The Phantasy Star III Chronicles: Part Ten

I’ll be honest, I haven’t made a whole lot of progress in this game of late. Ayn, Mieu and Wren are quite a bit stronger than they were, and I know what my next goals are–essentially “Go west, acquire the Twin Ruby and the Power Topaz (I think that’s what it was called), in some order”–but not so sure exactly how to go about it (No hints please).

So I’m going to take this post to make an observation about the challenge philosophy in this game. my cousin has noted on my Facebook page that one of the things he didn’t like about the game was its high encounter rate. And it occurred to me that if you want your non-boss encounters (Random or not) in your RPG to be anything more than nuisances, you have two basic ways of going about it.

The first is something like an early Wizardry game, or NetHack. Essentially, no matter how strong you are, the game’s mechanics work such that any individual encounter can potentially be your last–whether because all the enemies use powerful spells, inflict debilitating status effects, or just hit really hard, an enemy encounter is an event to be feared.

The second philosophy is something much closer to what Phantasy Star III does. In this philosophy, none of the individual random encounters are capable of hurting you much at all. But the dungeons are long enough, the encounter rate is high enough, and/or your resources are limited enough, that the tiny bit of damage each individual encounter does to you begins to add up until you finally die from their sheer quantity–in other words, a kind of death-by-a-thousand-cuts mentality. In the case of Phantasy Star III in particular, it’s the high encounter rate that can eventually wear down and wipe out your party.

Certain particularly sadistic games find ways to combine these. Phantasy Star II had long dungeons (Longer than Phantasy Star III’s, easily–even if you knew where you were going in them), a high encounter rate, limited resources, plus it occasionally threw in an “oh crap” monster formation that you prayed you could run from, because you were going to die if you couldn’t (“Blasters”. Anyone who’s played the game just nodded and shuddered at the memory).

In any event, it seems to be that when people complain about the encounter rate in RPGs–especially those that have random encounters–they’re complaining about the second philosophy. Or, more accurately, they’re complaining about bad implementations of the second philosophy (Many post-16-bit RPGs have lots of random encounters that can be won while taking no damage whatever. There’s a difference between chip damage and zero damage, and some games fail to recognize that). I feel like Phantasy Star III executes the “lots of easy random encounters that slowly wear you down” philosophy about as well as it can be done.

What do you think of RPG battle philosophies? Do you prefer one over the other?


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  1. Good post!

    First off, it made me think of all the different types of encounters RPGs bring to the table. Wizardry is a good example, especially the the later games like Wiz. 8, where a normal run of the mill enemy encounter could take 10 minutes! Might and Magic II on Genesis had an interesting system: the enemies increased in number in relation to your level. This made the unlimited money/max level up trick rather tedious, as you’d encounter groups of 255 enemies at a time. Painful!

    Getting to the PS games, I always said PS2’s dungeons were designed intentionally to utilize the packed in guide book maps. Because they used some neato multi-layer scrolling, maybe Sega figured people would be too lazy to draw maps. PS3 is actually fun to map out for the most part, minus the painful high encounter rate (wrong turns and dead ends are demoralizing!)

    So PS3 still has that rushed feel in the dungeons: generic designs, small groups of recurring enemies and for the most part, you don’t even need to worry about spells. Kind of mindless. So to answer your question, I prefer more “intelligent” encounters ala Wizardry.

    • Eric Dude on April 9, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Good commentary. All I can really add is that 7th Saga on the SNES is another RPG that will bust your balls with the encounters. Not that they’re as numerous as some of the worst offenders, but you can take a moderate amount of damage in each encounter if you’re not careful. Resource management and good battle plans are key.

    • emptyeye on April 11, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks guys.

    @Bruplex: I recall watching a Let’s Play of Might & Magic 2, and apparently there’s some kind of built-in turbo (Or at least an auto-fight function that may have been sped up by emulator)? Maybe I’m misremembering, but I know you could eventually work the system such that you were doing thousands of damage to enemies and had close to 2K HP per character, which the game was really not designed for at all.

    As for PS2, I don’t know if they were designed to force you to rely on the guide book (Supposedly the Japanese version of the guide is actually less detailed than its U.S. counterpart). One other explanation I’ve heard is that Sega wanted to retain the massive dungeon feeling of the first game, but were hamstrung by the move to 2D (If you actually sit down and map out Phantasy Star 1’s dungeons, they turn out to be a lot smaller than they feel like they are), and were left with no choice but to make the dungeons actually massive as a result.

    @Eric: 7th Saga actually sounds like a strange hybrid of the two. Not a super-high encounter rate, but each encounter can do more damage (The fact you can have a maximum of two people in your party at any time doesn’t help you). I’ve only played very little 7th Saga, but I’ve heard it’s brutally hard.

  1. […] with Part Ten, I am currently, if not “stuck” per se, in “wander around the world I’ve […]

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