In an age where everything seems to be either a zombie, a dragon, or a robot in regards to enemies, it can be good to look back on a title that did something a little more outside the box.
I discovered said title, Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst, earlier this year: A bunch of my friends play the MMORPG, and I got roped along for the ride. The name ‘Phantasy Star’ itself might be familiar to you – It’s a long-running franchise of RPGs, that were mostly prolific in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It’s Sci-Fantasy setting – a great mishmash of typical Science Fiction and Fantasy tropes – helped create a truly unique and interesting setting to explore, so the creation of an MMORPG in that universe seems inevitable. But in actuality, it owes its existence to its creature design – When Yuji Naka, then tasked with developing a flagship online title for the Dreamcast, saw a concept artist’s design of a dragon, he was reminded of the then dormant Phantasy Star series, and decided to use it as the online title’s setting. So you can see, there was something particularly special about the character design fro the get go.
At the beginning of Phantasy Star Online, players are tasked with discovering what has happened to the colony on the garden world of Ragol – Part of the second wave of settlers, the group is surprised to discover that the colony appears abandoned, and there’s no communication with the surface at all. Players venture to the surface and discover that the reportedly benign wildlife is anything but, encountering a wide variety of aggressive creatures.
The designs of the creatures encountered in the Forest levels are mostly natural-looking, with some subtle hints that something might be off. Most of the creatures of Ragol have square ‘plates’ of hardened flesh, earthy or green fur and skin, and angular heads. They look like a cross between reptiles and mammals, with insects being the exception – These giant bugs instead look like nightmarish incarnations of their kin, spawning from large, bloated nests that themselves seem quite alive. A great many also have strange, purple eyes that glow unnaturally, and some creatures – like the Hildelt below – look almost like parts of them have been stretched and twisted out…
Exploring deeper, you’ll enter a series of caves the colony was very fixated on – Apparently, deep within lay ruins they wished to explore. And whilst the caves themselves will contain some very standard looking enemies, like the Poison Lily on the left of the image below, you’ll also start to come across… Stuff a little bit stranger.
The further you go, the more bizarre and corrupted your opponents become – The wildlife you fought earlier was only beginning to twist with the taint of whatever foul being lurks within this place, but in here it spreads more freely. There’s some milder corruptions, this giant Praying Mantis-type ‘Grass Assassin’, who explode into dozens of babies upon defeat…
…And then there’s utterly bizarre constructs like the Pan Arms, which are actually two separate entities fused together!
In the ruins, you’ll start to encounter left-overs from the colony expedition, robots and combat droids whose very programming has been tainted. Some decent robot designs.
And beyond that, without going into spoilers, you’ll start coming across exactly what inspired me to write this article. The truly corrupted creatures, which range from strange, shapely beings that swim through the air, to enormous centaur-like beings, all with strings of glowing lights embedded in their bodies that pulse rhythmically. These sorts of beings are such a sight to behold, and truly make you feel like you’ve wandered into something from the beyond – Something that many games even today don’t always manage to achieve.
There’s more than pictured here, obviously, but I want to save some of the truly strange stuff for you to discover on your own, reader. Because although Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst released on the PC about fifteen years ago, this game is far from dead – There exists a great many legacy servers maintained and operated by fans; and these are available to play on entirely free! Phantasy Star Online is a brilliant game, and the Blue Burst port added a great deal to it. It’s a great, hack-n-slash MMORPG with some truly beautiful and imaginative creatures, and a thriving community. So come check it out! I personally use the Ephinea servers, but there’s others like Ultima, too.
At any rate, I hope you enjoyed the creature designs showcased here – Sometimes it’s just neat to see something a little strange in our games.