Phantasy Star Did Strong Female Characters Before It Was Cool

Phantasy Star Did Strong Female Characters Before It Was Cool

When people think of Phantasy Star , they consider the series in its current state. Sometimes it’s a massive multiplayer online RPG, others it’s a Monster Hunter wannabe with endless fetch quests and monster-killing missions. They forget the series’ original nature and, likewise, its role in being one of the first to champion the strong female protagonist.

It’s a shame, considering how revolutionary the Phantasy Star games were for their time. While Samus was running around with her identity hidden by her armor and Final Fantasy starred a cast of nondescript, male Warriors of Light, 15 year old Alis Landale was taking up her brother’s role as the leader of a rebellion against an unjust king who was forcing his will upon the people of Algol. While other games were only toying with the idea of a female protagonist, Sega went all out in 1987.

While her role may seem archetypal now, Phantasy Star ‘s Alis was a pioneer at the time. Fighting against a corrupt leader and his new religion, leading a diverse group of people and creatures from different races, traversing not only her home planet of Palma, but also the planets Motavoa and Dezoris, Alis was truly one of the first action girls in gaming. Despite her selfish origin of only seeking revenge for her fallen brother, Nero, she grows as a person on her journey, learns to understand the suffering of others, and makes her objective the search for the greater good.

Phantasy Star and Alis could very easily have been a one-shot, flash in the pan. However, the series continued to provide balanced and fair portrayals of women who were strong, capable, and active. Phantasy Star II doesn’t have a heroine front-and-center, instead opting for a balanced cast that contained an equal number of male and female characters, each with their own talents and strengths. The doctor, Amy, isn’t a good fighter, but had the best support and healing skills out of the entire party. The hunter, Anna, ends up being one of the physically strongest party members.

But the woman most people remember Phantasy Star II for is Nei. For children of the 80’s, Nei was our Aerith. The first person to join the hero, she initially comes across as an evolution of a damsel in distress. Rolf saves her when she is about to be killed by hunters for being inhuman (she’s a Numan – a genetically modified human/biomonster mix) and she is welcomed into his life as a result. Although very young, she bravely sets out alongside the hero and sacrifices her own life to ensure her evil counterpart is defeated. Her heroism resonated with people, and efforts to resurrect her after her untimely death predated Aerith’s by a decade.

Which is why it wouldn’t be surprising for one to consider Phantasy Star III to be the odd one out in these early installments. One could even argue the female cast members are treated as rewards, which is a step back, but I’d rather praise this installment for its “butterfly effect” approach to characters. A rather revolutionary gameplay mechanic for the time allowed players to pair their current hero up with either one of the female party members or an NPC encountered that generation. This would then result in the alteration of the next generation’s hero and his abilities, as well as adjusting the characters he might encounter. Not bad, considering at the time Square was only beginning to work out job systems with Final Fantasy III and Dragon Quest IV was introducing a chapter system. Getting into subtle nuances that change the story and its characters based on player’s actions was ahead of its time.

For example, if Rhys marries Maia in the first generation, the other marriage prospect, Lena, marries someone else. Lena’s daughter, Sari, becomes queen of the kingdom Rhys abandoned. She defends it against countless attacks by Lune, guards the Power Topaz, and even when defeated in a battle over it, continues to honor her pledge to protect it by joining the party. It only seems right that a warrior princess begets a warrior queen.

Kara is another interesting example. Depending on the choices made in Phantasy Star III , the young woman’s upbringing changes. Depending on the marriage arrangements of the second generation, she can be either a supporting princess or hardened warrior in the third generation. In either case, she can become a valuable ally in the fights ahead. She’s still someone to be commended, given her willingness to fight in the battle against evil, only the player’s interactions shape the way in which she contributes. Either way, she becomes a sort of action girl.

We shouldn’t forget to bring up one exceptional female character in Phantasy Star III . Mieu, a female combat cyborg, is a constant companion throughout the game. She’s a formidable warrior, not to mention the only character capable of using the Grantz technique needed to keep everyone alive after defeating the Dark Force. Players bond with her, especially knowing that, after being recruited, she stays with the hero’s family for generations, acting as a guardian, advisor, and friend.

Phantasy Star Did Strong Female Characters Before It Was Cool

Perhaps it’s fitting that Phantasy Star III , a game with so many strong female leads, led into Phantasy Star IV , the last traditional, JRPG in the series. It perfectly bookends the quartet, tying together many story elements and presenting players with four final heroines, some of whom are the most well developed in the series.

Since this is already getting a bit wordy, let’s cover Rika, Demi, and Kyra in one swoop. All three women are strong, but uniquely human. Yes, even the one who’s an android. Rika is a Numan, like Nei, and possesses the same sense of curiosity and desire to do what is right. Demi is devoted to her role managing Motavia’s climate systems, even risking capture by the Big Bad to keep the planet safe. As for Kyra, she leaves the safety of Dezoris’ Esper Mansion to treat plague patients, even though that means traversing an icy planet and risking catching the plague herself.

You’ve probably noticed I’ve omitted a rather important Phantasy Star IV heroine by now. It’s always best to end on a strong note, and that brings us to Alys Brangwin. She’s a legend in her own time in the game, a powerful warrior, mentor, and friend. In fact, the hero Chaz is more of an ingenue and damsel-in-distress, as he is essentially to Alys what Nei was to Rolf in Phantasy Star II. Alys took him in when he was in need, and raised and trained him to be a formidable ally and hero.

She goes on to follow the path of all great heroes. She fights against evil, eventually sacrificing herself for the greater good. Leading up to that moment, though, she constantly impresses the party and player with her strength, abilities, knowledge of the world, and associations with its inhabitants. Alys may be embarassed by her reputation as the Eight Stroke Warrior, but all of her actions throughout Phantasy Star IV firmly establish her as a laudable character.

There seems to be an omnipresent call in the gaming community for new games with strong female characters. The early Phantasy Star quartet proves that these woman have been here all along. They’ve just been waiting for people to take a moment to go retro and rediscover them. So, if you’ve got the time, go grab one of those Sega Genesis Collections for your console or the Sega Genesis Classics Pack 5 on Steam. You won’t regret it.

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