Monday, February 12, 2024

Game 399: Phantasie

Read the manual here:

Lookin' a little spartan there, Phantasie.

SSI is known for two things - computer wargames, and the Gold Box series of RPGs with wargame-like trappings. I covered a smattering of their early wargames about three years ago, and their signature Gold Box series is some ways away, but in the interim, there were a few early CRPG efforts.

Screenshot by Mobygames

First, there was Questron - not a whale, nor a game that personally interests me, seemingly not much more than an Ultima copycat, but nevertheless one that performed pretty well by SSI's niche standards. That it was released in 1984, a year without any new Ultima or Wizardry games certainly didn't hurt, nor did its availability on Commodore 64, which did not have many RPGs by this time. The success would encourage SSI to expand their horizons a bit and open the gates to publish more RPGs.

Phantasie, developed externally by author Winston Douglas Wood, was their next, and performed even better, becoming the first SSI game to make whale status. Ported to a wide variety of computer platforms, including the PC, Amiga, Atari, and even multiple Japanese computers including the MSX, the game sold best of all on Commodore 64, but I will be playing the Apple II original.

The manual opens with a fairly trite framing story - a newly arrived adventurer looking for fortune and glory goes to the pub for a pint and some gossip, learns about the dreaded Black Knights who menace the land of Gelnor, yada yada. The big bad is a sorcerer, Nikademus, who operates out of a fortress that we've got to find and enter. Most of the manual is dedicated to rules and game structure, and it paints a picture of a game that combines aspects of Ultima and Wizardry - from the former series, an overhead view and modal overworld exploration, and from the latter, party-based menu-driven combat as well as Wizardry-like character creation and towns.

Some of the standout features:

  • Character creation includes the usual men, dwarves, and elves, but also includes exotic races such as kobolds, minotaurs, and sprites, whose stats tend to be very high in one or two places and very low in the rest. Notably, these exotic races often have poor charisma and short lifespans.
  • There are 11 towns in Gelnor, though initially only Pelnor is available. As in the later Might and Magic, ending a game session in town disperses your party there, allowing you to resume play starting from that town rather instead of the default Pelnor.
  • Characters have skills in addition to attributes, such as attacking, swimming, and lockpicking, which are rated from 0 to 99.
  • Overworld movement maps to the keys 3/W/E/S, which seems arbitrary at first, until you realize this makes a neat little diamond pattern on the keyboard where three out of four keys have letters that also correspond to the cardinal directions they move you in.
  • Dungeons are explored with an overhead view that begins blank and fills out the corridors and rooms as you delve them, like an automap.
  • Random monster encounters come with more options than Wizardry - you can fight, demand the monsters surrender, offer to surrender yourself, flee, or just say hello. Again, like Might and Magic would later.
  • Melee combat has more tactical options than Wizardry; fighters can thrust, strike, slash, or lunge, and thieves can strike monsters in the rear ranks without penetrating the front rows.


This was as far as I got at first.

I had a false start. The 4am collection copy, which I normally trust, had a little problem - it includes a boot disk, but no dungeon disk! And other copies' dungeon disks don't work with it. And so, I had to bite the bullet and deal with a "dirty" cracked copy.


Towns look just like Wizardry


I thought it might be fun to have a party consisting mostly of monsters, so I rolled six "creature" characters to see what would happen. Unlike humans, dwarves, elves, halflings, and gnomes, you cannot choose your specific race if you pick the creature option; one is selected at random.

A freshly rolled character

Unfortunately, most of the creature races seem to be suitable only as fighters. And goblins don't even seem to be suitable for that.

I rolled:

  • Iggy, a lizard man fighter
  • Oblib, a kobold thief
  • Bruno, a gnollish fighter
  • Thork, an orcish fighter
  • Klogg, an ogrish fighter
  • Kruncha, a troll fighter


I decided to keep Oblib and Kruncha, and fill out the rest of my party with more traditional races:

  • Tom, a halfling monk
  • Robert, a human priest
  • Lambert, a dwarven ranger
  • Minmax, an elven wizard


Each rolled character is Hobson's choice - take it or leave it.

That gives me one of each class. Monks are hybrid fighter/wizard/thieves, while rangers are hybrid fighter/priests.

Spells in Phantasie have to be bought, but they're cheap, at least at first. I have 1,536 gold, and 29 buys me two of the three available spells - Awaken for Robert, and Quickness 1 for Minmax. Vision is available too, but is only available to Robert, who only had the capacity for one spell.

Next, I go to the armory. All characters come equipped with a club, a small shield, and robes, except for Minmax who has only the club.

Unlike Wizardry, weapon damage and armor classes are listed.

But the only things that seem worth buying are clothes for Minmax, and a scroll, which reads:

I left town.

Now this is different. The 4am version showed the whole overworld sector map, but this version's map reveals itself as you explore!

I went north a few squares.

Eleven giant insects? Too much. I ran for it, suffering a few cuts and bruises but escaped with our lives.

The next encounter seemed more reasonable - just four ants. Unfortunately, they ambushed us at night while half the party was asleep. Robert the priest was among the awake half on turn 1 and I had him cast awaken on the other half while his partners groggily thrust at the ants.

I returned to town to rest up, and found the armory was selling an axe and leather armor, which I bought for Kruncha.

And then I left and got ambushed by a big pack of skeletons.

After two failed escape attempts, Oblib and Tom joined their ranks. I offered to surrender, and the skeletons accepted, taking all of my gold in exchange for the rest of our lives. The joke's on them - we left all our gold at the Bank of Pelnor!

This is gonna be a long one, isn't it?


  1. One of my favorite games of all-time. I've beaten 1 - 3 on the C-64 a few times. I'd say that remains my favorite versions of all of the ones released, including the Apple II originals. It's just streamlined enough without having the somewhat sluggish 16-bit interface of the ST and Amiga ports. It crushed me that IV never made it outside of Japan, although, to be fair, it was more of its own thing (Star Command was probably more in the spirit of the original trilogy).

  2. My recollections are that (a) the "exotic" races cost a lot more to train (level up) and (b) the first overland map or two begin fully revealed and it's only when you've moved a few map squares west - and presumably leveled up a few times - that the maps begin completely unexplored. Maybe that was only for the Commodore 64 version or maybe my memories are incorrect...?

    1. I wonder if this copy has been overzealously "sanitized" and the map data scrubbed when it shouldn't have been. I found two cracked copies that included the dungeon disk, one of which had a bunch of characters on the disk already.

      The manual does say that exotic races pay more for training - possibly simply because they have low charisma scores. I figured this might not be a big deal, as these games tend to give you tons of gold and nothing to spend it on. But it also seems that exotic races are barred from being any class except fighter and thief.

    2. There are starter characters if you don't want to generate your own, but that kind of defeats the purpose of games like these in my opinion. It's true that the non-core races have limitations and are meant to mostly be fighters. I'm not going to spoil it, but there is one specific "monster" race you'll need in your party at one point.

    3. The map only gets revealed as you enter the tiles. I would literally make my characters swim and take some damage so I could also unveil those squares. There are no limitations on when you unlock squares, but it's pretty linear in that you don't want to go to other parts of the world until you're leveled up.


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