling that if I were trying to play the original Megami Tensei I might just go insane.  (Editor: HAH!)

First, something I forgot yesterday: I found a flute that would let me escape dungeons anytime I wanted. (Editor: Though I’m not positive I ever used it, considering an incident you’ll be reading about in a Day or two.)

Today started out fair enough. I went to Motavia and headed south, where there was a village several people had mentioned that was surrounded by rocks and water. The only way in was a cave to the south, which I took. I got a little lost in the cave, but that’s not the big deal, and it ultimately helped me as I found a side passage I would have otherwise missed. The passage played home to a cramped but plot-important Blue Dragon, which dropped an Amber Eye (a gem) when it died. Once I made it through the tunnel, the people in the village said there were dragons plural in the caves beneath, but I’m pretty sure I flushed the place out. Last resort, I’ll head back.

Take a real close look at this jackass. No, not the guy! The dialog box!

There was really nothing else to do in town, though people hinted at there being a hovercraft somewhere that would let me cross water (that would be great on Palma, which was Earth-like and mostly water). For the time being, I bought a Land Rover from a shop in town. This vehicle let me move faster, avoiding more fights, and also let me cross Ant Lions. I immediately went exploring and found an area filled with gas that I had been warned about, but didn’t recognize as gas at first sight. It did contact damage that tore the party apart, killing two of them in three squares of movement. I had to cast the Fly spell to get away at all!


ARCHIVE: Phantasy Star – Part 3

Screenshots in this journal are taken from Valis77’s longplay of Phantasy Star, available at World of Longplays and on YouTube.

Day 4

Well that was unpleasant.

At the end of Day 3, I had two options open to me that didn’t involve leaving the planet: run along the coast (to Medusa Tower, I said) or return to a shrine, inland, that seemed too strong for me. I have since decided that the shrine is Medusa Tower. It doesn’t look like a tower, that’s for sure, but I know the Tower is on this continent, and there are only three dungeons here: the prison, a cave, and the “shrine.” So by process of elimination the shrine must be the world’s flattest Tower.

Thankfully, I decided to try to cross the lava first, since going to Medusa Tower would have been a very bad idea.


ARCHIVE: Phantasy Star – Part 2

From this point on, screenshots in this journal are taken from Valis77’s longplay of Phantasy Star, available at World of Longplays and on YouTube.  Of course, Valis had the common sense not to go to the optional dungeon I waste much of Days 2 and 3, and all the better for doing so, even if it means I lack screenshots for them.

Day 2

After working out a snafu with the Xbox 360 save file and the game’s save state (not the last time this would happen, either), I set off to the peninsula cave, where I met a mysterious cloaked figure who told me that no one has gone into the “corner room” and come back alive. As video games have taught me to trust old cloaked men in monster-infested caves with no visible means of support, I immediately walked into the corner room to find out what the deal was. This is how video games work. If someone tells you there’s something incredibly dangerous in the room to your left, you go there immediately! The “corner room” was a donut shaped room, except in the middle of one of the passageways, I stepped on a trap floor that dropped me one level down. A few steps from there, I fell into another one, then another one.


ARCHIVE: Phantasy Star – Part 1

In compiling some of these deep archive posts to talk about the history of the Marathon, I almost forgot about a critical element entirely. See, while most of the Marathon’s history is easily tracked, thanks to these lovely journals I’ve been writing, one bit of history needed an extended explanation: the origin of the journals themselves.

As it happens, these journals came from a separate game project. At some point in the past, I told Kyle, a long-time Phantasy Star IV fan, that if I ever got all four of the original games, I would play through all four in order. Then the day came: the Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection came out with all four of the series and the game was on. And since I promised Kyle I would play them, I wrote the journals as a way of keeping him abreast.

And as the games continued to humiliate me, they became a point of entertainment.

The Phantasy Star journals aren’t the same thing as the journals that chronologue the Marathon proper. They’re rougher, more amateurish, and a result of stream-of-consciousness recollection that went straight online and has only been edited now. Nevertheless, I feel that’s a part of their charm. They feel like scraps written by some poor lost helpless gamer, or maybe a belligerent RPer that’s not very good at their roleplaying. One of the strangest elements of this journal is that it’s written almost in present tense! While I might re-write them one day for polite consumption, but I think it’s more likely that one day I’ll start the series over, since I never did finish… preferably with whole new journals!

For the time being I wanted to keep them as they are, just tidied up a little, for the sake of the original feel. Have fun with them!


ARCHIVE: Original Mega Man Classic Run

These are the few surviving notes regarding the original Mega Man Classic Run (MM1-9), the founding Marathon as we know it today.  These notes aren’t exactly critical reading but I’m preserving them for posterity.


A History of the Marathons

The Video Game Marathon and its journals happened as a result of an unlikely collision: on one hand, we were playing Mega Man and Trauma Center for fun. On another, I was playing Phantasy Star on a promise to Kyle that if all four Phantasy Star games were ever re-released, I would play them all. When PS1 finally returned to shelves via the Sonic Ultimate Genesis/Mega Drive Collection, I felt honour-bound to do the journals so he could get a few laughs out of it. Inspired by long-form recap sites like The Agony Booth, I had already done a few write-ups on my personal blog about topics of interest, and continued with PS1 and 2. The Phantasy Star play-through was killed thanks to complications with the 360 I was using to play it, but its journals survive, and you can find them here.

Since I hadn’t struck on the idea to document them, the four earliest Marathons have been all-but lost to time: the Mega Man Marathon, the Mega Man X, the Trauma Center and the Kingdom Hearts. There was also no journal made for No More Heroes, though I might return to Mega Man X7 and Command Mission one day thanks to a handful of notes. Classic Mega Man is the best documented of the “lost” Marathons, since we were going for speed and I kept time records. Long story short: things went fine until Mega Man 7, and King Jet from Mega Man & Bass will live forever in infamy.

It can’t be understated just how aggressive we got about wiping out the Robot Masters. It wasn’t enough to beat ten separate video games: we had to turn on Mega Man Powered Up for its three new additions (Oil Man, Time Man, and the fake Mega Man you fight if you control a Robot Master), and found a way to play Mega Man V for Game Boy because it includes all the Game Boy Robot Masters as well. We went after Fake Man, and when Mega Man 10 finally came out, we fought three of the Game Boy Robot Masters all over again. Years later, when I learned Powered Up actually allowed you to fight Mega Man’s sister Roll if you took Roll to the Copy Robot boss, we had to gear up just to do that.   As stands, no Robot Master has escaped our weird onslaught, though we’ve had to use a little fudging to pretend Xover never happened.

The Mega Man X Marathon ran through X1 to X6, with similar enthusiasm about wiping out all Mavericks. Yes, even in the games where we shouldn’t be enthusiastic killing the Mavericks at all. There’s something funny about going exactly against the grain of intent (and something weird in how the post-Inafune games started turning Reploids into cannon fodder after five games of “Reploids are alive too”). The Marathon was waylaid by the awful display that was Mega Man X7, and we only got back to that a few years ago, as we waited for Final Fantasy V to be ported to smartphones. Mega Man X Command mission also lives in infamy, so wretched it actually deflected our urge to Kill All Mavericks, since the superbosses at the end of that game were too much for us to care about.

While we started work on one of our shared favourite series, Mega Man Zero, the industry moved on and we soon played Trauma Center, another favourite series with no real comedy for us to talk about in hindsight. We were real good at Trauma Center back in the day. That was something we should have timed. It was here where we learned that hovering over a portable system wasn’t for us, something we tend to avoid in Marathon get-togethers to this day.

From there, we replayed Kingdom Hearts, half to give Kyle an excuse to finally play Birth by Sleep. We even teamed up to clear one another’s Mirage Arenas. While no journals were made for this game, the Insider Retrospective will surely sate your interest.  Castlevania got thrown in there around this time as well, a Halloween spiralled out of control.  Sadly, no records survive of either.

After that, the Big Doom arrived, and we began the Final Fantasy Marathon. Tall as Everest, we may not even live to see this through. But dammit all, we’ll try. We’ve gotten this far, we may as well see it through to whatever end.

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