Phantasy Star
The original Master System version would later be released on the Mega Drive, but only in Japan — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Sega's Phantasy Star series is 35 years old today.

The first game in the franchise was released on the Sega Master System in Japan on December 20th, 1987. North American and European players would have to wait almost an entire year – November 1988 – to get their hands on it, but it was worth the wait.

The original game was a trailblazer in more ways than one. Most notably, it had a female protagonist and fused traditional fantasy elements with a sci-fi setting. Also, it boasted smooth, 3D-style animation during its first-person dungeon-crawling sections, which was relatively unique for a console-based JRPG at the time.

The team behind the game included designer Kotaro Hayashida, programmer Yuji Naka and graphic designer Rieko Kodama. Kodama sadly passed away this year, while Naka was recently arrested following accusations of insider trading.

Speaking some time ago about the game's creation to Swedish journalist Tobias Bjarneby, Kodama said:

One point is that this is a game with a female leading character. With this, we could challenge the stereotype that the main characters of games should be men. It would be fairly difficult for male users to empathise with a heroine, but I was happy we could try something new. Another point is that we could attempt various things like animated maps, or one with moving walkways, 3D dungeons, animated enemies, and so on. Also, I feel glad we achieved things that had not been done in console RPGs before that, like displaying the characters' expressions with large images.

Phantasy Star II would follow in 1989 for the Sega Mega Drive. Phantasy Star III – also for the Mega Drive – came in 1990, but 1993's Phantasy Star IV is considered by many to be the zenith of the 'traditional' series; since then, Phantasy Star has been mainly focused on online play, a trend which began with Phantasy Star Online in 2000.