Three Great Turn-based RPGs for the Sega Master System
The Sega Master System had many hidden gems in its small library of games. Fans of classic Final Fantasy-style RPGs will be delighted to know that there are three great turn-based RPGs for the Sega Master System. Let's take a look through them!
1. Phantasy Star
Phantasy Star begins dramatically with the dictator King Lassic brutally murdering Nero, a rebel group leader who is the brother of your character, Alis. His last words to Alis are to find a warrior named Odin and to use his help to defeat Lassic. This spurs Alis to seek revenge, and so she journeys across the star system in search of Odin, gathering other companions with unique skills along the way and strengthening them through defeating various enemies.
Much of the game is spent exploring dungeons and visiting towns. In dungeons, players encounter randomly appearing enemies, and can battle them through turn-based combat from a first-person perspective. There is even the option to negotiate with enemies, which was an innovative game mechanic. The dungeons have bold and colourful pseudo-3D graphics, and are maze-like. The player can visit towns to purchase new equipment, restore items and heal their party.
Phantasy Star received critical acclaim for its deep gameplay, emotional plotline and distinct anime-style visuals. The game was revolutionary due to its sci-fi and fantasy blended setting, for using a predetermined female protagonist, and for using cutscenes to display significant character interactions and plot events.
Fun fact: Phantasy Star often breaks the fourth wall. For example, the player encounters a character named Miki who asks: "Do you like Sega games?". If the player responds "Yes", Miki replies "Of course! Sega games are the best". If the player responses "No", Miki replies "I can't believe it! If you don't like the game … why have you played so far!?!".
One for the collectors: in 2003, Phantasy Star was remade for the PlayStation 2 as Phantasy Star Generation 1 and was released only in Japan. The release was part of the Sega Ages 2500 series, which was Sega's budget label for re-releasing old Sega titles for the PlayStation 2. The remake features updated visuals, plot, dialogue and gameplay.
Phantasy Star was remade for the PS2 and was released only in Japan. The remake features updated visuals, plot, dialogue and gameplay.
2. Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
After the defeat of the Triad of Evil in the previous three Ultima games, the world, Britannia, is now at peace. Lord British, ruler of Britannia, believes that the citizens feel lost and directionless in this unfamiliar peace, and need an Avatar to be a virtuous role model for them. So, the player journeys to achieve enlightenment in the Eight Virtues, with an ultimate goal to become the Avatar.
The gameplay is focussed on developing the Eight Virtues, which is unique compared to the emphasis in most games to strengthen the player's party to ultimately defeat a great evil. Virtues are developed through showing goodness in interactions with NPCs, such as allowing for enemies to flee from battle, showing humility in conversations, and donating to the poor. Ultima IV is open-world, meaning that the player can explore most towns, dungeons and shrines in any order.
Ultima IV was highly praised for its strong focus on character development, gameplay depth and its massive open-ended world. The game introduced novel features to the RPG genre, such as allowing for initially non-playable characters to join the player's party and letting the player type out responses when conversing with NPCs.
Fun fact: Britannia's early history per the events in the prior three Ultima games is detailed extensively in the manual that accompanies the game. Although reading its history is not critical to completing Ultima IV, it still provides useful and enriching context to the game.
One for the collectors: Ultima IV was initially released on the Apple II. The contents of the Apple II release are slightly different to the Sega Master System. For instance, the Apple II version contains a metal ankh and cloth map, and the History of Britannia booklet, Reference Card and Book of Magic are more visual.
Ultima IV on the Apple II came with a metal ankh and cloth map, and the leaflets were more visual than the Sega Master System version.
3. Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord
In Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord, the demon queen has stolen the Golden Seal and has released evil creatures into the world. The king has requested that you restore peace by slaying the demon queen and recovering the Golden Seal. To do so, you must traverse the vast Five Lands to recruit companions to your party, defeat monsters to gain experience and accumulate money to buy powerful weapons and items.
The gameplay mostly consists of encountering and battling monsters to strengthen the player's party. When the player encounters an enemy, options including attacking, retreating or talking, the latter which can result in some enemies giving hints to help the player progress. The player can also visit towns to receive healing and repair weapons and armour, villages to purchase special magical items, and castles to acquire legendary weapons.
Miracle Warriors was praised for its story, vast open-ended world and monster designs. However, it was noted that the game lacked depth and flexibility because players are limited to simple communication, movement and combat.
Fun fact: Miracle Warriors is one of seven games for the Sega Master System that uses a battery backup, meaning that game progress can be saved. This was very different to the password system used by most games at the time, whereby players entered a password to return to the desired level.
One for the collectors: a physical world map came bundled with the game. In Japan, the game was released in a big box that prominently advertised the game's 2MB battery backup. The release also included a cloth map and steel character figure.
The second release in Japan was packaged in a big box which included a cloth map and a steel figure.